JUPITER -- After Dee Gordon struck out to end the Marlins’ half of the eighth on Oct. 1 -- the final game of the season -- Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton grabbed their gloves and headed out to the field for the top of the ninth.
But instead of racing to their assigned positions, the three gathered on the outfield grass in shallow left-center and embraced. Stanton and Yelich sensed that it might be their last game together, that an outfield ranked by many as the best in the Majors would be dissolved under new ownership.
Ozuna didn’t want to believe it, and he expressed that feeling to his two teammates in their private huddle. Surely, Ozuna told them, this was not the end.
“I said, ‘Be positive. That’s not true. We’re going to play together one more time,’” Ozuna recalled of the brief conversation.
In the end, though, they were right.
Stanton would be traded to the Yankees on Dec. 11, Ozuna would be dealt to the Cardinals three days later, and on Jan. 25 the demolition was completed when Yelich was sent to the Brewers.
Unlike Stanton and Yelich, though, Ozuna never lobbied to be traded once it was determined the Marlins’ new blueprint involved a rebuild, with losing seasons expected to continue.
He was content to remain.
On Saturday, standing inside the Cardinals’ spring training clubhouse, a stone’s throw from the Marlins clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium, Ozuna said he would have been perfectly fine had he not been dealt.
Even after Gordon and Stanton were traded, he figured he might remain.
“It didn’t matter,” Ozuna said. “I was thinking that I was going to still play for the Marlins. But they said no, bye bye.”
Coming off his best season, one in which he hit .312, belted 37 homers and drove in 124 runs, Ozuna was a prime trade candidate. The Marlins could control his contract for only two more seasons, after which he would become eligible for free agency. And with Scott Boras as his agent, it might prove challenging for the Marlins to resign him, even if that was their intention.
Boras likes to play the market.
“It’s kind of the front office side of this,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “He’s a guy -- I can’t say he’s not signable -- but you’ve got Boras, and it’s one of those things. It’s today’s market.”
Ozuna said he understood the Marlins’ thinking.
“I understand,” he said. “(The Marlins have a) new owner spending a lot of money to buy the team and they need to cut payroll. I know that. That’s business.”
Ozuna and the Cardinals avoided arbitration by agreeing on a 2018 salary of $9 million.
And he’s anything but upset that he landed with the Cardinals, which has a rich tradition of winning and rabid fan base, neither of which can be said for the team he left behind, the Marlins. Never once in five seasons with the Marlins did he play for a winner.
“The organization here in St. Louis, they always have a big crowd, and that’s what I like,” Ozuna.
With the Cardinals, Ozuna has a chance to compete for a World Series ring -- or, as he described it, “a gift.”
But he remains in regular contact with some of his former Marlins teammates, such as Jose Urena and Derek Dietrich, who is being groomed to take over in left, Ozuna’s old position.
Ozuna said that after the trade, Dietrich went to visit him for a few days at his home in the Dominican Republic.
“He’s been asking me to come for about three years,” Dietrich said. “We hit and faced live pitching one day. They go all out, wear uniforms and everything. So he was in a full Cardinals red hat and helmet and everything, and I said ‘This is weird.’”
Ozuna still has a home in Miami, though. He’s still showing up in Jupiter for spring training, same as he always has. But now he’s with a new team.
“It’s still the same thing,” he said. “I’m glad they gave me the opportunity to not move too far. I’m happy to be here with St. Louis.”
NOTES: The Marlins added infielder Eric Campbell to their list of non-roster invites. Campbell, who signed a minor-league deal with the Marlins last month, hit .227 with seven home runs in parts of three seasons with the Mets from 2014-16....Catcher Sharif Othman, a non-roster invite, dislocated his shoulder on Friday during a morning bullpen session.