Phillies Reportedly Interested in Marcell Ozuna
Christian Moreno of ESPN Deportes reported on Thursday that the Phillies have interest in trading for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna struggled in the first half of the season before being demoted to Triple-A New Orleans in early July.
There’s more to Ozuna’s demotion than performance. Team owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t want to play Ozuna due to playing time concerns, and former GM and manager Dan Jennings played Ozuna against Loria’s wishes, as USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale reported. That led to Jennings’ dismissal at the end of October.
Ozuna’s availability, then, is no surprise. He’s 25 years old and under team control through 2019. He broke out in 2014, hitting .269/.317/.455 with 26 doubles and 23 home runs. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rate him as an above-average defender since he debuted in 2013, spending most of his time in center field. However, Ozuna could reliably fill a corner outfield role as well.
Ozuna, over 1,397 career plate appearances, has a slightly below-average walk rate (six percent) and a slightly above-average strikeout rate (about 24 percent) and his .151 isolated power is also right around the average for major league outfielders.
The Marlins are reportedly looking for market value for Ozuna, per MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. In particular, they’re looking for a “front-line starting pitcher”. (Also noteworthy: Frisaro’s report contradicts Nightengale’s regarding Jennings’ dismissal. However, the Marlins’ brass is notoriously stingy and speaks out of both sides of its mouth.) The free agent market currently has a number of attractive outfield options including Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Dexter Fowler, and Denard Span. If the Marlins shop Ozuna as a cheaper alternative, they may be able to get something close to what they want. But the longer the off-season goes on, as outfielder-hungry teams sate their needs, the less leverage the Marlins will have. The Phillies may be wise to wait it out.
As they stand now, the Phillies do not have a deficit of outfield depth. Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr have two spots spoken for at the major league level. In the minor league system, the Phillies have in their top-10 2015 first round pick Cornelius Randolph, Nick Williams (acquired in the Cole Hamels trade), and Roman Quinn. Darnell Sweeney, acquired in the Chase Utley trade, can also play outfield. Acquiring Ozuna should be considered a luxury and the Phillies should only pounce if they can drive the Marlins’ price down.
Phillies Sign James Russell to a Minor League Contract
On Thursday, the Phillies signed lefty hurler James Russell to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Russell, 30 in January, struggled this past season, finishing with a 5.29 ERA and a 20/9 K/BB ratio in 34 innings. He was effective in the Cubs’ bullpen between 2012-14, however, compiling an aggregate 3.26 ERA. The Cubs traded him to the Braves at the trade deadline in 2014, and he re-signed with the Cubs as a free agent after the season.
Russell doesn’t miss many bats, owning a career strikeout rate of 17 percent along with a seven percent walk rate. He hasn’t particularly been effective at getting out lefties, as they have compiled a .689 OPS against him compared to the .800 of right-handers.
The Phillies, though, don’t have many lefty relievers. On the 40-man roster, only Elvis Araujo and Mario Hollands call the bullpen their home and throw from the left side. Hollands, however, underwent Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready for the start of the season. Joely Rodriguez moved back into Reading’s starting rotation during the season. The Phillies will likely sign another southpaw or two to compete with Russell for a bullpen spot during spring training.