As a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, it is odd to see my team at the centerpiece of all the discussion at this week's General Manager Meetings. The Cardinals usually stay out of this sort of business, the trade rumor mill, the free-agent Hot Stove, all of that. The biggest trade they've made in the past five years was sending Shelby Miller to Atlanta for Jason Heyward in 2015, and not only had no one so much as floated that possibility beforehand, the news of the trade broke not from Ken Rosenthal or Jon Morosi, but from the Cardinals' official Twitter account itself. Rumors and high-stakes dealing are not the Cardinals' bailiwick.
But there is only one Giancarlo Stanton. And the Cardinals are right there atop the list of potential fits for the Marlins' slugger. The whole baseball world wants to know what's happening with Stanton. That puts the Cardinals at the center of it all.
It is not difficult to understand why anyone would want Stanton. The guy just hit 59 home runs. He's only 28 years old. His home runs are perhaps the most purely enjoyable thing to watch in the sport. He's one of the few baseball players with the instant name recognition to go on Jimmy Kimmel's show even though his team didn't make the playoffs. (Oh, and there is this on Instagram.)
Stanton switching teams would be the biggest baseball story of the offseason. And the Cardinals are the hot suitor, the most likely destination in ESPN's Jerry Crasnick's annual Hot Stove Survey. But should my Cardinals really make the big push? On the eve of the meetings, let's take a look at the potential fit from four different angles:
- How he fits the Cardinals.
- Why he might want to come to St. Louis, and why he might not.
- How much of the contract the Marlins would have to pick up.
- What the Cardinals might have to give up to get him.
And then we'll try to come up with the maximum the Cardinals should offer to get him … and why they should back off if the price rises higher than that.
How he fits the Cardinals
The Cardinals unquestionably need something after missing the playoffs two years in a row. Stanton would be an immediate jolt of adrenaline, the game's biggest slugger coming to a franchise that hasn't had a true superstar since Albert Pujols left. Stanton's Marlins jersey, somehow, is not one of the top 20 selling in the sport. He immediately leaps into the top five, maybe No. 1, if he comes to the Cardinals. The Cardinals have developed a number of above-average players, solid complementary pieces, but there has been a hole in the middle for several years now. Stanton would fill that hole. Bringing in Stanton would stop trying to turn excellent-but-not-spectacular players like Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler into something that they are not; they could just be on-base machines for Stanton to drive in, like they were meant to be. The Cardinals would have their lineup centerpiece to build around.
If the Cardinals were to work a trade for Stanton, here's a theoretical lineup:
1B Matt Carpenter
CF Dexter Fowler
LF Tommy Pham
RF Giancarlo Stanton
3B Jedd Gyorko
SS Paul DeJong
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
And that's assuming the Cards didn't try to swing a Josh Donaldson trade, which is also on the table this offseason. They need to provide some thump to their lineup. There is no more reliable thump than Stanton. Plus: He's a right fielder, which was a significant weak spot in 2017. You can just drop him right in.
Why he might want to come to St. Louis, and why he might not
I'm not kidding about those jersey sales: Stanton would instantly become an icon in St. Louis, a city that adores its baseball icons above all else, perhaps above what is necessarily healthy. Obviously, Albert Pujols was king of this town for a decade, and even after the unpleasantness of his departure, there's little question he'd receive a standing ovation if he showed up at Busch Stadium today. (Which he still hasn't done since leaving.) And for all the talk of the Cardinals' history of speed and defense, that town loves a slugger: You still see McGwire jerseys all over that stadium, even with everything that has happened in the last 20 years. Stanton has never played for a fan base that will scream for him 45,000 strong every single night. That'll happen in St. Louis. For that matter, he has never played a postseason game either. That'll happen in St. Louis, too.
So those are the positives to St. Louis. There are negatives too, and remember, Stanton has a no-trade clause. He can go wherever he wants, or not go where he doesn't. He said on Kimmel's show that he'd like to play on the West Coast, where he grew up, and you have heard background rumblings that St. Louis might not quite be high-profile enough for him. The Cardinals' conservatism, both in the front office and the dugout, might not be the perfect fit for Stanton, either. He's a fun guy, who likes to show off a little, which is the way baseball should be going in general but is not always a movement the Cardinals are necessarily at the forefront of. There could be a bit of a culture clash. It's also possible that manager Mike Matheny could be on the hot seat this year, adding more uncertainty. The Cardinals aren't quite as stable at this exact second as they usually are.
How much of the contract the Marlins are willing to pick up
In August, the Marlins put Stanton on the trade waiver wire, meaning that any team in baseball that could use Stanton for their playoff push -- which is any team making a playoff push -- could have claimed him and not given up a single player in return. All they had to do was pick up his contract. Look, a free Stanton! Just plug him in your lineup and go!
No team claimed him. That's how crazy that contract is. It's not just that Stanton is signed through the 2027 season at an average of $28.5 million a season, with a $10 million buyout in 2028, though, wow, that's pretty crazy. (He'll be just about to turn 38 when the contract expires.) It's also that Stanton can opt out after the 2020 season, which means that it's possible you're only getting Stanton for three seasons. Which might not be a horrible thing, considering how long that contract goes, but you can be certain whatever scenario that plays out will be the one beneficial for Stanton, not your team. If he's a monster the next three seasons, he might opt out for a bigger deal. Of course, if he's a monster for three seasons … you just got three monster seasons out of Stanton. The deal just has so much uncertainty that you can't quite be sure of what, in fact, you're even trading for.
The Marlins and new team president Derek Jeter are looking to reduce payroll -- it's why Stanton's on the market in the first place -- but they're still going to have to pick up a big portion of Stanton's contract. We know this, because they just offered him for free three months ago and nobody took him. The question is how much do they have to agree to pay, especially considering the possibility that he'll be with his new team for only three years. What if the Marlins, say, offer to pay $10 million of his contract for the next 11 years, shedding a substantial $185 million from the payroll, but then Stanton opts out? They would have ended up saving only $46 million, which is not nothing, but shoot, a monster Stanton would be worth the money over the three years for the Marlins at that point. (Never minding the fact that you have to pay the players who come back in a trade as well.) The Cardinals (or any suitor) have to convince the Marlins that they should pay with the assumption that Stanton won't opt out of the contract, when there's no certainty that will be the case at all.
It's very complicated. St. Louis has its own payroll concerns, even with its new television contract, and it could be in serious trouble if it's paying a hobbled Stanton $29 million in 2026. It's a delicate dance, and, frankly, it's a dance the Cards have never really attempted before.
Who the Cardinals might give up to land Stanton
The Cardinals have a treasure trove of young pitching, like always, starting with Alex Reyes, who missed last season after Tommy John surgery but remains one of the top prospects in the sport. Any trade with the Marlins, one presumes, would have to start with him, or Jack Flaherty, or even flame-throwing 22-year-old Sandy Alcantara.
The Marlins are said to want some Major League-ready lineup talent, and the Cards have that too. Stephen Piscotty had a rough 2017, in part because of some tragic off-field news, but he's still a major talent, albeit one signed to a contract that looked like a steal at the time but now could be a bit pricey through 2022 if he doesn't rebound. If that doesn't fit what the Marlins want, maybe Randal Grichuk, a power-hitting outfielder with excellent defensive metrics and an under-team-control contract, but plate discipline issues, fits the bill more. If the Marlins are willing to pick up a little more of Stanton's contract, frankly, they could probably have them both. (Harrison Bader could be on the table as well.)
But if the Marlins don't pick up a substantial chunk of Stanton's contract, the Cardinals aren't involved in this discussion anyway. The point is that if the Marlins are willing to eat some of it, or, perhaps better phrased, "assume more of the contract risk," well, then the Cardinals have more to offer them than perhaps any other team in the sport. The question is how ready the Marlins are to play ball.
Let's go with the presumption that the Marlins would be willing to pay, say, $8 million a year every year that Stanton is under contract. That seems reasonable, doesn't it? That comes out to $88 million -- and more than $200 million in savings -- if the contract goes the distance, and around $53 million in savings over the next three years. That puts the Cardinals on the hook for either three years, $53 million or 11 years, $208 million (counting the $10 million buyout in the final season of the deal). That's either an incredible deal on the front end in which you lose Stanton after three years, or a potentially ugly, but not crippling, deal if it goes the distance.
And for that, the Marlins get, say, Alex Reyes, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Double-A starter Austin Gomber. (They would also have to persuade Stanton to come, of course.) That's a lot for the Cardinals to give up. It's not the sort of trade they make lightly, or regularly. But it's reasonable, for both sides. It acknowledges the Marlins' need to free up payroll and the Cardinals' need to bring in a big bat during a down, but potentially promising, period in recent franchise history. It's an incredibly difficult trade to put together. But I bet this would get it done and be the best offer the Marlins would get. I think the Cardinals should do it. They should give that much up. But no more.
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