The Miami Marlins are reaching their point of inevitability with regards to Giancarlo Stanton. While he remains interested in a long-term extension, so many factors have to go into Stanton feeling secure in south Florida that the likelihood of such a deal is low. If and when Stanton leaves, it will be because both sides could not fulfill the others' desires:
1) Stanton could not play up to a level to make Miami comfortable handing out a team-record contract.
2) The Marlins would be unable to provide Stanton the security of a long-term stable winning foundation or the sort of contract that he deserves.
The situation is not one that will become untenable on the field, with Stanton being a problem to the team. But both sides are well aware that their eventual desires will be unmet. And the honest truth is that fans should get ready for the trade rumors to swirl.
So the next question becomes when this eventual move will happen. The Marlins have said that they want to "build around" Stanton in 2014, but without a long-term commitment, this season holds little meaning in terms of the wins Stanton produces. At the same time, Stanton has his own demons to face, and some of those apply to his trade value. Both sides need him to maximize his value, so when would be the best time to make a move to improve that value? We will consider three different scenarios and think about what a deal during each time period would mean.
Trade Deadline 2014
The first time a move might be made is before the 2014 trade deadline. The advantage of a deadline deal is that the Marlins trade him at the earliest, meaning they can maximize the theoretical return for him. The more time the Fish allow the next team with Stanton, the more that team will give back. In addition, the trade deadline tends to be a more desperate time for franchises looking to enter the elite competitive group, and that occasionally means teams are willing to send more to the other side for help. An overpay does not happen on every trade, but every once in a while a Zack Wheeler-for-Carlos Beltran move happens, and the Marlins could be the beneficiary of that one desperate club.
It sounds like that is the perfect incentive to make a move, but there are some pitfalls to the trade deadline. For one, the Marlins would be giving up on any minute chance they can retain Stanton by sending him away at their earliest convenience. In addition, Stanton has his own problems to overcome stemming from last season's down year. Stanton had a struggle of a year offensively, with decreased power output and continued issues with health. Trading him at the deadline may not give the Marlins enough time for him to recover from those problems and display to other teams his significant positives. Given that Miami cannot fail on this trade, they need to make sure that Stanton is at his peak value.
The Marlins could send Stanton away in the offseason before 2015. That affords him the entire 2014 season to build value without losing too much time from a subjective standpoint. One can point to the ever-evolving trade value of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price as evidence that, even though he was rumored to be dealt as early as his first arbitration season, the Rays have not seemingly lost too much prospect value from waiting until now. If Stanton can show that he can remain healthy for much of the year and regain some of his 2012 form, chances are his trade value will actually improve over the deadline's value.
This move also affords Miami one final opportunity to offer Stanton the moon on a contract offer. If the Marlins are serious about trying to keep him around, they may mull over a massive extension akin to the one Freddie Freeman received. Miami can at least take a stab, even if they do not follow through on the necessary plans to retain Stanton, whereas trading him at the deadline gives them no time to make a final offer.
The downside here of course is also related to that. If he does not bounce back from his "bad" 2013 year, the Fish will have wasted at least half a season of Stanton's value and the benefits of the trade deadline bonus without getting any real benefits. A down year would almost certainly lead to a split between the two parties, as Miami would not commit coming off a second straight year of sub-All-Star performance and Stanton would still not likely agree to a contract below par. If he does not rebuild his value, it's all losses on both ends.
The Marlins have made it sound as though they are willing to take Stanton right down to the wire before making a decision to move him. The thought here is that it gives the team the most time to sign an extension, but the truth is that if Miami could not make a move this year, it is highly unlikely they will be able to complete an extension a year before Stanton reaches free agency. The franchise is far from competitive right now, and even if 2016 shows promise, it is not likely that Stanton will see enough of the commitment to winning that he wants to stay with the team on a Matt Cain/Cole Hamels contract.
This option affords Miami the most time with Stanton though, and that may appease the casual fan base the most. If Stanton really is the sort of player who can put butts in seats, more so than if the team were losing without him, then Miami would want to keep that influence as long as possible.
The downside is that Miami could jeopardize picking up trade pieces for the next competitive Marlins group by waiting too long. The team may be ready to compete at a 2001-2002 franchise level in 2016, so the club would like to have its recently-acquired prospects be ready and experienced by 2017 to help the core of Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich. Acquiring those prospects in 2014 or 2015 may get them ready by then, but picking up minor leaguers in after 2015 may not align their timetables with the team's potential competitive window. That delay in winning would further damage the Marlins' fragile attendance and reputation issue.
The Best Option?
Chances are Miami's best odds are to trade Stanton after the 2014 season. The Marlins should allow Stanton time to rebuild his value with a strong 2014, risking that he fails to bounce back and loses value permanently. If they are right, he remains here for another year and remains static in trade value, which gives them a chance to pitch him one last time on Miami long-term. If the Fish succeed, they can still get prospects who will be ready to rumble by 2016 and 2017, when the Fish should next be competitive.
What do you Fish Stripers think? If you had to make a trade, when would you send Stanton away?
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