July 21, 2017
The end of July is a tricky time of year for a baseball writer. At times you feel like the host of your own personal Mythbusters show as you weed through the never-ending cacophony of trade rumors blowing into you from different directions every day.
Whether the team you cover is a buyer, a seller, or somewhere in the middle, it will almost surely be connected to a trade rumor or report that, at best, makes you raise an eyebrow and, at worst, leads you to roll your eyes and laugh out loud.
The reaction was probably somewhere in the middle when we saw the Boston Globe connect the Marlins, Phillies, and the idea that Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich could move to Philly from Miami, via a blockbuster trade. And so the seemingly-outlandish rumor was referred to in this very space as “off the wall” because, on the surface, it was pretty wild and unlikely, for a variety of reasons.
Still, it was mentioned here late last month because the idea of such a trade (although it’s difficult to say there’s any trade close to an equivalent of adding close to $350 million in future payroll) actually does make some sense for the Phillies. As we wrote three weeks ago, the Phils, at this juncture of their rebuild, should probably consider being buyers as much as sellers when the summer and winter trade markets take shape.
But this story promised a deep dive specifically into the Stanton trade rumors, and since these rumors began with Nick Cafardo in the Boston Globe last month, trickled to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal during the All-Star break, and made their way to fellow MLB Network insider Jon Heyman this week, ignoring it altogether is beginning to sound more careless than the thought of not giving it any ink or validation at all. (Wait, does “ink” work in internet-speak?)
But before we go any further, and before you're the one rolling your eyes at however many words this ends up being on something we just described ourselves, for the second time, as “off-the-wall,” let’s carefully snip out a few sentences and phrases from the second of those reports in the paragraph above, from Rosenthal, the national baseball writer who is arguably the best at this stuff.
"…the idea [of the Stanton and Yelich to the Phillies trade] is extremely unlikely to advance."
"… if the conversations ever got started, which, according to sources, they did not."
"…but [the Phillies] have not — repeat, not — expressed interest in Stanton, according to high-ranking officials with both clubs."
So, now that those crucial points are out of the way, let’s dive deeper into the abyss.
• So, probably the most popular question for Phillies fans that keep seeing these two words together – Phillies, Stanton – is why do we keep seeing these two names together? Well, follow the money.
After unloading just about every long-term contract they still had two years ago, the Phillies entered last winter with no financial commitments to their future payroll following the 2017 season. Then they signed Odubel Herrera to a very team-friendly contract (a guaranteed $30.5 million) in December.
Herrera is the only player under contract for 2018 and beyond. The Phillies have more financial flexibility than any other team in baseball. And so they will be linked to any and all possible trade rumors involving teams looking to get out from under a contract.
And the Phils' brass has made it known they will be players in the free agent seasons to come (which might be timed just right, after figuring out which of the current young players on the big league roster and at the upper levels of the minor leagues are a part of their core). And, any time the subject of spending comes up, general manager Matt Klentak points out that adding salary could also come through trades, in addition to free agency.
• The Marlins are well known for holding regular fire sales. Although they’ve won the same amount of World Series as the Phillies in more than 100 fewer seasons, selling off expensive parts every three or four years is probably their most defining characteristic.
• The biggest knock on the current state of the Phillies rebuild is they don’t have an obvious can’t-miss, star player to build around on the major league roster or in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail like to refer to the successful rebuilds the Pirates, Orioles, Cubs, and Astros underwent, but those rebuilds produced or were led by the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, and Carlos Correa, among others.
This isn’t to say the Phils don’t have any talented players who will be part of the next contending team. Every team needs complementary parts (Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz), but it’s much easier to get the thing going with the MVP-caliber building blocks (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard). More on this point in a bit.
• Think about that for a second. It’s an awful lot of money. The roughly $300 million still owed to Stanton, and if the idea is to acquire the much-friendlier Yelich contract, too, tack on the $46 million or so he’s still owed and, yes, that’s some serious cash.
Surely with that much money involved in two players, there would be an awful lot of bartering going on between all parties (who’s eating what money or bad contracts and which caliber of prospects are involved because of that money, and on and on). And we use all parties rather than the two parties because Stanton, who turns 28 in November, has a no-trade clause and would have to approve anything and might have to be compensated to do such a thing.
• The second, more important point that makes this pretty silly to talk about as we sit here in late July: the Marlins are for sale. And there are a few potential buyers. And even if the sale was imminent (it doesn’t appear to be), it’s unlikely a decision as big as moving the face of your franchise would be made that quickly. And the various buyers may all have different intentions or preferences going forward, so the chance of any franchise-altering trade happening pre-sale sounds about as likely as the Phillies making a run at a playoff berth in two months.
Most of the reasons are at least alluded to within the previous two sections.
• It seems likely that the Marlins sale will be completed by the Winter Meetings, if not sooner.
• The Phillies will enter the winter with just Herrera on the books for the 2018 season and beyond and an awful lot of motivation to add significant salary by way of prominent, difference-making veteran players. What motivation, you say? How about the very distinct possibility of finishing with the worst record in the game for the second time in two years and the sagging attendance numbers (it’s plummeted from an average of 37,045 in the three-year period of 2012-14 to an average of 24,235 in 2015-17) that have come as a result.
Sure, smarter fans will have some patience in a rebuild, but that only lasts so long if you’re not producing star players that they’d pay to come watch. Back at the start of spring training, MacPhail twice volunteered the fact that ownership would have been happier spending more than the team did last winter, when the front office added roughly $60 million in salary in adding one-year deals for the likes of Pat Neshek, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Co. via trades or free agent signings.
“I would tell you and this may be more than I should say, but when we went through our offseason planning and got ownership involved and talked about different strategies and ways that we could go," MacPhail said in February. "We could’ve not invested the $60 million that we did in those contracts, and the payroll would have been too low for that. Too low. … I’m very satisfied with the way Matt (Klentak) was able to apply our resources. We could have had a year where we let our payroll slip way down. Quite frankly our ownership doesn’t have a great appetite for that. One year with the worst record in baseball was enough for them.”
In a sport that’s spent a lot of time in the last two decades recognizing the bright minds building rosters, it’s easy to forget they have bosses to answer to like anyone else. Bosses who are running businesses.
And just as attendance is a factor, an attractive TV product is, too, particularly when you’re entering the third year of a $2.5 billion deal with Comcast. Perhaps ownership will be OK with smaller upgrades for 2018, with the 2018-19 free agent class (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, possibly Clayton Kershaw, others) on deck. Perhaps not.
In short, the Phillies need a box office draw. Badly.
As Heyman wrote today, if the Marlins have any intentions of moving Stanton in the near future, they're likely going to have to eat some significant dollars in doing so.
Don’t forget it was just two years ago when the Phillies sent $9.5 million and took on Matt Harrison’s contract ($28 million) in order to facilitate the Cole Hamels' deal with the Rangers, a trade that basically gave Texas a World Series-winning left-hander to the tune of $36 million over three years in exchange for a handful of prospects.
Stanton has just under $300 million still owed to him on baseball’s most expensive contract, which expires in 2028. The crux of the contract (subtracting what’s left this year and the $10 million buyout in 2028) is 10-years and $285 million from 2018-27.
Heyman at fanragsports.com:
"One rival executive estimated that if his contract was paid down by $100 million, they should be able to move him, and that seems about right. While sluggers struggled last year on the market, Stanton is a special player. 'He’s worth $20 million a year,' that rival said."
And, other than the Phillies’ obvious interest in Yelich, this is probably why Yelich would be included in any deal.
• Take a bulk of the massive Stanton contract (which calls for him to make $244 million after his 30th birthday) and we’ll sweeten the deal by giving you the team-friendly Yelich contract.
• Or, perhaps, you get the Marlins to eat around $50 million for just Stanton, making that 10-year period a more manageable (but still extravagant) $235 million.
• Or, you say the hell with Stanton, the guy we want is Yelich (in line for a guaranteed $44.5 through 2021) but we’ll help you out and take on a couple of those other pricey contracts you don’t want anymore (Martin Prado, Edinson Volquez, Brad Ziegler) because we can with our payroll flexibility in 2018 and ’19. Maybe this is how that Dee Gordon rumor started, since it really doesn't make sense for the Phillies, armed with Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery, to have any interest in a second baseman.
Again, any kind of wild trade idea like this can get pretty complicated or off track altogether fairly quickly. And once you start opening up the idea of the Marlins possibly taking on money to make a Stanton trade happen, it also opens the door to other teams jumping in and finding a fit in their respective payrolls, too. (Ditto any separate Yelich trade, too, but with premium prospects instead of cash/payroll flexibility as trade bait).
The Phillies will be adding to their payroll significantly within the next 18 months. The Phillies, who haven't had a winning season since 2011, need to start thinking creatively to add talent (and box office-beefing star power) to their roster.
But the idea of Stanton ending up in a Phillies uniform in the next 10 days, when the trade deadline arrives, remains off-the-wall and isn’t happening. Keep an eye out for the Phillies to be serious buyers sooner rather than later, though.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21
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