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Was the Marcell Ozuna trade a fair deal?

The Cardinals should expect regression from their latest acquisition in 2018, but they parted with a light prospect haul

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Let's hope that we see more Marcell Ozuna home runs at Busch Stadium like in the picture above.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

"Make a bold move!"

"I can't wait to hear how the Cardinals finish second this time."

"This is just classic Mo."

[Zombie army emerges from beneath Earth's surface]


[Beads of sweat begin to pour down John Mozeliak's face à la Airplane]

"Derek, I need help. Give me one of your best players and let us keep all of our elite prospects."

[Jeter remains fixated on Monday Night Football as whatever the Miami Dolphins call a quarterback these days tosses another interception]

"Uh huh, uh...sure."

And a baseball trade was completed.

Yes, as I'm sure you have all heard by now, the Cardinals finally landed their top prize: a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder from the Miami Marlins–wait, sorry.

The Cardinals moved Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen, and Daniel Castano yesterday for two-time All-Star Marcell Ozuna, who is expected to replace the traded Stephen Piscotty in the starting outfield.

Ozuna boasts the type of baseball card stats that fans salivate at: a .312 batting average accompanied by 37 homers and 124 RBI. Is that it? Am I done here?

Of course not. It's never that simple.

Prior to 2017, Ozuna's career stats were in a word: pedestrian. His 103 OPS+ (for context, 100 is league average) led him to a bWAR/600 plate appearances of 2.4 through his first four seasons in the big leagues. Ozuna was the type of good-but-not-great player that clogged the Cardinals' roster.

And along came the new year.

Following back-to-back underwhelming seasons after a promising 2014, Ozuna tore opposing pitchers to shreds in 2017. His 142 wRC+ (like with OPS+, 100 is average) was sixth best among all qualified outfielders as Ozuna posted a 4.8 fWAR, 1.1 wins better than in 2015 and 2016 combined. Where did this breakout come from?

Improved plate discipline was likely a factor. Ozuna's walk-to-strikeout ratio of 0.44:1 was a career high, as was his 9.4% walk rate. His chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone only rose by 0.2% while his swing rate on pitches inside the zone increased from 66.5% to 73.1%. All of this culminated in a career best non-contact wOBA for Ozuna last season.

When bat did meet ball, however, the story went a little differently. Ozuna averaged an exit velocity of 91.2 miles-per-hour between 2015 and 2016, which dipped to 90.7 in 2017. While Ozuna's flashy .397 wOBA last season looks great on paper, his expected wOBA based on Statcast's batted ball data–which our own Craig Edwards found to be a solid predictor of future offensive performance–was 38 points lower at .359. Now, a .359 wOBA is fine, but that would have knocked Ozuna down about 60 spots from 22nd on the MLB wOBA leaderboard (minimum 200 at-bats).

Ozuna began the year with a lifetime BABIP of .318, an ISO of .162, and a HR/FB rate of 12.3%. Those numbers in 2017? .355, .237, and 23.4%. Granted, one would expect those figures to be somewhat inflated by last season's homer-happy run environment, but his 2017 level of production simply isn't sustainable going forward.

So what does 2018 and beyond bode for Ozuna? The Steamer projections system pegs him for 3.5 WAR over 610 plate appearances with a 125 wRC+. The projections foresee offensive regression across the board for Ozuna (although his BsR and UZR projections are slightly up from his 2017 outputs) in 2018, but he is still poised to be a two-or-so win upgrade upon the Cardinals' weakest position.

Of course, Ozuna's career in St. Louis has to be put into the context of the trade that sent him here. Using my rudimentary player value model, we can calculate Ozuna's value as a trade asset using his Steamer projections for 2018, a homemade average aging curve, research conducted by Matt Swartz regarding the cost of a win, a 5.5% inflation rate, an 8% discount for future production, MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration projections, and a study on arbitration raises from the Point of Pittsburgh.

Marcell Ozuna Market Value Projections

Marcell Ozuna Total 2018 2019
Marcell Ozuna Total 2018 2019
Age N/A 27 28
WAR 6.6 3.4 3.2
Cost per WAR N/A 11.1 11.8
Salary 27.8 10.9 16.9
Market Value 75.8 38.3 37.5
Surplus Value 48.0 27.4 20.6
Net Present Surplus Value 45.0 27.4 17.6

The bottom row, displaying Ozuna's net present surplus value (NPSV), is the magic number that we care about for our purposes of evaluating the Cardinals' trade with the Marlins.

As for Miami's return package, these types of models can become a bit more hairy when we don't have more reliable MLB projections at our disposal. I deferred to Chris Mitchell's KATOH projections for prospects, which include each player's projected WAR before hitting free agency. In what was far from a perfect methodology, I repeated the same process for the prospects the Cardinals dealt.

Alcantara's NPSV ($18.5 million) combined with Sierra's ($8.9 million) and Gallen's ($10.4 million) totaled $37.8 million. Because Daniel Castano wasn't mentioned in FanGraphs' top Cardinals prospects writeup, his projections aren't publicly accessible. For the collection of St. Louis prospects to match Ozuna's NPSV of $45 million, Castano would need a projection of about 1.2 WAR over his first six seasons. (For reference, Gallen's projection was 1.6 WAR.) Keep in mind that if Ozuna tests free agency and leaves after 2019, the value of a compensation draft pick would be added to his NPSV. These values also line up with Ben Markham’s research on the subject.

The Ozuna trade–perhaps the Alcantara trade when it's all said and done?–does not appear to be a highway robbery one way or another. The Marlins continue their payroll-slashing crusade while picking up some interesting prospects, one of whom we know for a fact they are infatuated with. The Cardinals, on the other hand, consolidate some of their organizational depth into an outfielder who likely becomes their best position player from day one.

The Cardinals and Marlins as potential trade partners were a match made in heaven, destined for a collision course this offseason. St. Louis' Plan A might have fallen through, and it remains to be seen exactly what Plan B in its entirety looks like, but one thing is for sure: the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals got better yesterday.