Marcell Ozuna traded to Cardinals as Marlins' tear-down continues

Marlins manager Don Mattingly would have you know that all is well in Miami, where they plan to show up for their games and win some of them and be better for their recent transactions in spite of the grief they are taking. Also, that criticism of Derek Jeter is unfair, because this rebuild actually started last year, when the team was being prepared to be sold, not now, when it has been sold. And, besides, he said, a lot of the stories you’ve read in the past couple weeks have been inaccurate.

“You take the high road,” Mattingly said. “You’re not going to go out and dispute everything that comes out because you waste all your time doing that. But I know the truth.”

They’ll work at their own pace, toward their own destiny and amid their own reality, is what he seemed to be trying to say, after he said, “I’m excited about what’s going on.”

He, however, added, “Derek may be the first to admit, hey, I would do some things maybe a little differently. I don’t know that. But I kind of look back to Derek’s first year in pro ball. He makes 58 errors – 50-something errors – at shortstop and we know what happened after that.”

That covers a lot of ground, all on the day the Marlins agreed to trade the second piece of last season’s most productive outfield in baseball, that being Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals, two days after heaving Giancarlo Stanton in the general direction of the New York Yankees. The plan now is to monitor Christian Yelich’s mood and, if it is as one would expect, he could be the next to go.

The Marlins are perhaps paying for the sins of their predecessors, that being a hokey-pokey history of in, out, c’mon everybody sing along, so the patience for a Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs style tear-down and rebuild is understandably non-existent. First, the ballpark was going to make the Marlins better, if not great. Then new ownership was going to change everything. And now all of their favorite shirseys have been rendered scalding reminders that to love a Marlin is an exercise in slow, hard regret. Bright side, stability is coming, if for no other reason than they’re going to run out of players to trade.

Agent Scott Boras stood just outside the media workroom here, atop an equipment box so that his voice would carry, and opened his annual statements with, “We’ve seen one of our major league jewelry stores become a pawn shop.”

At the time, Ozuna was headed for his physical and, eventually, his freedom. For four minor leaguers/prospects, leading with right-hander Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra, Ozuna, 27, is likely the new left fielder for the Cardinals. He batted .312 and hit 37 home runs for the Marlins last season, and becomes part of the solution in St. Louis.

In just five days, new ownership in Miami traded away the team’s starting second baseman (Dee Gordon), right fielder (Stanton) and left fielder (Ozuna), and almost assuredly is not finished clearing payroll. Ozuna, twice an All-Star, is in his second year of arbitration and due to triple his 2017 salary of $3.5 million.

The Marlins’ lurch to irrelevance, what they would call a return to fiscal responsibility and a down payment on future competence, has been a windfall to teams seeking established, twenty-something big leaguers. On Wednesday it was the Cardinals, who’d sought to acquire Stanton and reached a tentative agreement with the Marlins to do so, but could not convince Stanton to drop his no-trade protection. This trade presumably spun from the remnants of that trade.

Though heavy in outfielders – Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk were the regulars in 2017 – the Cardinals made an offseason priority of upgrading at the position. They missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year and finished in the middle of the National League in most offensive statistical categories. Indeed, it seemed a decent bet Piscotty would be traded, perhaps to the Oakland A’s, by the time the last suitcase rolls through the lobby at Winter Meetings.

The Cardinals strove to add a powerful and productive bat to the middle of the lineup. They reached first for Stanton. When Stanton opted instead for the Yankees, and in a free-agent market that offered J.D. Martinez as the only high-end outfield bat, the Cardinals adjusted to what else the Marlins would sell. Yelich is under contract for a team-friendly $44.5 million over the next four years, with an option for another season and another $15 million. He also was not as productive as Ozuna last season.

The plan for the Cardinals, it would appear, was to add an outfielder, better their offense, and trade from their outfield surplus. Piscotty, 26, batted .235 and hit nine home runs in 107 games last season. Grichuk, also 26, batted .238 with 22 home runs in 122 games.

Ozuna’s availability brought interest from at least a half-dozen teams, including the San Francisco Giants, who also lost out on Stanton.

Marcell Ozuna is the third starter to be traded by the Miami Marlins in the past week. (AP)
Marcell Ozuna is the third starter to be traded by the Miami Marlins in the past week. (AP)

“For a while, where you have a Mark McGwire kind of fill that spot in the order,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday, “then you have a Pujols, followed by a Matt Holliday, who was the presence. As you watch teams that have sustained success, there’s typically a presence in the middle of that lineup. So that has been a focus of this club, still believing that we can develop those style players, and we have some guys that are developing into those kinds of players. But, right now, to put a couple players or a player in that spot is a priority.”

The Marlins were only too happy to oblige. The Cardinals’ tomorrow, after all, must be the Marlins’ today.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mattingly said, “that we’re going to go through some stuff. But I believe in what we’re doing and where we’re going to get to.”

He suspects maybe you aren’t sure. You’re probably hoping there’s not another 48 or 49 errors to go.

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