Myth - The Marcell Ozuna trade was a terrible idea back in 2017
Reality - The Cardinals needed to make an aggressive move and Ozuna fit the bill. What they gave up for him ended up being a disaster in retrospect.
We can all agree the Marcell Ozuna trade was a disaster for the Cardinals. When people look back at John Mozeliak's tenure in charge of the front office, it will likely be viewed as the biggest mistake he made, and he deserves that criticism.
But the thought process behind the trade is actually something the Cardinals need more of.
The Cardinals offense was in desperate need of an upgrade after the 2017 season. Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, and Dexter Fowler were their best hitters, and that led to a mediocre 83-79 season despite having a pretty solid pitching staff. Marcell Ozuna was coming off an All-Star and Silver Slugger-winning season with Miami and profiled as a true middle-of-the-order bat after mashing 37 home runs.
In this deal, the Cardinals gave up their 6th-best prospect in Sandy Alcantara, 7th-best in outfielder Magneuris Sierra, and 24th-best prospect in their own system in Zac Gallen along with Daniel Castano. It was viewed as a great deal at the time but ended up aging poorly due to Alcantara and Gallen rising to become two of the best pitchers in baseball.
What if the Cardinals had given up Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber, or Jake Woodford instead? Reyes was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and Flaherty and Weaver were similarly rater prospects to Alcantara. It probably would have been viewed as an overpay at the time, but would have aged better in all of our eyes.
What's odd about this trade is that although it was the biggest mistake they made over the last decade, it also happens to be one of the few times they went out and made an aggressive move that could launch them into true contention. The front office deserves all of its flowers for the Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado trades, but those are unique situations that do not come up very often. Typically, if you want to make significant improvements, it takes aggressive trades like this, and it seems like the Ozuna deal has scared them off from that same level of aggression in recent years.