Tommy Pham’s excitement about a December trade with the Miami Marlins was rooted less in what Marcell Ozuna can do for the Cardinals than what he can no longer do to them.
In seven games against the Cardinals, Ozuna hit .357 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. His .750 slugging percentage against St. Louis was the highest against any National League team.
“I was pumped because, you know, he killed us this past season,” Pham said Sunday at the Cardinals Winter-Up. “He hit all of our pitchers and he used the whole field from right field down to the left-field line. And you see he won a Gold Glove, so you see he’s a guy that can impact the game, not only offensively, but defensively.”
Ozuna said he’s also “pumped” by his trade to an organization with a history of success and a city that more than doubles the average attendance for a home game than the one from which he came.
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“I feel very happy. The first thing when I heard they were going to trade me to the Oakland A’s, I said ... ‘Wow, God please leave me over here,” Ozuna said through a heavy Latin accent. “Then I heard they traded me to the Cardinals and I said ‘OK, thanks.’”
Whatever else the Cardinals do — if anything — in their offseason improvement plan, the outfield is the one thing that’s chiseled in stone.
Only Dexter Fowler, the prize of the Cardinals offseason in 2017, returns to the mix, though he’ll be shifting over from center field to right. Ozuna will be in left as the other bookend to Pham.
Some already are calling it one of the best outfields in baseball, an assessment Pham agrees with, “but it’s one thing to say it,” he added, “you have to go out there and do it.”
Ozuna’s addition bolsters both the Cardinals’ offense and defense.
Last season with Miami, the 27-year-old outfielder batted .312 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs. He had a .376 on-base percentage, a .548 slugging average and an OPS of .924.
All were career bests. His Gold Glove Award was his first.
The Cardinals acquired him in exchange for minor league outfielder Magneuris Sierra and pitching prospects Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano.
Ozuna changes the makeup of the entire lineup, said Cardinals President Of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak.
“I think the most interesting internal debates we’ve had is when you look at our position players. You can look around and you can name them by name. They’re all good, but we needed great,” Mozeliak said. “Ultimately, that’s what we were trying to focus on ... We were able to do that with Ozuna and we think with that addition he’s going to pull some people up with him.”
Ozuna says he’s visited on social media with some of his new teammates, including longtime friends Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez, who have long teased him about bringing his skills to St. Louis.
He feels no added pressure by being the big bat to the middle of the lineup.
“There’s no pressure. Just play the game, enjoy the game and have fun,” Ozuna said. “If you have fun and your family is OK, you’re going to play well ... Being in the lineup is my best part. Hitting eighth or leadoff, it’s being in the lineup that’s important to me. Playing every day makes me feel happy.”
Pham, 29, had a breakout season in 2017, batting .306 with a .411 on-base, .931 OPS, 23 home runs and 71 RBIs.
He not only expects to repeat that level of performance — acknowledging that some do not share his expectations — he believes he can improve.
“Personally, I think I’m a 30-30 player. I probably would have got it if I was up all year,” he said.
Between Memphis and St. Louis, Pham came close with 31 bases and 27 home runs in 153 total games. He says he’s comfortable with the shift to center field after playing left last year.
“I came up as a center fielder. Playing the corners is new to me,” he said. “Prior to last year, I probably only had like 50 games max in left field. I’m very familiar with center field.”
Fowler is entering the second year of a five-year contract worth $82.5 million. At .264, he hit close to his career average, but gave the Cardinals better power numbers than they anticipated with 18 home runs and a career-best .488 slugging percentage.