According to Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, the Marlins have determined exactly how to reduce payroll to $90 million. That they’re planning to cut costs is no secret, but there’s been plenty of speculation as to just how they’ll go about it. The early assumption was that Giancarlo Stanton and the $25 million he’s owed for 2018 (not to mention the following half-dozen years) would be the biggest piece, an educated guess that was confirmed by the reporters’ sources.
For what it’s worth, the Marlins will look to trade second baseman Dee Gordon and third baseman Martin Prado (good luck there) as well. And another source told the authors that Miami prefers not to trade Christian Yelich, which runs contrary to previous reports. Intrigue in the fate of those first two players pales in comparison to that surrounding Stanton, so let’s talk about him for a little bit.
Actually, let’s talk about him for a while. Please note that we’re getting into rumors, allegations, and things left unsaid throughout the rest of this post.
Were this just a matter of finding a trade partner willing to give up a huge haul of prospects, it’d be a pretty simple conversation. But because Stanton has a full no-trade clause, he’ll have a say in his destination. That alone could reduce the return the Marlins get, as the list of teams Stanton is amenable to is surely shorter than the list of those willing to obtain his services.
We’ve known for some time that Marlins ownership had planned to meet with their star player after the World Series, so it now appears that the powwow is a matter of informing him of their intentions. They’ll also need to find out which teams they can start engaging in trade talks.
There’s at least one other mitigating factor when it comes to the return the Marlins can get, which is that their desire to pare payroll has been made highly public. Like, it’s something we’ve known about since before Derek Jeter’s group even took the reins. Ol’ Jeets is basically the would-be rock star having to put his prized Fender in hock so he can buy his girl a rock. Or buy some rock, whichever metaphor you prefer.
It doesn’t require any strenuous mental calisthenics to figure that the Cubs will probably come up in conversations involving Stanton, though to what degree is hard to say. They certainly have the money to take on his massive contract and it makes sense that they’d be one of the teams he’d be willing to play for. They even have some inexpensive pieces — namely Ian Happ and Albert Almora, Jr. — that could be moved to provide the Marlins with value in return.
There are a couple problems with that scenario, though: The Cubs already have a pricey right fielder and Stanton’s under contract through 2027. While Jason Heyward could ably man center field in the (highly unlikely) event that this all came to pass, it doesn’t make much sense. And you can rule out any possibility of the Marlins taking Heyward in a trade, since his salary nullifies most of what they’re trying to dump with Stanton.
The only way Stanton would make sense for the Cubs is if there’s a different logo on the massive checks Heyward is cashing. Again, this isn’t simply a matter of the team being able to afford it. They can. It’s more about Theo Epstein not making some of the same mistakes he did in Boston when it comes to acquiring a mess of huge contracts and becoming inflexible.
Whether you consider it a pipe dream or a legit possibility, Bryce Harper will be a free agent after next season and the Cubs would be silly to not at least see where the market is going to go on that front. But if the Cubs were somehow able to move Heyward, it could actually increase their ability to spend, at least in the short term.
Stanton is set to earn $25 million in 2018, which is actually about $3.2 million less than Heyward. And though their salaries do a little flip-flop from 2019 on, Stanton is only going to earn $36 million more than his Cubs counterpart through the remainder of Heyward’s contract (assuming Heyward doesn’t opt out after either 2018 or 2019).
Which brings us to the rumors involving Heyward being the subject of trade talks between the Cubs and Giants. I don’t actually know the origin of said rumors because they’ve become somewhat ubiquitous online (feel free to provide me with attribution if you are aware of the source). The gist of it is that San Francisco would swap the contracts of Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon, who are owed a combined $112.4 million over the next three seasons.
The Giants would get a Gold Glove defender to patrol their massive right field and the Cubs get both a workhorse for the rotation and a proven closer. Neither comes without his flaws — Shark is persona non grata among many Cubs fans and Melacon will turn 33 in March and is coming off of arm surgery — but they fill roster needs and their contracts end before the Cubs will have to commit big money.
And if my maths are correct, the additions of Stanton, Samardzija, and Melancon would increase the payroll by $32 million in 2018, then by $45 million and $44 million in the two subsequent seasons. I suppose it goes without saying that that’s accounting for the removal of Heyward’s contract.
This oversimplification makes things seem far easier than they actually are, as the logistics of getting these various moving pieces to align properly are pretty staggering. Or maybe they’re not.
Stanton could say he doesn’t want to go to the Bay Area, which means the Giants know they can’t land him and are motivated to shed a little salary for the Harper sweepstakes. Even if they’re not off the list, San Francisco won’t be able to ship those aforementioned pitchers to Miami because of the latter’s clear need to shed payroll. So either way, it’s possible.
At the end of the day, though, this feels like one of those video-game trade scenarios that you run because it makes sense on paper. As exciting as it is in theory — just imagine the joy on kids’ faces when the Cubs run a “Meet Mark and Shark at the Park” promo — the reality of it feels tenuous at best.
One more thing…
In looking over everything, there is one more scenario in which the Cubs might be able to land Stanton without it being contingent on the other big trade we just discussed. Remember how they were able to beat out both Washington and St. Louis for Heyward’s services despite offering less overall money? In addition to the chance at a title, it was the opt-outs that did it.
Unfortunately, it’s now more or less assured that Heyward will opt in after each of the next two seasons, thus ensuring that the Cubs will have to keep paying him. The bright spot there is that his salary drops off dramatically after 2018, so even the continuation of his disappointing offensive performance won’t sting quite as badly.
Though it’s structured differently, Stanton’s contract includes an opt-out of its own following the 2020 season. He’s still set to make at least $217 million (with a potential for $15 more; 2028 is a $25 million salary with a $10 million buyout) over the remainder of his deal at that point, but he’ll only be heading into his age-31 season and could potentially get more on the open market.
The question, then, is whether the Cubs think Stanton could command more than $30 million AAV over seven years after 2020. Albert Pujols got $24M AAV as a 32-year-old in 2012, so there’s certainly precedent for it. Stanton would be younger by at least a year (depending on the accuracy of El Hombre’s birth certificate) and the luxury tax threshold will have increased significantly by then, so landing an even bigger deal is very much within the realm of possibility.
While there’s really no way the Cubs could or would get Stanton to agree ahead of time to exercise the opt out, the distinct possibility that he might do so could give them the confidence to pursue him with a bit more gusto. After all, a bird in hand is worth two in the juniper bushes.
Of course, this is all so heavily shot through with conjecture that it’s good for little other than water cooler conversation. But with nothing else really going on, it’s fun to chew over and write about.