ST. LOUIS (AP) Marcell Ozuna knew he was likely to be traded when the Miami Marlins began their salary purge during the offseason, and he paid special attention to the rumors about where he might play this year.
The new St. Louis Cardinals outfielder couldn’t be happier with where he wound up, even if he’ll always have a place in his heart for Miami.
”First thing, when I heard that they were trying to trade me to the Oakland A’s, I said, `Well, God, please, leave me over here,”’ Ozuna said Sunday. ”Then I heard that they traded me to the Cardinals, and said, `OK, thanks.”’
Ozuna had good reason to be satisfied with the trade that brought him to St. Louis . Most notably, he left a Marlins team that hadn’t finished within 15 games of a division title in his career for a city that knows little other than winning.
The Cardinals have had one losing season since the turn of the century. And after missing the postseason for a second straight season last year – the first time St. Louis had missed the playoffs in back-to-back years since 2007-08 – there was little doubt the team would do whatever it took to challenge the two-time NL Central champion Chicago Cubs.
What the Cardinals received in return for the four prospects they sent to the Marlins was a 27-year-old, two-time All-Star in Ozuna. The outfielder from the Dominican Republic set career-bests nearly across the board last year, finishing with a .312 average, 37 home runs and 124 RBIs.
”Bringing that bat into this lineup, it’s exciting,” Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said.
Ozuna put together his best season while playing largely in the shadow of former teammate Giancarlo Stanton and his major league-best 59 home runs in 2017. He’ll be front and center in a St. Louis lineup that was led by shortstop Paul DeJong’s 25 homes runs a year ago.
”When you look at our position players and you look around and you can name them by name, they’re all good, but we need great,” St. Louis President John Mozeliak said. ”… Ultimately that was what we were able to do with Ozuna. We do think with that addition he’s going to pull some people up with him.”
As good as Ozuna was offensively last season, he also won the Gold Glove in left field – where he’ll play with the Cardinals in an outfield that’s expected to feature Tommy Pham in center and Dexter Fowler in right.
Ozuna was in St. Louis in Sunday as part of the team’s annual ”Winter Warm-Up,” a gathering for St. Louis fans. His autograph line extended to the back of the ballroom, and Ozuna was impressed with the turnout.
He’s likely to be even more impressed by the crowds this summer at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals averaged 42,567 fans a year ago compared to the 20,395 he played in front on average in Miami.
”I’m happy to play for them,” Ozuna said. ”Because now you play for a reason. You play for a good team, the playoffs, those kinds of things.”
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