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Yeah, Marcell Ozuna makes a lot of sense

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Despite a commitment to tanking in 2020, the Giants will still need to fill out a roster.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No, the Giants don’t plan to compete next year, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. It also doesn’t sound like they’re planning to, either, if Jon Morosi’s report from a week and a half ago is accurate:

the Giants and D-backs have at least checked in with the representatives for Ozuna.

That’s not 45-year old utility player Pablo Ozuna, it’s 29-year old free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who hit 52 home runs combined over the last two seasons for the Cardinals following a trade from the Marlins. He’s hit fewer than 20 home runs in just two of his seven major league seasons (2013 and 2015). He’s not quite a power hitter — 67th in MLB over the past two seasons — but he’s a hitter with power. Which the Giants need.

Yes, even if they’re tankin’ it.

While there are a great many number of people who spam the comments section of this site who’d prefer to see the Giants lose 162 games in each of the next three seasons until Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Evan Longoria are but distant memories, that’s not the irrational and emotionally unstable avenue the Giants’ front office appears willing to explore this offseason. Nor should they.

There are plenty of ways to lose and develop and the Giants don’t need to save money for any good reason. If the leading thought is that the Giants don’t have enough talent on the active roster or in the organization, then why not add talent from the outside?

That doesn’t mean the team is a shoe in to land a Scott Boras client (despite what he intimates). The Giants won’t be focusing on the likes of Anthony Rendon to plug their many, many holes in the lineup — nor should they — but going after some guys who would definitely help in the power department this season would be sensible. We all like dingers, right? Thanks to MLB’s manufacturing processes, dingers are now abundant and low value, meaning a player like Ozuna could very well be available on a short-term deal that doesn’t tie up the roster going forward.

Oh look! Farhan Zaidi suggested this short-term/long-term strategy would be one of their guiding principles this offseason:

And again, I think at the juncture we’re in as an organization, we’re gonna have to view every baseball decision we make as a little bit of a trade off between production and development and the present and the future. And so, you know, I think all these decisions — the tender decisions — you know, decisions about, you know, what the right amount of guys or veteran presence we have on the team in 2020 is all, you know, going to be made along that dimension of the decision.

That was on Tim Kawakami’s podcast on The Athletic (subscription required) and came in reference to a question about Kevin Pillar being a non-tender candidate.

Back in October, I took a look at power hitters who have had some success at Oracle Park to see if it was possible to reverse engineer a list of free agents Farhan Zaidi (and now Scott Harris) might target in free agency. That was based on Zaidi’s end-of-season comments:

he mentioned that the team would be looking to add power to the lineup along with hitters who have profiles or “track records” of hitting in this park.

To that end, I put together two lists:

1) Players with a minimum of 30 PA, have posted at least a .173 ISO (click here for your ISO refresher) at Oracle Park, and will be 29 or younger at the start of 2020 (with the players I thought could be available in bold):

David Dahl - .282
Josh Bell - .279
Christian Yelich - .274
Wil Myers - .271
Stephen Piscotty - .271
Scott Schebler - .250
Garrett Hampson - .250
Javier Baez - .240
Eugenio Suarez - .238
Travis Jankowski - .238
Rhys Hoskins - .222
Randal Grichuk - .219
Nolan Arenado - .216
Jake Lamb - .215
Joc Pederson - .210
Michael Conforto - .206
Marcell Ozuna - .205
Manny Machado - .202
Albert Almora - .200
Michael A. Taylor - .189
Kyle Schwarber - .189
Alen Hanson - .187
Hunter Renfroe - .180
JT Realmuto - .178
Jeff McNeil - .178
Cody Bellinger - .176

2) Players with a minimum of 30 PA, have a wOBA of .340 or greater (your wOBA refresher is here), and will be 29 or younger on Opening Day 2020 (bold players = maybe available):

Christian Yelich - .414
Garrett Hampson - .392
Ronald Acuna Jr - .392
Rhys Hoskins - .389
Trea Turner - .387
Wilmer Flores - .385
Josh Bell - .371
Yasiel Puig - .362
Kolten Wong - .362
Cody Bellinger - .362
Scott Schebler - .362
Wil Myers - .360
Marcell Ozuna - .360
Michael Conforto - .355
Joc Pederson - .354
Randal Grichuk - .348
Nolan Arenado - .347
Manny Machado - .344
Eugenio Suarez - .342
Jeff McNeil - .340

I’ve already joked about the Giants going after Wil Myers this offseason, but what if they could sign a guy who’s in the range of Myers’ Oracle Park production, is maybe slightly better as an outfield defender (Myers was a -7.1 Defensive Runs Above Average) —

though, not by much

— and would cost fewer dollars and years? Ozuna wouldn’t make the Giants a “good” team, but he would improve the roster without hurting anyone’s development or soaking up payroll years down the road. Theoretically, anyway.

What might an Ozuna deal look like? I know you’ve probably already dismissed this idea because any team that signs him would lose a draft pick and international bonus money, but it’s worth point out that the Giants already gained a draft pick when Will Smith signed with the Braves and stand to gain another one when Bumgarner (probably) signs with the Braves, meaning they’d still have a net gain of one draft pick. As for the bonus pool money? Teams can trade for that.

The 2017-21 CBA also allows international funds to be traded more freely, as teams must now simply trade international money in increments of $250,000.

Is having a 2-win player for the next two seasons better than one extra draft pick in the 2020 draft? Probably. But how much like a player like Ozuna cost?

That’s where the mysteries of the new market grow more mysterious. Home runs are abundant and low value and Ozuna still didn’t hit a lot of them, but he has been about a 2-win player in each of the last two seasons — 5.4 fWAR, in fact, 61st in baseball. That’s more valuable than the following players (their 2-year fWAR and 2019 salary in parenthesis):

  • Mike Moustakas (5.2 fWAR, $7 million)
  • Charlie Blackmon (4.8 fWAR, $21.5 million)
  • Yuli Gurriel (4.3 fWAR, $10.4 million)
  • Adam Eaton (4.2 fWAR, $8.4 million)
  • Kevin Pillar (3.5 fWAR, $5.8 million)

But I have this theory that teams apply Wins Above Replacement different from the blogosphere. Fangraphs has its dollars per win total which takes into account total WAR and the total contract. But the recent free agent contracts suggest that teams are discounting that first win. After all, using technology and analytics, teams have demonstrated an ability to make players better than “replacement level”.

I go back to Farhan’s comments from 2013:

You can build a 75-win team just based on sound analytical principles, and you can do that year in, year out even with a $50 million payroll. The question is how do you get beyond that point?

Remember that a team of replacement players would be projected to win 48 games in a season. A team of mostly 1-win players is how you get from 48 to 75 as your lower bound.

Remember that Zaidi signed Derek Holland to a 1-year, $6.5 million contract based on a 2.2-win season in 2018. The conventional wisdom used to be that a win “costs” between $6-$8 million. That really looks like the Giants offered Holland a contract based on that extra win and not the two he accumulated, and it’s almost certain the Giants aren’t alone in this formulation.

Does that mean Marcell Ozuna is going to accept a 1-year, $6.5 million deal? No. Nor should he. A 2-win every day player should probably have a little more earning power. To wit: Jonathan Schoop had a bad 2018 (0.5 fWAR) but managed a 1-year, $7.5 million deal from the Twins in 2019. Marwin Gonzalez parlayed a 4-win 2017 (despite a 1.5-win 2018) into a 2-year, $21 million deal from the Twins. The Twins also gave Nelson Cruz a 1-year $14 million deal (with a $12 million option for 2020) off a 2.5-win (and 37 homer) 2018.

So, somewhere in the range of 1-2 years and $8-$12 million per year lies what figures to be a market deal for Marcell Ozuna, unless some front office breaks ranks. That team probably won’t be the Giants. They might not even come in at the high end of that offer range.

But he’d be a good fit for the roster by way of being a very simple improvement . . . like changing your apartment’s lighting scheme by switching off the harsh overhead florescent lights and placing soft floor and table lamps in every room. It won’t change the fact that you’re living in an apartment / that the Giants will be a very bad team in 2020, but it will make the place / the very bad team feel a little nicer.