Even though, at least here, this weekend was unseasonably warm, folks went ahead and tossed a big log on the hot stove. First, Derrick Goold reported that the Cardinals were going to ask about Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, though that was really not big news. Goold has been saying that the Cards and Marlins might be a match for a long time. (And I currently can’t find the article to see if there was anything more to it.) Given that it seems trades are often broken by the national writers, Peter Gammons’s report might have been the more intriguing. Buried in an article about new Red Sox manager Alex Cora was the note that the Cardinals have offered “one of their best young pitchers” for Stanton if the Marlins would pay some on that contract.
When you talk about Giancarlo Stanton, the blood immediately gets pumping. How could it not when the guy hit 59 home runs last year and very few were questionable or wall-scrapers? I mean, just watch the video below and imagine watching that every night with him wearing the birds on the bat. It’s intoxicating.
There’s a lot to like about Stanton and it would be an immediate boost to a number of things. The offense is the obvious one. I’m not sure how the lineup works best with Stanton in it but no matter where he hits it’s a huge improvement. Stanton hit mainly second last season, which wouldn’t seem like it would be the best thing with the Cardinal personnel, but it does allow him to get more plate appearances and that’s a positive. The Cardinals have needed that cleanup hitter and Stanton’s power would surely fit that bill. Could they put him fourth after Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, and Dexter Fowler? In theory Stanton would come up a lot of times in the first with at least one runner on. Or should he hit third, to be sure that he comes up in the first? How does the rest of the lineup look behind him? Those are some questions that we would love to bat around this winter should it become necessary.
There’s also the public relations boost. John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch have been making the radio rounds this week. This might be a common occurrence as the off-season officially kicks off after the World Series, but it also seems like it might be a way to reassure season ticket holders that change is coming, that they don’t plan to stand pat. I don’t have any knowledge of this, but you’d figure that if season ticket renewals are at a lower rate than in the past, Mo and Girsch would get that information. There is absolutely no doubt that Stanton is going to sell a lot of tickets if you bring him to St. Louis.
After all, there’s precedent for that. In 1997, the Cardinals went out and traded for Mark McGwire and quickly signed him to a new contract. Given that any time I sign my internet name I reference McGwire’s time here, that worked out pretty well. 1998 and 1999 weren’t exciting seasons but people still came out to see whether McGwire would hit a massive home run or not. That brought in enough revenue (and buzz) that the DeWitts call Busch Stadium III “The House that Mac Built”. That’s the kind of franchise-changing trade it was.
I don’t know that Stanton would change the fortunes of the franchise that much, mainly because they are in better shape than they were when they added McGwire. Still, they would instantly take an also-ran team and make them if not the favorite in the division at least someone to watch. Folks in Chicago and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would definitely take notice. Couple that with a closer and a innings-eater and it might be the most dramatic revamp of the club since 2003.
Before I get into the rest of this post, I want to be clear that I’m in favor of a Stanton trade at least in theory. Details, such as what pitching is leaving and how much of the contract the Cardinals are paying, could affect that a bit. I want the Cardinals to keep Alex Reyes, in part because he appears to be a special talent and in part because I think you’d be selling low to trade him as he comes off Tommy John surgery. Other than that, it’s pretty much fair game. I like Luke Weaver but I’m not attached to him. Jack Flaherty may have a great career ahead of him but he seems at least half a season away. Dakota Hudson might tear at Colin Garner’s heart, but I’m fine with it.
I will say that my feeling is that the Cardinals actually got a lot of the framework of a deal like this done back in July but it couldn’t get done for a number of reasons, most likely the fact that the ownership situation wasn’t settled. My only bit of evidence of this is Austin Gomber. There were reports this summer that Miami was scouting him among others in the organization. When the Springfield season ended, even though Gomber has to be added this winter (by November 20, remember) to the 40-man, he was not brought to the major leagues. That in and of itself isn’t a tell, given that Tyler O’Neill and Oscar Mercado are in the same boat, but even with the arms taken out of Memphis for the big league run, the club didn’t move Gomber to Memphis for their playoffs, instead shutting him down. That seemed a little more out of character.
Now, it could be any number of reasons, though an innings limit wouldn’t appear to be one of them. Kyle Reis and I have talked about this and he’s said Gomber still had some innings left to complete a natural progression. It could be the club wanted him to end on a high note, it could be that there is some tension between Gomber and the organization over how he goes about things. However, my wild guess is that the Cardinals knew Gomber was going to be dealt this winter and didn’t want to risk him getting hurt after his season was over. It’s probably a stretch, but I think Gomber will be part of a deal to Miami. He’s not the top talent Gammons describes but he’ll be in the package. I wonder how much salary relief a deal with Weaver, Gomber, and Harrison Bader in it would net the Cardinals?
So, to reiterate, bringing in Stanton is a good thing. However, it is fair to realize that this is an “all your eggs in one basket” type of thing. We expect Stanton to come in and slug away and he probably will. I mean, that’s what he’s done all his career when he’s been healthy. But what if Stanton, instead of hitting .280 with his bombs, hits .240? He’s had seasons like that. Are 30-35 homers still worth it if it is more all or nothing? Again, I realize that Stanton is just coming into his prime and those kind of seasons aren’t as likely, but they are still possible.
Does adding that bat really change the lineup as much as necessary? We thought the OBP monster at the top of the lineup would work for St. Louis last year and it really didn’t, or at least not in the way we expected. Dropping in Stanton obviously lengthens the lineup, but what if Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong slip significantly? Would the increase in offense from Stanton be able to absorb their return to earth? It’s definitely better to have him than not in that situation but the overall results might not be as good as we would like.
We referenced ’98 and ’99 above and they show that a slugger doesn’t necessarily bring you wins. I think this team has more surrounding talent (especially on the mound) than those two teams and it isn’t as likely to be an also-ran, but it is worth noting. I mean, look at the Angels. They’ve had Mike Trout and they still can’t make the playoffs. The great thing about baseball is everyone has to contribute to have a winning team. A superstar bat that brings the fear factor definitely helps but it’s no guarantee.
Plus there’s the money. Stanton is owed $77 million over the next three years, after which he can opt out. We’ve seen a lot of people this weekend (mainly pitchers) reject their opt out clause and decide to stay with their team. If Stanton has the three years we expect he could have, he might go ahead and opt out even though a lot of his money comes after those three seasons. Three years and $77 million isn’t all that bad and, unless he falls in love with St. Louis, that might be all the Cardinals would get out of him, giving the club a definite “win now” mentality to make sure the deal pays off in that span.
What if he doesn’t, though? What if the next three years are OK but not up to The Legend of Giancarlo and he decides it’s better to take the sure thing? The Cards would be on the hook (again, all of this depends on what Miami picks up, but we’re doing worst case scenario that the Cards had to pay it all) for at least (assuming a buyout in the last season) $218 million over those seven seasons. That is a more notable punch to the checkbook and has the potential to really tie up resources, perhaps creating a situation where the Cards continue to struggle because they can’t afford to do much otherwise.
Honestly, I’m not as concerned about the money. I really expect that Stanton, who may have some reservations about playing in the heartland instead of the coasts, would opt out of his deal. Even if he doesn’t, I figure the Cardinals will get Miami to pay a notable portion, maybe as much as 20%. Even without that, there is the new FOX Sports Midwest TV deal and other auxiliary amounts that probably allow the Cardinals to still put a good product on the field, even if they might not be able to go out and get a piece that puts them over the top. I don’t think we’re looking at Stanton and a bunch of no-names and a 70 win season no matter how the money shakes out.
I think there’s a lot of “get Stanton and everything will be fine.” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. We saw how long it took for the new club chemistry to take hold this year. Stanton would likely alter that chemistry further. Will it mesh quicker? Probably depends on how quickly they start winning. (Though Adam Wainwright would tell you it goes the other way and, well, you’d think he’d know.)
As Grand Moff Tarkin said to Darth Vader as they watched the Falcon blast away from the Death Star: “I’m taking an awful risk, Vader. This had better work.” Stanton would definitely be a huge risk for an organization that hasn’t been inclined to do that kind of thing. My gut feeling is that they are going to, though. They need the PR boost. They need the power boost. They need to show that things are different now. I could easily be wrong (though I do think the club will do something, it might not be Stanton) but that’s where I stand now. We’ll see over the next few weeks!