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Ozuna acquisition nice counterpunch by Cards

After Stanton's trade rejection, St. Louis nabbed All-Star, left money for closer
MLB.com @feinsand

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Giancarlo Stanton's decision to shun the Cardinals by rejecting a trade to St. Louis last week was a gut punch to John Mozeliak and his front office.

Rather than preparing for the addition of the reigning National League MVP Award winner to the middle of their lineup, the Cardinals were forced to go back to the drawing board in search of a middle-of-the-lineup bat.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Giancarlo Stanton's decision to shun the Cardinals by rejecting a trade to St. Louis last week was a gut punch to John Mozeliak and his front office.

Rather than preparing for the addition of the reigning National League MVP Award winner to the middle of their lineup, the Cardinals were forced to go back to the drawing board in search of a middle-of-the-lineup bat.

"There was a lot invested in that," Mozeliak, the club's president of baseball operations, said of the pursuit of Stanton. "To not get it done, the group rolled up its sleeves and went on to the next. There was a lot of time and energy, and the outcome wasn't what we hoped, so it can be a little tough."

In the end, it might have been the best thing that could have happened for the Cards.

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On Wednesday, St. Louis agreed to a trade for left fielder Marcell Ozuna, sending a package of prospects to Miami in a deal that could be completed as soon as Thursday. Fresh off a season in which he hit 37 home runs with 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS, Ozuna adds plenty of needed pop to the Cardinals' lineup.

And with an expected salary of $10 million to $11 million for Ozuna in his second year of arbitration-eligibility, a similar season could be a far better value than Stanton, who will earn $25 million in 2018 as part of the 10 years and $295 million remaining on his contract.

Yes, Stanton broke out with an epic 59-homer, 132-RBI season while posting a 1.007 OPS, but those numbers dwarfed his career averages. Prior to 2017, Stanton's career high in home runs had been 37, and his career OPS stood at .896, playing more than 123 games only twice in his six full seasons.

Unless 50-plus home runs per season become the new norm for Stanton -- and there's no guarantee it will or won't -- then Ozuna's breakout year falls in line with the production Stanton gave the Marlins between 2011-16.

Video: Matheny on Cardinals landing impact bat in Ozuna

To get Stanton, the Cards would have had to give up a package of prospects while also committing to more than $250 million in guaranteed money. Ozuna cost them the prospects, allowing them to now turn their attention to another need: closer.

And thanks to the reasonable financial commitment they took on with Ozuna, they'll have plenty of money to address that bullpen spot if they decide to do so via the free-agent route.

"Understand that that was a lot of money being defined over a course of a long period of time," Mozeliak said of Stanton's contract. "When you're thinking about long-term strategy, we looked at that as somewhat unique. What we've always done is if we don't put it there, we'll re-deploy it somewhere else. That's how we'll think through it."

The Cardinals have been rumored to be attached to Rays closer Alex Colome for two weeks, and while that remains a legitimate option for St. Louis, landing him is far from a guarantee given the immense interest in the right-hander following two stellar seasons with Tampa Bay.

If the Cards are forced to look elsewhere, the money they have -- thanks to Stanton's decision to reject a trade to St. Louis -- will allow them to go swimming in the deep end of the free-agent pool, namely for Wade Davis.

"Historically, it hasn't been something I like to do," Mozeliak said when asked about paying big bucks to a closer. "But clearly, when you look at last year, the one-run games, we definitely feel we have to ramp up the bullpen. So we're going to try."

The Cardinals were 24-29 in one-run games last season, and given that they fell four games shy of an NL Wild Card spot, a shift in that record would have altered the course of their season. They've missed the playoffs in each of the past two years, only the second time that has happened since 2000.

"You're not seeing winning teams at the end of the season that don't have a legitimate back end of their bullpen," manager Mike Matheny said. "[Those are] guys who have been there, done that and have had some prolonged success in that position."

Video: Matheny on importance of building a strong bullpen

Davis possesses a slightly longer track record than Colome, though his 79 career saves are five fewer than Colome has notched over the past two seasons. Both have proven their ability to handle ninth-inning duties, something the Cards clearly seek.

Davis is expected to land a deal similar to the four-year, $62 million pact Mark Melancon signed with the Giants a year ago. The Cardinals are in position to pay for his services, something that might not have been the case had Stanton decided to take his talents from South Beach to St. Louis.

"Clearly you're going to have more resources to go elsewhere because you're not putting it on one player or one salary," Mozeliak said of the Stanton effect. "We're going to leverage both [the trade and free-agent markets] and make a decision. We may or may not add; it just depends. Some of it is a little out of our control."

However it plays out, Stanton's decision to spurn the Cards has given them more options this offseason. They already moved to add a slugger -- one who could provide the type of numbers that helped Stanton land his gargantuan contract in the first place -- and can now address the other items on their to-do list.

Sure, sending Stanton to the plate four times every night would have been a joy for Matheny and Mozeliak to watch, but the player had other thoughts. They're over it, and Wednesday's move for Ozuna was their way of showing just how quickly they've moved on.

"I think that just kind of parlayed into, 'OK, now what are we going to do?'" Matheny said. "We're excited about how that will look as we get closer to Spring Training."

The Cardinals should be. They're a better team than they were before the deal, and now that they can look at a variety of options to continue adding to their club, there's even more reason for Cards fans to be excited.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

St. Louis Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna