Miami Marlins Likely To Keep Marcell Ozuna…For Now
As was first broken by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, and recapped here by Daniel Zylberkan, the Miami Marlins agreed to terms with free-agent lefty starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen last week. Not long after the announcement, the team’s official beat reporter, Joe Frisaro, opined on Twitter that the signing ends all thoughts the club entertained of dealing Marcell Ozuna. The Ozuna note, however, merits a well-deserved asterisk, as it is the opinion of this reporter that the Marlins much discussed outfielder has received a temporary stay-of-transaction only; the odds of him playing for Miami in 2017 remain long, with August even being unlikely.
Why? Well to start, a Marlins outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and an athletic person to be named later would still be considered one of the best combinations in baseball. This stands in stark contrast to a Marlins starting rotation that, even with Chen in the fold, remains very much a work in progress. In fact, it’s still probably only the third best rotation in their division. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great signing, and improves the club dramatically. The probable picture of how Miami’s pitching breaks down is incalculably better today than it was a week ago.
But Tom Koehler remains the third best option based on all evidence to this point, and his career ERA is 4.10. Adding another arm would still be immensely valuable to the 2016 Marlins, and believing Miami would foot the bill for another multi-million dollar free-agent before signing at least one more of the Jose Fernandez/Dee Gordon/Adeiny Hechavarria trio to an extension seems far-fetched at best; even after getting Gordon on a team friendly deal, it remains extremely unlikely. Moving Ozuna still remains the most probable way to add to the rotation in a significant way right now.
But let’s say they keep him, that the recent rekindling of buzz is false, and the club feels confident in the starting rotation they can trot out today getting the job done. In that event, there are three possibilities, really all reasonably likely. And only one of them translates to a full year or more of Marcell in Miami.
Scenario One: They’re wrong. Jose gets hurt again, Chen regresses, none of the young hurlers step up, and Koehler is the team’s best pitcher again. These probably won’t all happen. But two could, and two would be bad enough to dash any chances of a .500 or better 2016. Basically, Scenario One is the one where the team is looking at heading into 2017 with all the same questions/concerns with which they entered 2016. And the most likely solution will be the same one that was discussed for most of this offseason- dealing Ozuna for a promising, controllable pitcher. With a bounce back campaign that brings thoughts of 2014 to mind, Miami would find plenty of suitors. If the rotation implosion happens before July 31st, the front office wouldn’t be able to afford to pass up the ransom they could get from a contending club.
Scenario Two: They’re right. Jose turns in a full year, Chen pitches to projected form or better, Cosart and Justin Conley (yes, that was on purpose) take that next step, and Koehler stays Koehler. But that’s not the only good news. Stanton stayed healthy too. Full healthy seasons all around, making that injury plagued 2015 seem like a bad dream. Gordon and Hechavarria remain top options at their best positions, Atlanta and Philly continue to exist for the sake of propping up the rest of the division, and Miami is over .500 and makes the playoffs. Thanks in no small part to the 30-homer force backing up Stanton, Marcell Ozuna. Heading into the All-Star Game season of 2017, Miami would only move Ozuna if they had a clone of Mike Trout ready to take his place.
Scenario Three: Ozuna doesn’t rebound. Technically this could be broken up into two scenarios, but it doesn’t matter. The outcome is the same in either case, and you’re tired of reading at this point. Whether the 2016 Miami Marlins turn in a seventh consecutive losing season or a third championship, Ozuna won’t be around any longer than necessary if he’s not producing. To say the front office stretched the envelope of acceptable practice when it came Ozuna’s contract situation last season is putting it mildly; however, that is a trick that only gets to be played once. Between Chen’s signing and natural increases in the salaries of more popular core pieces, payroll dollars are going to become increasingly precious in Little Havana for a franchise that has historically viewed payroll dollars as extremely precious. And whether 2014 or 2015 proves the outlier when it comes to Marcell, he will cost dramatically more going forward. Third place or third title, Miami won’t be able to afford to pay millions of dollars to a player they hope comes around, no matter how talented. The only difference is whether he’s moved in July or November.
So there it is. Marcell Ozuna will- probably- be your Opening Day starting center fielder for the 2016 Miami Marlins now that the starting rotation has been addressed. But Opening Day 2017? That remains very much up in the air.