There is one story -- Giancarlo Stanton and his 59 home runs -- and all the other stories that will dominate the wonderful time in baseball known as the Hot Stove League. That many home runs, hit by a player who just turned 28, are in play. That many home runs have never been in play.
So in a baseball world increasingly dominated by numbers, that is the number everybody is talking about until Derek Jeter trades him or keeps him: 59. And by now everybody knows that Stanton chased 60 all the way until his last at-bat of the season, and what might be his last for the Miami Marlins.
We have read and heard about all the teams that might be interested in trading for Stanton and a contract even bigger than he is: San Francisco. St. Louis. Boston. Philadelphia. There are probably others, all of them thinking that Stanton could come to their team and their city and light everything up the way Aaron Judge lit up Yankee Stadium; when All Rise Judge led the kind of rising he did for the New York Yankees.
But it is complicated with Stanton.
It is complicated in the way that his arrival at this moment is complicated, the way that his career trajectory so far -- he has never made it to the postseason -- and the Marlins' future that everybody once believed Stanton and the late Jose Fernandez were going to build in South Florida is complicated.
Remember the way it was supposed to be until Fernandez's life was cut short in a boating accident: They were going to build everything around Stanton and Fernandez the way the Astros have built such a bright present and future around Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and George Springer and the rest of their young guys. These were two luminous talents, home-run hitter and fastball thrower, and they would someday put the Marlins back on top, the way they were on top twice between 1997 and 2003.
Only it never happened.
Fernandez died, tragically young. Stanton kept getting hurt, and even when he got healthy again, and started hitting home runs into outer space, the Marlins were not just being sold to Jeter's group, it became very clear, very quickly that Jeter's plan is to tear a lot of the thing down as a way of building something to last.
"We have to rebuild," Jeter said not long ago.
And also said this:
"I don't like the word teardown. Moving forward, there are going to at times be unpopular decisions we make. We have a plan, but at the same time we have to have patience."
The most unpopular decision, at least in South Florida, will be if Jeter trades Stanton, the young star who remains now that Fernandez is gone; if he trades away Stanton's big numbers and the big money Stanton is still owed him on the 13-year contract for $325 million he signed a few years ago. It is a contract that still has 10 more years to run, one that still has a big, fat no-trade clause attached to it. It was the late general manager of the New York football Giants, George Young, who once said, "When they say it's not about the money, it's always about the money."
Once, in the Hot Stove League of December 2000, it was the Texas Rangers who acquired Alex Rodriguez, the gifted young star of the time in baseball, as a free agent, awarding Rodriguez a contract worth $252 million over 10 years. Rodriguez was the great get at the time, and Tom Hicks sure got him, with an offer that Rodriguez simply could not refuse, the way Stanton could not refuse an even bigger offer from Jeffrey Loria, the previous Marlins' owner, 14 years later.
For all the headlines and glamour of that signing, and all the talk at the time about how the Rangers were going to build a future around A-Rod, it never happened. The Rangers had spent so much money to bring him to Arlington, there wasn't enough left over to actually assemble a team around him good enough to win the World Series. Rodriguez was gone three years into that contract. When he won the World Series, he won it with the Yankees.
The next year the Rangers, without him, did make it to the World Series finally, and nearly won it, beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series that year, in six games. A-Rod made the last out in Game 6. That night in Arlington, after Neftali Feliz struck out A-Rod to end that series, the fine Texas baseball writer Gerry Staley said, "Well, they always said Alex would put the Rangers in the World Series. Now he finally has."
Now Stanton is the guy to get. Or not. With all that money still owed to him. He is younger than Albert Pujols was when the Angels threw a 10-year contract at Pujols, one worth $240 million. Pujols will turn 38 in January. He still has four years left on that contract. This past season he hit 23 home runs for the Angels, did manage to knock in 101 runs, had a .241 batting average, a slugging percentage of .386 and an OPS of .672. Any team thinking about making a trade for Stanton, and trading away a huge chunk of its own future, has a perfect right to wonder if Stanton, at the back end of his deal, will look a lot like Albert Pujols does.
Do Red Sox fans have a right to wonder what it would be like watching Stanton launch balls over the Green Monster and all the way to the Mass. Turnpike? Of course they do. The one thing the Red Sox did not do last season was hit home runs, and now 59 of them are in play, if they're willing to pay Capt. Jeter's price, whatever that price happens to be. But a year ago at this time the Red Sox balked at signing Edwin Encarnacion to a free-agent contract because they were afraid of kicking a hole in the luxury tax.
So there is Giancarlo Stanton, big as life. There are all his numbers, against a backdrop of a deal that will pay him, on average, $31 million a year over its last seven years. You think it's not about the money, for all the teams interested? It's all about the money.
This is the bill presented to the Marlins' new owners by its last one, and the bill presented to Stanton, only a few years after an offer he simply could not refuse, when he was looking at a far different future with the Marlins.
Who ends up touching this Hot Stove, if it means getting one of the hottest players in the world?