As the St. Louis Cardinals continue to look at multiple options to improve their roster this off-season, the rumors continue to swirl surrounding Miami Marlins outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich.
Obviously, the Cardinals and Marlins are familiar in negotiations, having just worked out framework for a proposed Giancarlo Stanton trade.
Now the focus has shifted with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeting this afternoon that St. Louis has “emerged as the favorites” to acquire Ozuna from Miami.
Under team control for two more years, Ozuna had career-highs last season with 37 home runs, 30 doubles, and 124 RBIs. He is eligible for arbitration and will be receiving a raise from the $3.5 million he earned last year.
Some may argue that Christian Yelich is a better fit for St. Louis—he has more team control with the contract, is a year younger, higher ceiling, etc. And they may be proven right.
But an important consideration to keep in mind is how Ozuna could fit in the existing Cardinals lineup. The large majority of his at-bats (444) came hitting clean-up last season. Ozuna hit 25 of his 37 homers from that slot and likewise drove in 85 runs with a .908 OPS.
Marcell Ozuna was the protection for Stanton (2nd) and Yelich (3rd) in the Marlins lineup and could provide a similar bat behind whoever the Cardinals stacked at the top of the order.
But worth noting is who provided the protection behind Ozuna.
The Marlins split the 5th hitter duty between Justin Bour (75-261/.287, 16 HR, 57 RBI, .888 OPS) and J.T. Realmuto (52-216/.241, 10 HR, 30 RBI, .754 OPS).
This past season, Yadier Molina (121-428/.283, 15 HR, 70 RBI, .767 OPS) was the regular in the fifth slot for St. Louis. Whether or not Molina would remain in the slot is yet to be seen, but his production is comparable to what Ozuna received last year.
Meanwhile, Yelich hat 565 at-bats in the third slot, most of them in front of Ozuna, and hit 17 home runs and drove in 78 runs. By comparison, Paul DeJong had 209 at-bats in the third slot and hit 11 home runs with 34 RBIs. And he did so without Marcell Ozuna behind him.
Take nothing away from Yelich–there are plenty of arguments to be made on his behalf. But as the Cardinals continue their search for “an impact bat” there is a very strong case that Ozuna can make the strongest of the pair with this existing St. Louis roster.
photo credit: Bill Streicher, Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports