Marcell Ozuna said his goal in his first season with the Cardinals in  2018 after being acquired from the Marlins is to give fans "a reason to smile." (File)

By Rob Rains

Marcell Ozuna knows if he accomplishes one goal next season with the Cardinals, everything else should fall into place.

He wants to give fans “a reason to smile.”

Speaking to St. Louis media for the first time since he was acquired by the Cardinals from the Marlins earlier this week, Ozuna said during a conference call on Friday that he was nervous when he first learned the trade was possible, but has since started to become more excited about the change.

Part of his attitude is fueled by a close relationship with now teammates Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina.

“They joked in the past that they were going to bring him to the Cardinals,” said assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez, serving as Ozuna’s interpreter during the call. “That nervousness went away when he started to reflect on those little exchanges. At least he was being traded to a group of guys that he knows.

“He said the fans are really going to enjoy him and he’s going to give them a reason to smile. … What he wants to do is get on the field and let his play speak for itself.”

Ozuna, who turned 27 last month, hit .312 for Miami last season with 37 homers and 124 RBIs while also winning a Gold Glove in left field. It’s been a while since the Cardinals have had a player enjoy a similar season.

The last season in which a Cardinal hit 37 or more homers was 2011, by Albert Pujols. Pujols also is the last Cardinal to drive in 124 or more runs in a season, 135 in 2009. The organization has never had a left fielder win a Gold Glove.

The 2017 season was Ozuna’s fourth full year in the majors and was by far his best year.
“His focus was a little sharper,” Rodriguez said. “The work he did leading up to it (the season) was what was critical for that result.”

The Cardinals came into the off-season looking to add an impact bat, and first targeted one of Ozuna’s teammates, Giancarlo Stanton, but once Stanton used the no-trade clause in his contract to orchestrate a deal to the Yankees, they shifted their focus to Ozuna.

“He never thought he would be traded,” Rodriguez said. “Anything he heard about changes (on the Marlins) he didn’t think would affect him. He thought maybe the higher salaried players would be the ones and he would be one of the ones to be kept. He had heard so many trade rumors in recent years he kind of became accustomed to them and stopped believing everything that was being written.”

The Cardinals will have two years of control over Ozuna before he will be eligible to become a free agent. Pending any additional moves before next season, Ozuna projects to be the team’s cleanup hitter.

“It really doesn’t matter to him as long as he is in the lineup,” Rodriguez said. “When he’s in there that makes him happy.”

Ozuna also will be happy if he can contribute to the team’s success. Even though the Cardinals have not been to the playoffs for the last two seasons, Ozuna has never had the thrill of being in a playoff race while with the Marlins.

“He’s kind of looking forward to joining a winning situation,” Rodriguez said. “He’s never been to the playoffs and joining this team and having an opportunity to do so is something he’s really looking forward to. The Cardinals are always in position, it’s a winning team.

“It’s almost like a blessing that he landed here in this situation, to compete for a playoff berth.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains