How Might a Stanton Trade to the Cardinals Work?

photo: Giancarlo Stanton (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

“Giancarlo Stanton to the St. Louis Cardinals” is the clear number one topic among the team’s fans early in the 2017-2018 hot stove season.

Giancarlo Stanton (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Who can blame them? The slugging outfielder is the favorite to win the National League Most Valuable Player award on the heels of his MLB’s-best 59 home runs and could address a glaring need while anchoring the Cardinals lineup for years to come.

As many know, the key open questions are:

  • What would it take to acquire Stanton’s services from the Miami Marlins?
  • Would Stanton waive his no-trade protection to join St. Louis?

On the latter point, there have been persistent rumors that Stanton wants to play for a winner – check. Make that, a winning team that plays on one of the coasts – full stop.

On this aspect, there is very little more to say. To the best of my knowledge, neither the outfielder nor his agent have been quoted on the matter. We only have speculation to go on.

So let’s assume that will be resolved if necessary and focus on question #1.

Miami’s vise

First, some background. New Marlins owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter have disclosed their intent to drop Miami’s player payroll from a projected $140 million down to approximately $90 million for 2018.

Per Stanton’s contract, which has $295 million remaining, the 27-year old’s salary increases from $14 million in 2017 to $25 million in 2018. That inflection point, along with the huge total commitment remaining, make this off-season the ideal time for Miami to trade the 6-foot-6, 250-pound masher.

Trading Stanton could conceivably get the Marlins half-way to their reduction goal. If Miami could also move two other veterans in third baseman Martin Prado and second baseman Dee Gordon, the target would be in sight.

However, there are two inherent assumptions, neither of which may be totally realistic. One is that the Marlins do not take on any major salary commitments in return and two, the traded players’ new clubs assume 100 percent of the remaining money owed.

Of course, the Marlins could either revise their target or decide to move other players, in addition to or instead of one or more of the aforementioned trio.

A giant contract to the Giants?

The sheer enormity of Stanton’s heavily back-end loaded contract – which runs through 2027 with a 2028 club option/buyout, ending in either his age 37 or 38 season – makes him a non-fit with most of baseball’s financial powerhouses. The reason is MLB’s Luxury Tax, with its sizeable penalties.

Two teams that many observers feel are the Marlins’ best fits as a trade partner are the Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. Both feature a winning history, have the money and the need. St. Louis has an added advantage, ample prospects to trade, which could increase its appeal to Miami.

However, San Francisco could provide the geographic edge to Stanton. In fact, the Giants may have another leg up, as well. The rumor mill this July had Stanton trade negotiations between the Giants and Marlins progressing to the point that names going the other way in the proposed deal were being exchanged, before talks ended.

But still, there is that contract. It is so onerous, that when national writer Peter Gammons recently spoke to three different MLB general managers from “profitable market” teams, they all agreed that if Stanton would be put on waivers, he would go unclaimed (because the claiming team would be required to assume the entire remaining financial liability).

Even so, no one is suggesting that the Marlins are going to give Stanton away. They do not have to – as long as there is a competition for his services.

The rub

Here is the rub as I see it, however.

The Marlins and any prospective trade partner have a tradeoff to make. The more money that Miami pays to offset Stanton’s contract, the more and/or better prospects/players they can demand in trade. Of course, the opposite also applies – the less money the Marlins send pinned to Stanton’s jersey, the fewer/lower quality players they may receive in return.

Both sides settling on this sliding scale and where to land on it would be crucial to actually closing a deal. And of course, the Cards would need to be in a better spot than Miami perceives the Giants’ offer to be.

The opt out

There is another potentially complicating factor not yet mentioned here. Stanton may opt out of his contract following the 2020 season.

I don’t consider this a huge matter, one way or the other.

Even if Stanton took the opt-out, the Cards would have received the benefit of three prime seasons from him, his ages 28-30 years. In doing so, Stanton would walk away from a guaranteed seven years/$218 million (over $31 MM average annual value or AAV) for his ages 31-37 seasons plus an option for age 38.

Could Stanton really do better in three years from now on a new seven-year deal through his declining years in his 30’s? I really question that. Also, remember his health history has been spotty.

The Cards have to assess the trade assuming Stanton stays for the duration of the contract, while also making sure they can come out good through three years by not loading so much cost up front that they lose out badly if he walks. They cannot make the deal assuming it will only be a three-year term, but they have to be cognizant of the possibility.

If I was representing the Cards, the opt-out means I would be inclined to take on slightly more back-end salary commitment and/or offer less in players in return up front. When all is said and done, though, securing the next three prime years of Stanton’s services alone would be a pretty darned good take.

I would not let the opt-out be a deal-breaker.

A key starting point

Gammons also wrote this: “…the Cardinals have reportedly made one of their best young pitchers available if the Derek Jeter ownership will take back some of the money…”

Let’s take this at face value for a minute. The Cards are willing to include a good young arm – if Miami pays some of Stanton’s salary.

What we still don’t know is considerable:

  • Which of the “best young pitchers” were made available? Is it Alex Reyes or Dakota Hudson, for example? Both are among the best in the Cardinals system, but their ceilings are very different.
  • Are the Cards offering other players, too?
  • How much salary is St. Louis trading off against that young pitcher?
  • Are these kind of terms interesting to Miami?

Which player(s) to Miami?

If Jeter’s plan to cut payroll takes its most direct route, the less salary he takes on through acquisition of other players in a Stanton trade, the better. That means controllable players in pre-arbitration status (less than three years of MLB service time) would be ideal gets.

On the pitching side, the choices are ample, with Reyes, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara, Hudson and Jordan Hicks all recent top-10 talents in the Cardinals system.

Tommy Pham (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Among hitters, the players I would most want if I was Jeter are those the Cardinals may least want to give up – Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong and Carson Kelly would top my list. They are both good and set to be inexpensive for years into the future.

Losing players in the next tier down would be less painful to the Cards, but likely less appealing to Jeter – Randal Grichuk and Jose Martinez, for example.

This does not mean that Miami may not be interested in slightly more experienced players on longer-term deals such as Stephen Piscotty or Kolten Wong. Taking on those contracts would just mean more payroll cuts would be needed elsewhere, or they could be flipped to another team.

I could see the latter scenario even more likely if the Cards took Prado off the Marlins’ hands as well, for example. The third baseman is set to make $28.5 million over the next two seasons. The 34-year old missed most of the 2017 season due to injury and could be on a Jhonny Peralta-like late-career trajectory, making the contract seemingly difficult to trade on its own.

When all is said and done, we have no way of knowing exactly which Cardinals players the new Marlins regime want and would settle for – as well as what other deals they may be considering. There are a lot of potentially moving parts here.

A proposal

Perhaps the two sides could come up with a sliding scale that back end loads Miami’s continuing commitment to Stanton. Here is but one example, with the basic concept offered by a poster on The Cardinal Nation’s forum.

Let’s say St. Louis commits to the trading the young pitcher Gammons referenced plus another player and takes on $240 million for the final 10 years of Stanton’s contract. That leaves the Marlins on the hook for $55 million, but on a scale that starts at just $1 million in 2018 and grows by $1 million each year to the maximum of $10 million in year 10.

If Stanton opts out after the 2020 season, the Marlins would still keep the players and have paid just $6 million on Stanton. The Cards will have received three prime years of Stanton for $71 million, or an AAV of $23.7 million. Reasonable for all parties.

Of course, if the quality of the pitcher goes up and/or more players are added, the money St. Louis absorbs could go down. Or if Miami assumes less of a financial burden, the quality/quantity of the players offered could drop.

However, this cannot be executed in a vacuum. As noted above, the Cardinals may not be alone in their pursuit of Stanton. They may have to outbid the Giants and even perhaps the dreaded “mystery team” that often seems to pop up in Rumorville. That could lead to Miami having to pay less money and/or receive more on the player side of the equation.

I have no way of knowing how this will play out, but I have to admit I have enjoyed considering these angles. I hope you found thought-provoking value in reading this, as well.

Catch you around the hot stove!

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