Phillies Off-Season Target: Marcell Ozuna


As the year draws to a close, many fans have already begun looking at next season, speculating on what they believe to be the best roster possible for the 2016 Phillies.

There are many of the opinion, including yours truly, that Jason Heyward should be the top target for the team, if the club decides that they wish to go that free agency route.

Andy MacPhail and his new GM will also surely explore the trade route when it comes to upgrading the roster. The Phillies suddenly find themselves with attractive assets in their minor league system.

The team is looking for an infusion of youth and talent for the big league roster, and trading their more valuable prospect assets now would seem to be counterproductive.

But what if those same assets were traded for someone who fit the bill: young, talented and controllable for the forseeable future? It’s definitely something to explore. One potential trade target to explore could be talented 24-year old outfielder Marcell Ozuna, currently of the Miami Marlins.

It’s no secret that the Fish are looking at potential deals involving Ozuna. In examining the recent history between Ozuna and the team, there is definitely a strained relationship.

When Ozuna was optioned to the minors this season, he likened the demotion to a “jail sentence“. His agent, Scott Boras, got involved in the situation, wondering if service time manipulation was at play in the Marlins’ maneuver.

That drama, combined with Ozuna’s lackluster season, could mean that a divorce might be best for both the player and the team. It makes sense for the Phillies to at least explore what it would take to acquire the talented outfielder.

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What would the Phillies be potentially getting in Ozuna? If you look at just his season broken down statistically, you would be underwhelmed.

Ozuna has hit for a .255/.303/.383 slash line with only 10 home runs, 41 RBI, an 88 OPS+ producing only 0.3 bWAR . This is after a 2014 season in which he hit .269/.317/.455 with 23 home runs, 85 RBI, a 114 OPS+, and produced 4.5 bWAR, all at just age 23.

Had you asked about Ozuna’s availability after last season, you would likely have been laughed at by Marlins management. He, along with Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, were supposed to give the Marlins the best young outfield in the game. Instead, Ozuna has underperformed, and almost played his way out of Miami.

In taking a deeper look, I was wondering: could pitchers be approaching him differently this season? Is he getting himself out? Is his contact rate dropping? There doesn’t seem to be a change in where to pitch Ozuna when you look at his last two seasons side by side:

There also doesn’t seem to be any change as to what pitchers are throwing him:

So, what exactly is going on? His BABIP (.314) is slightly lower than last year (.326), so that can’t explain it.

His walk rates and strikeout rates are basically the same as last year. Line drive rate? Same-ish. Ground ball rate? A couple of tenths higher, nothing more.

Fansided’s own Marlin Maniac took a stab at what might be wrong with Ozuna, and came to the conclusion that his plate approach appears to be what is causing his poor season.

The writer, Daniel Zylberkan, does cite Ozuna’s zone contact rate, claiming that it is below average. However, when compared to last season, he has actually improved at this, having an almost 4% increase in hitting balls in the zone.

Zylberkan also cites his chase rate, which at the time (mid-July) was about 34%. It has remained basically the same since that time, so the question must be asked: is Ozuna simply experiencing bad luck?

Over his last dozen games since September 15th, Ozuna is hitting .304/.360/.500, so he has been finding more success of late. It could be in the Phillies’ best interest to see if bad luck played a factor in Ozuna’s earlier diminished statistical performance. Then Phillies could then benefit from a bounce back campaign in 2016 and beyond.

I’m not going to speculate on what kind of return Ozuna would command. The previous linked article stated “young pitching” is what the Marlins would be seeking, but who know exactly what would satisfy their demands?

The Phils should certainly not consider an Aaron Nola, Jake Thompson, or even Franklyn Kilome in such a deal, but the wonderful thing about the past few months of the rebuild is that the Phillies might actually have enough attractive, talented depth to begin such a discussion, something that wasn’t even possible just 18 months ago.

There is always the chance that Ozuna’s promising 2014 season was the fluke. To pay a premium in pitching prospects at this point in the rebuild, especially to a division rival, would be extremely damaging to a team that hopes to be in playoff contention shortly.

There is also the distinct possibility the team doesn’t have room for him. Odubel Herrera has basically cemented himself as the everyday center fielder next year. Aaron Altherr seems to have sewn up at least one of the corner positions, most likely in left field.

Does Ozuna fit the bill of what the team would be looking for in a right fielder? Your preference as a fan could come down to trading assets for Ozuna and his youth/upside, or spending dollars on Heyward, who is more experienced, has produced more at the big league level, and yet is still on the young side as well.

This will be an interesting offseason for sure. We will begin to see the course that MacPhail, as the new pilot of the Phillies’ rebuilding ship, charts for the big league club. Adding Marcell Ozuna could be one stop that he decides to make along the road back to October baseball.

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