Area for Improvement? Marlins Centerfielder Marcell Ozuna
By Eddie Noy
This time last year, Marcell Ozuna (25) was the surprise final piece of a Marlin outfield cerberus widely regarded as the premier outfield in baseball, along with Christian Yelich (24) and Sir Giancarlo Stanton (26) (though I’d have given the nod to the Pirates by a dreadlock). After a rough start to the 2015 season, and a very… Marlins… series of events, Ozuna found himself in Triple-A, but would finish the year as though he were auditioning for greener center fields elsewhere. I don’t begrudge him the job search, but it is in both the Marlins’ and Ozuna’s interests to bury the Chris Hatcher and commit to each other for at least the upcoming season.
After Ozuna’s rise to prominence in 2013, the Marlins showed faith in the young centerfielder by trading fellow young, centerfielder Jake Marisnick along with legit prospect, third baseman Colin Moran (sigh) to the Astros in return for Jarred Cosart and Kiké Hernández (the latter would then be packaged with Andrew Heaney for Gordon). After a decent enough rookie half-season in 2013, Ozuna continued to break out in 2014 launching 23 home runs and a .455 slugging percentage. Despite his reluctance(?) on the base paths (15 SB attempts in three seasons), Ozuna has a solid defensive reputation manning center field – and the numbers generally support that, though a good chunk of the defensive value-added came A. in 2013 and B. when he was deputizing in right field for an injured Sir Stanton.
Other notable data points from Ozuna’s 1400 PAs include: crushes lefties (a Marlins-wide trend), doesn’t seem to be effected by Marlin’s Park’s unfriendly confines (a Marlins-wide trend), and his peripherals in a disappointing 2015 are extremely close to what he did in a breakout 2014 (a Marlins-wide trend). STEAMER is conservatively optimistic for a bounce back; and most promisingly, Ozuna hit .278/.320/.469 in 172 PAs after the All-Star break (obligatory small sample alert). All that said, his weak on-base skills continue to be a drag on his potential upside even at the best of times (career .311 OBP) – OBP is life, life is OBP ($1, Joe Sheehan).
In early-June Ozuna was slashing .249/.301/.337, and was ostensibly sent down to work on his mechanics, though others have suggested ulterior motives, with the result that Ozuna returned disgruntled, mashing, and sans Super 2 status. Prior to the season, Ozuna – a Boras client – dismissed extension overtures by the Marlins’ brain-trust; and the likelihood of an extension now looks more remote than ever. Instead, Ozuna will not be arbitration-eligible until 2017, saving the Marlins (and/or his next employer) millions over the next four years.
Sensing a theme in this blog series – Ozuna is under team control through his age 28 season, and that is more than good enough. Ozuna represents above average offensive and defensive production entering his peak years at a controllable cost – and he naturally slots into the 5th spot in the lineup completing a satisfying handedness sequence after Yelich, Sir Stanton, and Bour (L, R, L, R). Despite being the topic of many a hot stove discussion, trading him now would likely be at 60-cents on the dollar. Replacing his production in free agency is just not possible – absent perhaps a Dexter Fowler signing (nigh unfathomable); and as much as I adore me some Ichiro, that would be an unmitigated disaster (if only because he can’t pitch and play the outfield at the same time). So here’s to hoping Loria and Ozuna break some tostada in 2016 and let bygones be bygones; alternatively that the Mariners, etc. wildly overpay for his services.
To continue this series’s theme, in the Marlins’ world of (unnecessarily) limited resources, upgrading at center field from Ozuna is just not a priority, instead Fish nation should light one more candle to St. Lazaro for Ozuna to carry over his second half surge into 2016. If he bounces back but remains disgruntled then he would fetch quite a bit more on the trade market, an acceptable risk against the low-ish odds of a continued slide after factoring in his age curves. And even if he has a down year, at least it’d depress his 2017 arbitration figure increasing the chance he’s tendered a contract (Marlins fan silver linings?); counterpoint – Henderson Alvarez.