It might not seem like it, but the St. Louis Cardinals are still in the race to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. The slugging Marlins outfielder is still weighing his options after the Marlins have agreed to the framework of trades with both the Giants and the Cardinals. Stanton has to approve these trades, and there is no specific deadline. If the slugger decides to go to Japan for two weeks and leave his phone at home, he can absolutely do that. The point of a no-trade clause in contracts is that a player can do what he wants in a sport where it takes a long time for a player to earn that right; the idea that Stanton owes all of us waiting around for him some sort of definitive answer is specious at best. Stanton might be holding out for the Dodgers, he might be deciding between the Giants and Cardinals, he might be spending every evening watching all seven Star Wars movies before The Last Jedi comes out in eight days and doesn't want to be bothered. He doesn't have to do anything.
But nonetheless you cannot blame Cardinals fans for starting to psychologically extricate themselves from the Stanton chase. The Cardinals appear to have made the best deal for Stanton, giving up more money and more prospects to the Marlins than any other team, and they have a ready-made lineup that Stanton would be a perfect fit in, loads of young arms to support him for years to come and a fan base that would absolutely revere him for the rest of his life. But Stanton -- for reasons of geography, for reasons of sensibility, for reasons of nightlife, all sorts of potential reasons there -- remains skeptical of the Cardinals experience. The Giants have said privately that they consider the Dodgers, not the Cardinals, as their primary competition for Stanton, and that's the general consensus within the game: The longer Stanton goes without making a decision, the worse the odds for the Cardinals are. He might still end up in St. Louis. But it's probably not the smart bet right now.
Cardinals president John Mozeliak, for his part, says fans should be "patient," a Sisyphean task if there ever were one. (He'd have more luck asking fans to grow gills.) But the Cardinals do have one advantage on the Giants: If Stanton decides not to play by the bay, the Giants are essentially hamstrung. San Francisco doesn't have a lot of other options that don't involve spending free agent money that the team doesn't really have on older players who aren't as good. The Giants need Stanton more than Stanton needs them, and they, unlike the Cardinals, don't have the prospects to go trade for players who don't have more than $250 million left on their contracts. Stanton is the best, and perhaps the only, chance the Giants have to dramatically improve their aging team. The Cardinals have all sorts of options.
The Cardinals want Stanton, and they should: Stanton is awesome. They're not entirely out of this yet. But if they don't get Stanton, they still need to dramatically upgrade their offense. They have the prospects to make a trade, and they have the money to back it up; their pursuit of Stanton is proof of both. So, here are some of the likely backup options for the Cards if Stanton decides St. Louis isn't his bag. It is worth noting that these are not 1-for-1 propositions: The Cardinals can go after more than one of these players and, all told, almost certainly will.
The Cardinals have shown some interest in the White Sox first baseman, and, obviously, the South Siders have been willing to deal. Tthe Cardinals and White Sox have been ideal trade partners in the past -- the Cardinals wanted Adam Eaton before signing Dexter Fowler -- but St. Louis has been hesitant to meet the White Sox's often-outrageous (and often-met, it must be said) demands, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball reporter Derrick Goold. Abreu might not be the perfect fit anyway. He's older, he's about to get more expensive, he can only play first (requiring the Cardinals to move either Matt Carpenter or Jedd Gyorko) and he's a good power hitter rather than a great one. He would seem like more of a last-ditch option, if everything else falls through.
The Blue Jays don't look like they're particularly eager to rebuild -- they just traded a lower-level prospect to the Cardinals for shortstop Aledmys Diaz -- but if they decided they weren't going to win this year and wanted to get something for Donaldson (who's a free agent at the end of 2018), the Cardinals are an ideal destination. Fangraphs directly advocated for this, though the idea of trading both Gyorko and Carpenter for him would be counterproductive; the whole idea of bringing in Donaldson would be to allow one of those players to bounce around, Zobrist-style. Donaldson would be a perfect fit for the Cardinals and, frankly, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Cardinals pursue him even if they do end up with Stanton. If the Blue Jays show any willingness to deal, the Cardinals will not stop calling them.
The logic here is thus: Hosmer is a strong left-handed bat who plays a solid (if not splendid) first base and would give them a big lift in the middle of the lineup. There are reasons to be skeptical, though. Hosmer isn't that different than a lot of the hitters the Cardinals already have, he's stuck at first base and he'll be free-agent-prices expensive. You have to assume that someday he'll increase his power, which is not something you'd expect from a guy who hits too many groundballs as is. People keep connecting Hosmer to the Cardinals, but I'm not sure I see it.
This one is a backup plan to the Donaldson idea, though it's potentially more feasible: The Rays might need to trade Longoria before his 5-and-10 rights kick in and he can veto any trade. Longoria is signed at a reasonable rate through 2022, and he's still an above-average third baseman and obviously a respected professional in the game. But he never did quite turn into the superstar everybody wanted him to be, and even the Rays are considering him a throw-in in a potential Alex Colome deal. Longoria is a big name, but he's not Donaldson and, honestly never was. It is debatable even whether Longoria is an upgrade over Gyorko.
Martinez is waiting on Stanton to get traded as much as anyone. He's the top free-agent bat on the market, and he does play right field, which is where the Cardinals have an opening. He was a monster in 2017 -- 45 homers! -- and is about to get himself paid. Signing big free agents like Martinez is not the Cardinals' style, though, particularly when Boston and other big-market teams are likely to get involved. If they could get the 30-year-old Martinez to agree to a three-year deal with a higher AAV, the Cardinals might jump … but no one thinks Martinez is only getting three years. He would fit in St. Louis, but they're not outbidding the Red Sox.
And now we reach the other Marlins outfielders. Ozuna is only 26 years old, he hit 37 homers in 2017 and he had a higher batting average and on-base percentage than Stanton. He even won a Gold Glove! The worries on Ozuna are that he's never had a year even close to last year, the metrics don't love his glove as much as the voters do, the Cardinals need a right fielder more than a left fielder, he bats right-handed (the Cardinals are already too righty-heavy) and he's a free agent after two more years. That last one is a big deal because the Marlins will want a ton of prospects for him. Ozuna is an immediate big bat if one can be certain he'll hit like last year. But as great as he was, there isn't much certainty about Ozuna. The good news is that the Cardinals have been talking so much to the Marlins about Stanton that a shift over to Ozuna isn't a difficult one. Speaking of which …
This might be the player the Cardinals go after the hardest. As the great Bernie Miklasz noted, Yelich (who is a year younger than Ozuna) fits just about everything the Cardinals are looking for. He is young. He is cost-controlled. (He'll make an average of $11.75 million through 2022, which is a steal.) He is good at everything, from defense to baserunning to hitting. He's a left-handed hitter. He gets on base. He has more power than his numbers suggest. And again: The Cardinals have surely already talked with the Marlins about him. He's not the immediate power bat that the Cardinals need and desire. But he might be the most perfect fit.
The Stanton situation will (maybe) be resolved at some point in the next week. But the Cardinals themselves are just getting started.
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