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Two Players, Eight Prospects: Reevaluating the Yelich and Ozuna Trades

Following the 2017 season, the Miami Marlins, under new owner Derek Jeter, started one of the largest fire sales in MLB history. This was despite the fact that the Marlins had just finished the season second in the NL East at 77-85, and had an extremely talented young core. This included what could have been one of the best outfields of all time, one that consisted of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich. However, the Marlins lacked starting pitching after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez, and had a minor league system that was almost completely devoid of top prospects. Due to this, Jeter traded one of the games best players at the time, Stanton, to the Yankees for Starlin Castro, Jose Devers, and Jorge Guzman. This was only the second time in major league history that a player was traded in the off season right after he hit 50 or more homers.

It is the Marlins next two trades, however, that are much more intriguing, as both gave the Marlins four prospects each. Two days after trading Stanton, the Marlins traded Ozuna to the Cardinals for Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen, and Daniel Castano. A bit over a month later, the Marlins completed the main part of their rebuild by trading Yelich for Jordan Yamamoto, Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, and Isan Diaz. Additionally, all eight of these prospects have now made their major league debuts, with Monte Harrison making his debut on August 3rd and Daniel Castano making his on August 8th. With everyone now having played in the big leagues, it seems like a perfect time to reevaluate and regrade the Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich trades. The Stanton trade won’t be reevaluated, as Devers still hasn’t made his debut.

Marcell Ozuna

If there was a star for the Marlins other than Giancarlo Stanton, it was Marcell Ozuna. 2017 happened to be the best season of his career, but he was a stud while on the Marlins. In 2014, he hit .269 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs, leading to a 4.5 WAR season. These numbers offensively were almost mirrored in 2016, a season in which he hit .266, again with 23 home runs. However, his defense tailed off slightly, and he was only worth 2.4 WAR. The next year was when Ozuna became a bona fide star, which significantly raised his trade value for the Marlins. In 2017, Ozuna hit .312, while crushing 37 home runs and driving in 124 batters. His triple slash (OBP/SLG/OPS) was .376/.548/.924, and he finished the season with a 143 WRC+. He was worth 5.0 WAR.

For the Marlins:

The Marlins biggest acquisition in this trade was Sandy Alcantara. Upon completion of the trade, Alcantara immediately became the number one prospect in the Marlins system. He actually had 8.1 innings of big league experience at the time of the trade, but as a reliever. Alcantara made his Marlins debut and first career big league start late in 2016, appearing in only six games for the Marlins. He went 2-3, while posting a 3.44 ERA. Then, in 2019 he got even better, becoming the Marlins lone All-Star. This was mainly due to his 3.88 ERA that he posted last year. Questions were raised about whether or not Alcantara could keep this up, since his xFIP sat at 5.17 by years end. He also only struck out 18% of batters he faced, despite an above average 48.9% swing rate. However, the doubters were silenced in his lone start of 2020 before being sidelined with Covid-19. Alcantara threw 6.2 innings of one run ball, while striking out seven. He should continue to be one of the better arms for the Marlins.

Daniel Castano was another pitching prospect the Marlins obtained from the Cardinals. Castano pitched in 30 games in 2019, twelve at the high A level and eighteen in AA, and actually was even better at AA. Eleven of his eighteen appearances were starts, and he finished 7-2. Castano pitched to a strong 3.35 ERA, striking out 73 over 86 innings. Even more impressive is that while he was in AA, only 2.5% of the fly balls he gave up resulted in home runs, while also having a 13.3% swinging strike rate. Castano now has made two starts in the big leagues. Against the Mets he struggled a bit, giving up four earned runs over 4.1 innings. However, in his second start, which came against the Braves, Castano went six innings while giving up only one earned run on four hits. His home run to fly ball ratio has jumped to 25% in his two starts, but that is a number that will definitely go down.

The third pitcher the Marlins acquired in that trade was Zac Gallen, although he was traded to the Diamondbacks in a surprising move at the 2019 trade deadline. Over the course of the rebuild, the Marlins have built a strong core of pitching prospects, and felt they could trade Gallen. In return, the Marlins acquired shortstop prospect Jazz Chisholm. Prior to the trade, Gallen made seven starts, going 1-3 with a 2.72 ERA and 43 strikeouts, numbers he has continued to post in Arizona. Chisholm is considered the shortstop of the future for the Marlins, and is the number 52 prospect overall according to baseball prospectus. He is currently is on the Marlins taxi squad, although it is unlikely he gets called up this year.

Speedster Magneuris Sierra was the final piece of the deal. He actually played his most games in the big leagues in 2018, as he spent the majority of 2019 back in the minors. This was primarily because Sierra failed to get on base in his 54 games in the big leagues, posting a .190 batting average and .222 on base percentage. However, in his 15 games last year he hit .350 and so far through nine games this year he has gone 5-16 with four walks. His biggest presence is on base, as he already has two stolen bases this year. Sierra’s defense has also improved since 2018, and should see plenty of play as a defensive replacement.

Overall, the Marlins got someone who may end up being the ace of the future, and a player they flipped for one of the best shortstop prospects in the game. These two high impact players already make the deal look solid for the Marlins, but they were also able to get two additional players who could provide an impact. However, it is not super likely that they become guaranteed everyday players. It was a very strong deal for the Marlins looking back, and if Sierra can get on base more and Castano pitches like he did in his second big league start, this will look like a steal.

Grade: A-

For the Cardinals:

The Cardinals got two years of Ozuna prior to him leaving to the Braves in free agency. While he didn’t perform quite like he did in 2017, Ozuna provided two strong years for the Cards. In 2018, he hit .280 while posting a .325/.433/.758 triple slash line (OBP/SLG/OPS). Ozuna also hit 23 homers and drove in 88 runs. Despite his average dropping to .241 in 2019, he was arguably even better last season. His home run number jumped to 29 and his OPS was an even .800. Ozuna provided 5.3 WAR over two years for the Cardinals. Additionally, the Cards had the pitching depth, especially prospect-wise, to afford to give up three good pitching prospects. Sierra was the number six prospect for St. Louis at the time, but he hasn’t lived up to that potential for the Marlins. Although Ozuna failed to help his new team to the playoffs in 2018, he did lead them to the NLCS in 2019, in which they got swept by the Nationals. The solid production and deep playoff run make this deal look a bit better from the perspective of the Cardinals, but they definitely were hoping for two postseason runs and/or a World Series ring. Without that, four prospects seems like a lot.

Grade: B-

Christian Yelich

Christian Yelich wasn’t as big of a name as Stanton or Ozuna at the time, but he was arguably just as good. In his rookie season, Yelich put up a WAR of 1.8 over 62 games, and had a WAR over four in three of his full seasons on the Marlins, topping out at 5.4 in 2016. Yelich always provided a good mix of speed, power, and average, and this was especially clear in 2016 and 2017. During these two seasons, he combined to hit .290 with 39 homers and 25 stolen bases (which makes his 2019 look ridiculous, since he beat those numbers in one season). Additionally, Yelich’s lowest WRC+ on the Marlins was 117. The Marlins actually thought about keeping their young star, but he requested a trade after Stanton and Ozuna departed.

For the Marlins:

The biggest name that the Marlins acquired in this trade was Lewis Brinson. At the time of the trade, Brinson was the number one prospect in the Brewers system, and the 13th-best prospect overall. Needless to say, Brinson has not lived up to the expectations. He played in 109 big leagues for the Fish in 2018, and while he did hit 11 home runs and knock in 42, he hit just .199. He was even worse in 2019, hitting .173 without a home run in 75 games. However, Brinson has found success in the minors, hitting .270 with sixteen homers and stolen bases apiece before his 2019 call-up. The most notable difference is that his walk rate in the minors was almost double what it was during his time in the big leagues. His lack of success is scary for the Marlins, and already makes the trade look bad from their standpoint. The Marlins have made it clear that they want to continue to give him big league at-bats, but it is getting harder and harder to justify that.

Isan Diaz was the number six prospect in the Brewers organization, and he made quite the splash in his big league debut, homering off Jacob deGrom in his first career at-bat. Diaz got called up after hitting .305 with 26 homers in AAA last year. However, like Brinson, he struggled to perform at the big league level. Across 42 games he only hit .173 with five homers, while also seeing his strikeout rate go up by seven percent and his walk rate go down by two percent. Diaz appeared in two games this year, but after the Covid-19 outbreak in the Marlins organization, he decided to opt out of the season. Still, he has the potential to break out, and is considered the second baseman of the future. He’ll look to showcase that in 2021.

Monte Harrison might have been the guy that the Marlins were hoping to replace Yelich on the base paths, and is one of the most exciting prospects for the Marlins. Before his call-up, Marlins fans created a #FreeMonte campaign of Twitter to get their number six prospect up. Over 56 games in AAA last year, Harrison showed both power and speed by hitting nine homers and stealing twenty bases. However, he has a huge question mark when it comes to striking out, and he has struck out in 50% of his at bats so far in the big leagues. Even though this number will likely remain a bit high, I think that it will go down to around 30%, which was about his rate in the minors. If it does, Harrison should blossom into the prospect he is expected to be, and Marlins fans should be excited, especially after he hit his first career homer on Saturday.

The Marlins also acquired pitching prospect Jordan Yamamoto, who actually has had the most success among the four in the big leagues. ‘Yams’ as he is known to Marlins fans wasn’t the biggest name in this trade, but Marlins fans are definitely happy he was included. Yamamoto has been a bit up and down to start his career, but there is definitely more good than bad in his short tenure. He had a 4.46 ERA last season over 78.2 innings, while striking out 9.38 batters per nine innings. He struggled a bit in his three starts so far in 2020, resulting in his demotion. Yamamoto combined for only 8.2 innings in his three starts this year, including lasting just 1.1 innings in his most recent start. Still, he actually did slightly raise his strikeout and swinging strike rates in those three starts compared to last year. Yamamoto showed that he can be a serviceable pitcher in the big leagues, especially in his first six career starts, but he needs to find consistency in order to stay in the big leagues.

The Marlins acquired a ton of potential in this trade, but sadly it has not lived up to the expectations. Yamamoto has given quality innings, but it is hard to argue this trade worked out unless all three of the offensive players they acquired find themselves in the next season or so. Meanwhile, Yelich has gotten even better. The biggest win for the Marlins here is getting rid of someone frustrated in their rebuild, although they claim that had nothing to do with why they traded Yelich.

Grade: C-

For the Brewers:

If Yelich was great for the Marlins, he has been elite on the Brewers. In his first season in Milwaukee, Yelich hit 36 homers and stole 22 bases. His triple slash was .402/.598/1.000 and he had a 166 WRC+, while putting up 7.6 WAR and taking home an MVP award. If it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger having a ridiculous 2019, Yelich would have won a second NL MVP award, because somehow got even better. This time, he hit 44 homers, stole 30 bases, and saw his OPS rise by one hundred points to 1.100. He did this in only 130 games, and he may have won the MVP again if it wasn’t for a season-ending injury.

Any time a team adds a perennial MVP candidate, especially during the offseason, the trade looks good for them. Combine that with the fact that the Brewers were able to sign Yelich to a nine-year extension through 2028, and that the prospects they gave up haven’t found much big league success, and this trade looks like an absolute steal. Additionally, Yelich lead the Brewers to a division title and a NLCS appearance in 2018 and another playoff trip in 2019. Yelich should make the Brewers playoff candidates every year, which is the icing on the cake for the Brewers in this trade.

Grade: A+

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports

Jonah Keehn

Jonah is a UCF AlumKnight. He is currently working as a Direct Care Professional in the behavioral health field. Jonah can be followed on Twitter @JonahKeehn

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