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November 17, 2017

MLB Hot Stove Education: Giancarlo Stanton, the Phillies, and You

Giancarlo Stanton barely edged Joey Votto to claim National League Most Valuable Player honors on Thursday night.

It was the fourth-closest MVP finish ever, which is something when you consider they’ve been giving out some version of this award since 1911 (the Baseball Writers Association of America first presented the current MVP award in 1931).

As if we all needed to find another way to put Giancarlo Stanton in headlines, right?

With few superstar caliber free agents this winter (Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez are arguably the class’s top bats while Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish its top arms), Stanton will most likely be the biggest name to move from one team to another during the sport’s hot stove season. The Miami Marlins have new ownership and want to purge the payroll (don’t they do this every four or five years regardless of who owns the team?).

And until the day Stanton is dealt – and there’s at least the chance he won’t be dealt, since such a trade involves many moving parts, the most important one being money – you will probably see the Phillies listed among the top four or five potential suitors.

Such rumors have persisted for some time now, going back to the All-Star break this summer. And we explained, in detail, why those rumors exist back then, but the abridged version is the Phillies are a big market team eager to turn to the corner in their rebuild and have more payroll flexibility heading into 2018 than any other team in baseball.

Earlier this week at the general manager meetings, the subject of adding a premium, pricy, MVP-caliber bat via trade this winter was broached to Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who per MLB collective bargaining rules, cannot discuss specific players on opposing teams. But here’s what he said regarding his club’s envious payroll position and the team’s needs this winter.

"Our position-player group is young, it's growing and it has shown promise," Klentak told NBC Sports Philadelphia, among others, at the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week. "I think we have an obligation to the players and to the franchise to let that play out, as a general rule. The most important thing for us in 2018 is that our young players continue to grow and develop and get the reps they need at the major-league level.

“Now, as far as the offseason, the question is, what can we do for those players to put them in the best position to achieve that growth? That could come in the form of veteran players we bring in to surround them. It's going to come in the form of creating the coaching staff and the environment to help support these players. Some combination of that is the answer. It's more likely that we add pitching than hitters.”

One thing worth pointing out here: if the Phillies were interested in a Stanton trade, they’d almost certainly be sending back one of their current outfielders in a deal, so you can disregard the “obligation” to current players when you are operating in the name of upgrading your roster. Another thing: an outfield vacancy could also come in the form of a second trade to acquire starting pitching.

Still, Stanton doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Phillies for more than a couple of reasons. For one last time, let’s go over them.

•  Giancarlo Stanton is still owed a minimum of $295 million over the next 10 seasons, with $245 million of that coming to him after his 30th birthday. If you’re confident this big-bodied bambino can stay both healthy and productive into his mid-to-late 30s, that’s fine. Are you $245 million-confident, though? And it’s worth pointing out that in the five seasons prior to 2017, Stanton was averaging 115 games per season.

•  The Marlins' asking price is reportedly “shockingly high.” The only educated guess here is Miami is trying to tell teams that the $295 million Stanton is owed will look like a nice deal this time next year when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado could sign ridiculous, record-setting deals of their own as free agents. But the Marlins don’t just want you to take the money, you see. They can’t deal the man who just hit 59 home runs and won MVP for nothing in return. They want a few of your top prospects, too.

•  Building off that last note, if the Marlins want you to take all of or the bulk of the salary and surrender top prospects, why, exactly, would you do that? If you’re the Phillies, you have other, larger needs (read: pitching). You could take those same prospects and get a younger, cheaper pitcher under club control who you could eventually sign to an extension if you see it fit. And then you can use those saved dollars and splurge on next winter’s free agent class, which in addition to Harper and Machado, includes Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock, Daniel Murphy, Zach Britton, Dallas Keuchel, and if they choose to opt out of their deals, Clayton Kershaw and David Price, too. And you can add all of those players with just money, not money and a few of your top prospects.

 •  But you’re tired of the waiting after six straight non-winning seasons in Philadelphia, and your patience has already been tested for too long, and you want a proven middle-of-the-order bat now, not next year. OK, there’s one of those available and at a cheaper rate than the price of dealing for Stanton. 

And here are that player’s numbers over the last three seasons compared to Stanton’s numbers over the last three seasons (2015-17):

 BA/OBP/SLG HR Total Bases OPS+ 
Giancarlo Stanton.265/.354/.580 113  748 149
 Mystery Free Agent.296/.363/.580 105  863 148

That mystery free agent is J.D. Martinez, who is two years older than Stanton, but still only turned 30 in August. For argument’s sake, let’s say Miami finally eats $50 million to pay down Stanton’s contract in order to get a better return of prospects back (the Phillies did this, to a much smaller degree, obviously, in the Cole Hamels’ trade). And let’s say Martinez does very well on the free agent market, perhaps just under agent Scott Boras’s $200 million desires and gets, say, $187 over seven years (the 2017 version of the Jayson Werth contract and also what would be the fourth-highest average-annual contract for a position player in history). 

Although in this scenario the dollars-per-year are cheaper for Stanton (by roughly $2.2 million), the grand total is still larger (by $58 million) because it’s a longer commitment (by three years). And, thus, a greater chance you’ll be saddled with a bad contract in seven years. And, yes, you’d still be parting with those premium prospects to get Stanton, but not to get Martinez. So why wouldn’t you prefer Martinez?

•  It’s also important to note that Stanton’s current contract includes a full no-trade clause (and he might ask for something – $$$ – to waive that to go to a non-contending club) and it also includes an opt-out after the 2020 season. So, yes, a scenario exists where you give up a few premium prospects in an effort to buy down the final salary you think you’re taking back only for Stanton to leave as a free agent in three years. And it’s difficult to believe that, no matter how much Stanton may want out of Miami, that he’d be willing to waive that privilege he negotiated into his contract, particularly if he’s not headed to one of his preferred destinations.

*  *  *

So, ease up on the Stanton hype, ok? 

Until he is traded you’re going to continue to see the rumors, unless the Phillies pull off a shocker and sign Martinez early in the offseason. Take them with a healthy grain of salt. 

You’re going to continue to see the rumors because teams/agents/players/everyone in the industry is going to use the Phillies’ envious payroll flexibility to whatever negotiating advantages they can, labeling them as a suitor even if they’re not interested in a player. 

On that note: be a responsible consumer of baseball news. Read the bylines. Know who is reputable and who might not be as you try to take daily stock of the madness that sometimes is baseball’s offseason.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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