First things first, Yoenis Cespedes is a great baseball player, and the Tigers are lucky to have him. Talk about his .301 OBP, and poor plate discipline all you want, but when it comes down to it, the Cuban native is a rare talent. However, unless the 2015 season concludes with a parade through Motown, the Detroit Tigers will end up regretting the way in which they chose to use their starting pitching depth as a valuable asset.
Namely, Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers’ brass will regret not using Rick Porcello’s 2014 season to land a young controllable outfielder. One name that immediately comes to mind is Marcell Ozuna. Amongst others, Jon Morosi reported that in the weeks prior to the Winter Meetings the Marlins had inquired on the availability of the Tigers’ talented pitchers, and while there is no telling how serious these talks got, Ozuna would have been a perfect addition to Brad Ausmus’ starting lineup.
Ozuna may not be a household name but he is far from a mediocre talent, and he was a key ingredient in the drastic improvement of the upstart Miami Marlins. And when comparing Cespedes to Ozuna, both on and off the field, the results prove unfavorable for the Tigers’ new left fielder.
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To begin, Cespedes is in the last year of his current contract and will demand the money he earns at the end of a year where the Tigers will have to make some decisions that could further hamper their limited financial flexibility. Ozuna, on the other hand, is not arbitration eligible until 2016, and cannot become a free agent until 2020. Financially, he makes much more sense for a Tigers team that will be hard-pressed to find controllable young players under the weight of the contracts they gave to Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and the like.
By the same token, it would appear that Ozuna has the potential to be as good, if not better than Cespedes in the future, and that he could have filled in just as well for the win-now 2015 Tigers. Not only did Ozuna hit for a higher average than Cespedes, but he also hit more homeruns, and had a higher OBP. Where the young Marlins’ outfielder really shines, however, is on defense.
According to ESPN in 2014, Marcell Ozuna was in the top ten, amongst National League center fielders, in the following categories: defensive wins above replacement (1.4), range factor (2.49), fielding percentage (.985), and outfield assists (8). ESPN’s statistics also show that amongst all American League left fielders, Cespedes finished 24th in dWAR (0.4), and finished below Ozuna in that statistic, as well as range factor (1.91), and fielding percentage (.979).
In short, while Cespedes is a certainly an upgrade over Torii Hunter, and generally an above-average player, Ozuna is coming off a better year, and provides more certainty for future teams. Pair Ozuna with Nick Castellanos, J.D. Martinez, and Jose Iglesias, and you’re suddenly looking at a future that is no longer bleak, but promising.