"We are hoping that that moment will come but Giancarlo needs to play this year. He is here for certainly the foreseeable future and we will cross that bridge at the appropriate moment. ... He will be here this year and I'm hopeful he will come here the next year. ... I would love to see him be the centerpiece of this ball club. He'd be the young giant in the ball club, but you can't make promises in this game because strange things happen all the time."
And there it is, as official as it will ever be: Jeffrey Loria's oblique acknowledgment that his team's relationship, both professional and personal, with star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is nearing its end.
Loria's regretfully vague on precisely why it's so hard to make any promises to Stanton, who hits his first arbitration year next offseason, but he has a point. After all, it's strange when a baseball team's owner tells his star shortstop to buy a new house in the area and then trades him two days later to Canada; it's strange when a team slashes its player payroll in half the year after getting a new stadium; it's strange when a team resets its competition cycle for no particular reason, certainly nothing at all having to do with luxury tax restructuring under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and wonders publicly what all the fuss is about. Strange things are happening all the time in Miami.
At this point, just about everybody in the industry, media and fanbase is aware of what game Loria's playing with the Marlins instead of baseball, and it's pointless to dwell on his cynical uselessness as an MLB owner any further. It's time to accept that Giancarlo Stanton is not long for the Miami Marlins, and that he will probably be on the move before his first big payday in 2014, when he goes to arbitration for the first time, able to put his numbers up against perennial MVP candidates as a 23 year old. To find the last time someone got the sort of nutty paycheck escalators that Stanton's in line for, you have to go back to when Ryan Howard was having his arb years bought out. It's very, very unlikely that Stanton, as unhappy as he is with the current situation in Miami, will be willing to accept any contract extension that eliminates his arbitration years. He'll make himself as expensive as possible to keep, because he knows what Loria's reaction will be. Paying market value for players is not the road the Marlins want to go down. It never has been, outside of their increasingly bogus offseason change of heart last year.
So Stanton must go before the arbitration deadline in 2014. The Marlins could decide they can spend the money to keep him another season if they're unsatisfied by any of the offers they're going to be getting over the next twelve months, but it doesn't make much sense for them to do so; the core prospects the team has coming up are optimistically going to be full-time contributors in 2015 at the earliest, and the Marlins seem to have more or less already written off this season and the one afterwards. Even Giancarlo Stanton can't win 25 games on his own, and that's about what it would take for the current Miami roster to even sniff the Wild Card chase.
The Marlins have a problem, however: Giancarlo Stanton is nearly untradeable. The issue isn't trying to find someone interested in taking him off their hands; on the contrary, there's not a single team in Major League Baseball that wouldn't clear space for him in a hurry. The problem is that as it stands right now, Stanton is literally too good to trade and get fair value back.
There's only four teams in all of baseball that could reasonably offer a package worth what they'd be getting in Giancarlo Stanton with three or four years of team control left: the Baltimore Orioles, the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Mets and the Texas Rangers. None of them will, however. If Baltimore GM Dan Duquette called up Marlins team president David Sampson and offered him his choice of two of infielder Manny Machado and pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, Stanton would be an Oriole within 24 hours, which is more time than Duquette would have left as GM of the Orioles. In the long run, it might turn out well for Baltimore depending on how successful their top three are at the big league level over the next few years, but the team's entire organizational philosophy right now rides on those three players panning out, especially the pitchers. There's simply no way Baltimore would ever do that deal.
Likewise, if the St. Louis Cardinals made outfielder Oscar Taveras and either pitcher Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal available, the two teams could work out a deal. Costly? Absolutely -- Oscar Taveras's upside is a perennial MVP candidate in the outfield. But that's what Giancarlo Stanton already is, right now. The man slugged over .600 last year at age 22. It should cost one of the five best prospects in baseball and then substantially more to acquire him while under team control. It's absurd that the Marlins have put themselves in a position where they have to trade him before his free agency years to begin with; the trade itself better be completely ridiculous.
The Mets can't offer one of the top five prospects in baseball, but they can come close, and they certainly have volume on their side -- pitchers Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d'Arnaud with perhaps one of their cheap, low-ceiling outfielders to take Stanton's place on the Marlins' roster should get it done. Wheeler's a top twenty prospect and d'Arnaud was one of the best prospects in baseball before a bad knee injury last year; with Syndergaard tossed in, this theoretical package could compete with Baltimore's and St. Louis's. I'd add a caveat about the Mets having to pay more because the Marlins wouldn't want to trade him inside the division, but I doubt Miami cares too much about that right now. The real reason nothing close to this will happen is because the Mets ownership is almost as irresponsible as Loria in Miami and doesn't have the money to give Stanton the long-term deal he's looking for regardless of what the Wilpons say. The trade becomes a disaster if Stanton himself gets flipped the next year when Fred suddenly checked his bills against his bank account.
Which brings us to the Texas Rangers. Of the four teams that have the talent to trade for Giancarlo Stanton right now, the Rangers are the only one with a clear, immediate need for his services and an ownership group willing to spend the money necessary to retain them moving forward. Stanton would replace Hamilton's production in the outfield and probably then some, and is so young that he could anchor the Rangers order for almost another decade. Arlington would be an extremely comfortable park for Stanton to hit in, and the current Texas squad is everything the one in Miami isn't. It's a match made in heaven, except for one little thing: Rangers would need to trade Jurickson Profar, the best prospect in baseball, to get him.
The deal would look something like Profar, MLB-ready third baseman Mike Olt and one of pitchers Justin Grimm and Martin Perez, and would immediately sap the Texas system of all its major league ready talent with the exception of Leonys Martin, who more or less has already gotten a spot on next year's Texas roster. The good news, relatively speaking, is that both Profar and Olt are blocked on the major league level; Olt by one of the best third basemen of the current generation, Adrian Beltre, and Profar by an extremely competent shortstop in Elvis Andrus. The conventional wisdom was that Andrus was either going to be dealt or let walk shortly after Profar proved himself ready for the job in the bigs, and if the Rangers deal Profar for Stanton, it means that they suddenly don't just have to extend Stanton but Andrus as well. But since the Rangers already have more than adequate talent currently in the holes that Profar and Olt would fill, the two prospects are more easily used as trade chips in Stanton talks than the top prospects in the other three systems previously discussed.
The most that Texas GM Jon Daniels is probably willing to offer right now is a deal with Olt as the headliner, not Profar. Right now the Rangers are very attached to the shortstop -- he was completely off-limits when Arizona was talking to them earlier in the offseason about a possible Justin Upton trade before the outfielder went to the Braves -- and it's unlikely that's going to change in the next few weeks, even where Giancarlo Stanton is concerned. Still, if the Marlins check back in a couple months near the trade deadline, Stanton's hitting like a superstar and the Rangers are stuck in second or third with an underperforming offense, there might be a deal there where there wasn't one before.
It very well might be the case that none of these four teams are interested in Stanton at the price he'd reasonably command. If that's the case and Miami gets desperate, teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco) and the Seattle Mariners (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin) could get in on the action. The Mariners in particular would be pleased as punch to make the Marlins the same offer as that the Diamondbacks accepted for Upton, who in turn invoked his no-trade clause, because Walker, Franklin, MLB reliever Charlie Furbush and relief prospect Stephen Pryor would be an underpayment for Stanton's services, especially considering Seattle might have let Franklin eat himself out of the middle infield.
Wherever he lands, Stanton's virtually guaranteed to sign an extension through at least the first free agency years, move immediately into the heart of the order and almost as quickly become a hometown fan favorite. As miserable as the situation in Miami seems right now, that's the good news for the outfielder: it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but soon Giancarlo Stanton won't have anything to do with the Miami Marlins. Would that the same could be said about Jeffrey Loria.