While the off-season got off to an extremely slow start, the signing of Shohei Otani with the Angels, then the trade of Giancarlo Stanton from Miami to New York seems to have broken the dam. While the Indians weren’t linked to either player, there is no question they would have loved to have either of the incredibly exciting young athletes in Cleveland. However, the extreme price of Stanton (along with his no trade clause) as well as Otani’s unique situation that allowed him to play wherever he wanted without money being a barrier kept the pair away.
Now, all eyes turn towards Miami to see what will happen in the wake of the Stanton trade. The Marlin’s situation is a very unique one as they had done a fairly good job of stockpiling great talent, then signing them to favorable long term deals. Even though Stanton’s was in access of $300M, it’s impossible to argue that he isn’t worth at least that in a contract that will last more than a decade. Unfortunately, their only decent pitcher had an unfortunate accident in 2016 and Wei-Yin Chen, who has by far the worst contract on the team, missed most of 2017 with injury. Without a pitching staff to back up an impressive offense and defense, the Marlins finished eight games under .500 and ten games out of the second NL Wild Card in 2017.
While any normal, positive thinking young team would likely look at that and say, “let’s add some pitching and win the division next year,” the Marlins have never been normal. Instead, two time All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner Dee Gordon was sent to the Mariners for three minor leaguers (none of whom are anywhere near a top 100 prospect) despite being under team control through 2023 under a fair contract. Then followed the Stanton deal, with Starlin Castro being the biggest piece to come back to Miami. Now, the Marlins are looking to dump the rest of their guaranteed salaries, in particular Marcell Ozuna and potentially Christian Yelich.
Starting with the candidate more likely to be traded, at least eight teams have already shown interest including the Cardinals, Giants, Nationals and Athletics according to MLBTradeRumors. While the Indians have been incredibly close lipped about everything except Carlos Santana this off-season, Ozuna has long been considered a trade topic for those who follow the team.
While he had a down season defensively in 2017, Ozuna has generally been worth at least a few runs above average in both right and left field. At the same time, he had the breakout season everyone has been waiting for, smashing 34 home runs and knocking in 124 while hitting .312/.376/.548. While this was aided by a .355 BABIP, his career average on balls in play is .325 and he hits the ball weakly only 17% of the time, so it should be more sustainable than many players. His walk and strike out rates could be better and he is dead on the bases, but would be a huge upgrade over anything the Indians could put in the corner outfield spots next year. In fact, had he been available earlier, he would have been better than anyone the Indians played in either corner spot in 2017 or 2016 as well. Ozuna is not currently under contract, but is under team control for two more arbitration eligible season.
You may say that the Indians already have so many outfielders they don’t know what to do with them, but as a top defender without significant right/left split stats, he could replace two players on the roster by himself. This would be increasingly important with uncertainty surrounding Santana as the Indians are still in need of a 1B/DH. With Ozuna, the Indians could move Michael Brantley permanently to DH (or 1B if he can handle it) and continue with the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer in right or use Ozuna in right and take advantage of the situation to trade Chisenhall before he hits free agency at the end of the 2018 season.
As for the cost, little is known about the Marlins wants, but for the Indians any deal is likely to begin up the middle in the high minors. Yu-Cheng Chang and Willi Castro are two of the Tribe’s highest valued prospects and both are currently blocked by Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, all of whom are under team control through 2020. Both are potential MLB starters at short stop, but have played other positions (Chang at third, Castro at second) and hit well enough that another franchise could move them where they are needed defensively. There are other short stops and second basemen that have high value that the Indians would likely feel safe in moving, but they would have to see something more special than Ozuna to part with players from weaker positions, particularly Bobby Bradley, Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie.
Of course, the Marlins know that Yelich is the real prize. They have said as much recently, noting that they would prefer to keep the outfielder and that he would cost significantly more than Ozuna. For the Indians, it may be worth selling the farm for the Gold Glover who is guaranteed through 2021 with an option for 2022. He is owed just $7M next year, then $9.75M, $12.5M and $14M in 2021. He is an asset at the plate, on the bases and in the field, particularly in left field where he would likely be used should he head to Cleveland. Not even 27 years old, Yelich has continually improved so far in his career and is a great top of the line-up hitter. Like Ozuna, he would give the Indians one player who could do the job of two and solve the issue of the missing DH for a much smaller dollar amount than it would cost through free agency.
While it will be difficult for any team to pry Yelich out of Miami, the Indians have the kind of prospects to do it. If Miami wants starters who can pitch in the Majors right now, the Indians have about five they could part with, although none have high ceilings. If they prefer a player with more potential, the entire rotation from Lynchburg was solid last year and the only pitcher in the system that shouldn’t be available is McKenzie. In fact, beyond the three players mentioned earlier, nearly every Indians prospect should be on the board for a deal like this. With only a few more years left to make use of an elite rotation at its prime, the Indians need to be in win now mode and replacing a couple questionable players with one known star would go a long way in bringing stability to another potential championship run.