In the aftermath of the blockbuster trade that resulted in Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, and cash going to the Toronto Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, Justin Nicolino, Anthony Desclafani, and Jake Marisnick going to the Miami Marlins; there’s been much speculation about which players the Marlins will trade away next.
Ricky Nolasco is the first name that comes to mind. He’s on the books for $11.5M next season, and will be a free agent after the 2013 season. He’s been a bit of a disappointment Given his solid peripherals and relatively weak free agent starting pitching market, he should be able to bring back a useful prospect or two. This is especially true if the Marlins can spin him off with recently acquired Yunel Escobar. Due to make $5M next season (plus a pair of club options at the same price), Escobar is an above average defensive shortstop with the skills to be a league average hitter; 2012 and attitude problems not withstanding.
While both of these players are being actively shopped by the Marlins, the player on most team’s radars is Giancarlo Stanton. Interestingly enough, he’s probably the one player who’s most unlikely to be moved. Stanton is a 23 year old power hitting prodigy who plays above average defense in right field. Contractually, he still has one year remaining under the Reserve Clause followed by three seasons of arbitration eligibility. Even with a salary that’s likely to skyrocket during his arbitration seasons, he’s projected to be a relative bargain considering his current levels of production. Players like these rarely become available, so when even the slightest possibility arises; teams will often pounce given the opportunity.
I’m a big believer in teams pumping money and other resources into building up their farm systems. Young, cheap talent successfully coming through the pipeline allows teams to field rosters with players on the upswing, and fosters an environment that promotes payroll flexibility. Rather than using the free agent market to build their roster, front offices can be smarter and more selective in signing players and use said players to supplement the roster. As a staunch supporter of the “build from within” method of creating a roster, I’ve been on record as openly rejecting 99% of all trade proposals that involve emptying the far system of our best and brightest prospects. Those proposals are often ill-considered and shortsighted even if short-term gain is worthwhile. With Stanton, I make an exception.
Stanton is a rare player. His youth combined with his size, bat speed, and defensive abilities project him out to be a perennial All-Star or possible MVP candidate. The fact that he’s still three full seasons away from reaching the beginning of the typical player peak seasons of 25 to 29 makes him even more attractive. He’s already a 5-win player with potential of being so much more.
The competition arising from teams interested in his services could be so great that the potential trade packages could cause the price to spin out of control. Looking at the Red Sox farm system right now, it’s probably not out of the question to think they’d have to part with as many as two of their top three prospects in Xander Bogearts, Jackie Bradley, and Matt Barnes to close a deal for Stanton. After that, we’re looking at 2-3 additional prospects with varying levels of hype. With Will Middlebrooks already in the mix at third base, Garin Cecchini seems like a possible inclusions. With his path to the majors blocked, the Marlins could find the polished lefty batter to be an attractive second-tier prospect. Beyond Cecchini, the talented but enigmatic Drake Britton, the mashing but streaky Bryce Brentz, and the inconsistent but toolsy Brandon Jacobs also have to be considered as viable options.
Aside from the cost, another roadblock potentially exists. In a world where the Marlins are undergoing their third fire sale in 15 years, this one coming after making a number of extraordinary promises to secure money for their new ballpark, major league baseball will be monitoring this situation closely. While it’s unlikely Bud Selig would overturn a trade by invoking the rarely used “In the best interests of baseball clause,” there should be little doubt Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins front office are receiving considerable pressure to retain their more visible assets. Considering the salaries of the aforementioned Nolasco and Escobar, the Marlins can justify their moves as “baseball moves” as opposed to straight payroll dumps.
By trading Stanton though, the Marlins could potentially destroy whatever chance of success baseball has in Miami. Why? Stanton is exactly the type of player the Marlins should be building around. With four more years of control, they have plenty of time to build the next championship contender. Trading him now, regardless of what they could potentially get in return, would serve as a white flag. Rational or not, it would be a signal to the quickly dwindling Marlin fan base that ownership does not care about them. While it should be noted that it’s pretty clear Loria does not care about the fans regardless of a Stanton trade, he can’t do it so blatantly.
In terms of a pure baseball move, Stanton’s value will never be higher than it is now. Trading him now makes a ton of sense as they could reboot with a boatload of prospects; thus providing a major boost to the rebuilding effort. Unfortunately, given the optics of the situation, it’s a very difficult one on which to pull the trigger. This won’t stop anyone, including the Red Sox, from trying to make a deal the Marlins can’t refuse. Still, while this could turn out to be nothing more than a fool’s errand, things can change rapidly during the Hot Stove season. The Red Sox need to make a splash this offseason, but they need to do it smartly. Acquiring Giancarlo Stanton would be a tsunami of a splash.