The Stanton Conundrum

With the Marlins finally out from under the sticky fingers of now ex-owner Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins new owners have indicated that Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million contract is too hefty for them to keep. So they are looking to trade the face of their franchise. Given Stanton’s prowess with the bat (59 homers last season) and the Red Sox’s lack of power – being perhaps the easiest problem on the team to both diagnose and correct – Stanton should be at the top of Boston’s offseason wish list. And maybe he is. But the situation is far more complex than that, and, as it turns out, in a very interesting way.

I don’t need to sell you on Stanton the player, I hope, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version just in case. He was worth 8.6 WARP last season (around seven WAR via other measurements). He has monster power, a career slugging percentage of over .600, and he’s a fine defensive right fielder who could, you would think, easily move to left field at Fenway Park. He gets on base well and he’ll be only 28 years old next season so it’s easy to imagine him being around and productive for a long time to come. So that’s all great and you can see why teams want him.

The complicating factors though are many, and this is where things get fun. First, Stanton has a long-term contract that will pay him $295 million over the next 10 seasons. That’s a lot of money to take on. You could make the argument that if he were a free agent right now that some team would give that to him, and you might be right, but there’s two more factors that compound things. The first is Stanton has an opt-out clause that he can use to become a free agent after the 2020 season. However, the team that deals for him doesn’t know if they’re getting Stanton for three years and $77 million, or 10 years and $295 million, and they don’t get to pick which and they don’t get to know which until likely the last second (and if they know sooner it’s probably not a good thing). It’s not hard to imagine those two hugely different amounts of time and money representing very different values to teams.

The second complicating factor is Stanton’s no-trade clause, also included in his contract by the Marlins. This isn’t one of those where the player can pick 10 or 15 teams he doesn’t want to be traded to. This is a full no-trade. Stanton can’t be dealt without his permission, period. This means if Stanton doesn’t want to come to Boston then he doesn’t have to come to Boston. But it also means Stanton can pick a team he wants to be dealt to and tell the Marlins that’s it, deal me there or nowhere. Or, Stanton could be less hard-headed about it and give the Marlins multiple teams with which he will accept a trade. Or he could tell them that he’ll approve a deal anywhere. The thing about all these possibilities is we just don’t know what he’s thinking. Presumably the Marlins do, or will, but as of now, nothing has come out about Stanton’s desires nor his level of desire to engineer his own destination.

Stanton’s no-trade and the liberality in which he uses it will greatly affect what the Marlins can get for him in return. If Stanton says “I’m only going to the Red Sox,” then the Red Sox aren’t going to give the Marlins very much and Marlins will have to decide how badly they want to get Stanton’s money off their books. Is it worth just being rid of Stanton even if they get very little in return for their most marketable player? If there are two teams involved, then at least they can be pitted against each other in the deal and the Marlins would presumably get more back. But even then the total money committed by the acquiring team, who must be prepared to pay all of Stanton’s salary even if he ends up opting out, and the uncertainty created by the opt-out are massive barriers to the Marlins getting a good return.

Typically a trade involves satisfying two people: the GM of the first team and the GM of the second team. Trading for Stanton involves satisfying the GM of both teams, the owner of the acquiring team (because of the massive amount of money that team is taking on), the owners of the Marlins (because this is Stanton, and he’s hugely important to the public relations of franchise), and Stanton himself.

Beyond all that, we’ve got the question of where Stanton fits in on the Red Sox. Presumably he would play left field which would mean the Red Sox will have dealt one of the players from their major league outfield. It doesn’t make sense to keep Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley unless Stanton is going to spend most of his time at DH. That could be the plan, but spending $30 million annually on a DH goes strongly against the current thinking about the value of the DH, so likely Stanton would take a permanent place in the outfield.

If the Sox had Stanton for the next 10 years at a discount, you might be able to talk yourself into one or more of those possibilities. But that might not be the situation. And this gets to the heart of this problem.

So what would it take to acquire Stanton? That’s incredibly hard to say. Are the Red Sox taking on all of his salary, or is Miami helping out in some fashion? Are the Red Sox the sole bidder or are they bidding against other teams, and if so how many other teams? These questions are virtually impossible to answer right now.

There’s also the longer term view with which the Red Sox need to consider. David Price and Drew Pomeranz will be free agents after this coming season, and will need to be replaced (unless Price doesn’t opt-out in which case, uh-oh). Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are getting into their arbitration seasons and getting closer to free agency. The Red Sox have lots of money, but not endless amounts, so spending big money on Stanton could mean losing some of the young talent Boston has on hand currently. It could mean filling holes in the starting rotation become more difficult.

There’s a question I’ve been thinking about all throughout this column, and it is this: what if I, Matthew Kory, were the GM of the Red Sox. What would I trade for Stanton? Would I trade Andrew Benintendi and Eduardo Rodriguez? That’s a tremendous amount of young talent to deal. What about Benintendi, Rodriguez, and top prospect Jay Groome? Would you throw Chavis in there also? If the Sox had Stanton for the next 10 years at a discount, you might be able to talk yourself into one or more of those possibilities. But that might not be the situation. And this gets to the heart of this problem.

Any player can be dealt. We’ve seen it before with huge contracts trading hands in deals that, before their consummation, would have been thought impossible to pull off. So even though this seems daunting, it could absolutely happen. And Stanton is an amazing player who would look fantastic in the middle of the Red Sox batting order. So the Red Sox should explore things with the Marlins. And they will. But in the end, wouldn’t it be easier to skip all the above and give J.D. Martinez $175 million, check off that box, and move on with your offseason?

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