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MLB trade rumors: Oakland A’s looking at Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich

Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports on interest in the Marlins outfielders.

Yelich and Ozuna
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s “have interest” in Miami Marlins outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

This news fits in well with the facts we already know about this offseason. Khris Davis would make more sense as the DH than in the outfield, where his defense is subpar (mostly his arm), and they could even trade away Ryon Healy to facilitate that switch. At the same time, they’re already rumored to be in the market for a right-handed outfield bat.

On the other side of the coin, the Marlins’ new owners are looking to slash the team’s payroll by at least $50 million. The biggest name in the rumor mill has been superstar Giancarlo Stanton, who has a strong chance of being named NL MVP next week but still has nearly $300 million left on his gargantuan contract. However, even dumping Stanton’s salary would only get them halfway to their savings goal.

Enter Ozuna and Yelich, who are both stars in their own rights. Ozuna had the superior 2017, but Yelich has enjoyed a more consistent career to this point. A quick word on each:

  • Marcell Ozuna hit 37 homers this year and won the Gold Glove in LF. The right-hander’s 142 wRC+ was assisted by a high batting average that he’ll have to prove is sustainable, but his improved BB/K rate was encouraging. He’ll turn 27 on Sunday, so this 5-6 WAR breakout could be a youngster reaching his peak. However, he only has two more seasons of team control, and should clear $10 million in arbitration this winter.
  • Christian Yelich contributes in every facet of the game. The lefty swinger hits for a consistently good average, boosts his OBP with a high walk rate, keeps the strikeouts low, hits for 20-HR power, and can steal double-digit bases as well. On defense, he also owns a past Gold Glove in LF, but spent 2017 holding his own in CF. The whole package has generally added up to a 3-4 WAR player, arguably as high as 5 WAR the last couple years. Yelich turns 26 in December, and is signed through 2021 with a team option for ‘22. (Total guarantee is $44.5M, but only $7M in 2018.)

Either player would fit well into Oakland’s lineup. They would shore up Oakland’s weak outfield defense, as well as offering significant boosts to the offense — Ozuna as the righty they crave, or Yelich as the reliable OBP boost they need. There is space in the relatively empty payroll to fit one of them while still spending to bolster the pitching staff.

At the moment, the A’s primary outfield options include Khrush in LF; Boog Powell and Dustin Fowler in CF; and Matt Joyce and Chad Pinder in RF. There are others on the list, like Jaycob Brugman, Mark Canha, and perhaps Renato Nunez, but the aforementioned are the key names at the top of the depth chart.

Hot takes

My stance for this offseason is that I don’t want to bring in any significant position players other than a catcher, and that’s still where I stand.

Ozuna would have been a brilliant target after his poor 2015, but now he’s at peak value and the Marlins can sell high. His next team will pay out the nose in trade, and then also pay him eight figures in salary, all for just two seasons of his services. That’s the kind of move the 2015 A’s would make, mortgaging too much future for too short and risky of a return at a time when they aren’t one or two simple moves from obvious contention — and certainly not one hitter away, since the biggest question marks are found in the young, unreliable pitching staff.

Yelich would be a wonderful get, but for the massive trade price he’ll require I would want a perfect fit. That would mean top-notch defense in CF, not just another corner guy who can more or less cut it there. I don’t much care which side of the plate he hits from, so being a lefty isn’t a dealbreaker, but for what it’s worth he also doesn’t fit the previous rumor that the A’s want a righty.

Yes, I’m being super picky. That’s because I see 2018 as one final bridge year, with enough legitimately promising youngsters to fill the lineup around the productive veterans who remain. The infield should be set beyond all doubt (Olson, Lowrie, Semien, Chapman), and there are plenty of quality names to develop in the outfield even beyond veterans Khrush and Joyce (esp Pinder, Powell, Fowler). If a righty bat is needed in LF then I’d rather try out Renato Nunez than pay lavishly for a splashy name.

To be clear, I’m not giving up on contention next year. I’m saying that the route to an Oakland wild card is developing last year’s rookies into stars, not spending significant resources on one or two short-term fixes. Adding Ozuna or Yelich to the lineup won’t do it, but buying a few veteran pitchers and watching the kids break out at least has a chance of working — like it did in 2012.

I expect a lot of folks on AN will disagree with me here, but I’m holding firm in my patience. We just slogged through three rebuilding years and my sights are set higher than scrapping for short-term wild card berths. I want to build a juggernaut from within, and the pieces are there to do it if we can resist frittering them away on premature postseason pushes.

Bring me a starting catcher, two stopgap starting pitchers, and two late-inning relievers, preferably through free agency as much as possible.