Giancarlo Stanton did an interview with the LA Times's Bill Shaikin regarding the ever-evolving situation between Stanton and the Miami Marlins. You see, Stanton is about to head into his second year of arbitration, meaning he only has two seasons of team control under the Marlins remaining after the 2014 season ends. Those two seasons are going to be a harrowing time for the Fish, who are in the midst of a youth renaissance but may still be a little far away from contention for Stanton's pleasure.
In two years, Stanton will be able to negotiate a new contract with any team he wants, and based on the way he is playing, he is in for a large payday with any suitor. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the odds-on favorites to land Stanton because of their hometown appeal to him, as Stanton grew up in that area of California. The Marlins want to make the most of their time left with Stanton, but the Fish will have a difficult time figuring out exactly what that entails.
You see, contract extensions are getting more and more expensive as the market for wins inflates each year. And players are signing bigger extensions even at earlier times, as evidenced by Freddie Freeman's eight-year extension from before 2014. All of this lends itself to Giancarlo Stanton getting a monster payday by the time he hits free agency or earning a contract extension that can no longer be considered all that team-friendly. Gone are the days and times when a team could secure an Andrew McCutchen for $51 million for six years and buy out two free agent seasons. At this point, negotiating a contract for Stanton would require essentially a free agency commitment from the Marlins.
The problem is that Miami has never committed to a single player the kind of money that Stanton would command. The largest contract the franchise has ever signed is the seven-year pact they inked with Jose Reyes before the 2012 season, which was only worth $106 million and had an average annual value of around $17 million per season. One look at the free agency situation these past few years and you can tell that that will not cut it for Stanton, who is expected to be a better than Reyes when he is free of commitment to Miami. One would expect that Stanton could easily command at least $22 million a year from a team over the course eight years. That would entail an eight-year, $176 million contract at the very least for a player with a projection as a five-plus win player heading into his age 27 season.
Stanton is essentially going to be a free agent in the prime of his career, which makes him a perfect candidate for a very long contract that will be extremely lucrative. Miami has never handed out such a deal, and with a lack of precedence, it is hard to imagine the tight-pursed Jeffrey Loria from doing so. But when Stanton is willing to say slight bits of hope like this:
"I want to win," Stanton said. "If we're prepared to win, I want to stay."
Does he believe the Marlins are prepared to win?
"Look at the record," he said.
As a Marlins fan, it is hard not to get excited about the prospect of him returning. But for the Marlins to truly get him to come back, they would have to get him to buy in very soon. The Fish are unlikely to be willing to risk letting Stanton go all the way to free agency to allow them time to convince him of the team's competitive situation. At the same time, Miami is in a transitional period with a number of good young players who are talented but may not be ready to boost the club into contention status by next season or the year after.
The situation in Miami right now is very similar to what we saw in 2006 with the Marlins. In that era, the Marlins had promising talent in Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Josh Johnson on board, but the club struggled to push its way into contention status in its first two years together. Miami topped out with an 87-win season in 2009, three seasons after the debut of that core.
Of course, before 2008, the Marlins ended up trading Miguel Cabrera after he got too expensive in arbitration and the Marlins were certain they could not get a commitment from him long-term. Two seasons later, the Fish had a competitive team, but it was two seasons too late to convince Cabrera.
This could be the same situation in Miami now. Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez, and Marcell Ozuna may help lead a Marlins team close to contention in 2016. But would Miami be able to risk Stanton reaching free agency and losing him for nothing on the projection of young players into playoff hopes? Right now, Miami has shown enough to say that the team is not ready to compete this year. It may improve itself next season, but would that be enough to convince Stanton to sign essentially a free agent deal in the offseason? How about in 2016, with free agency at their heels? Would Miami risk taking him all the way to free agency to prove that this core can win games?
It seems unlikely. Given the team's paralleled history with star players, it seems much more likely that the franchise would trade Stanton sooner rather than later. The potential of losing him for nothing while trying to prove their mettle seems too great for a club that claims it is cash-strapped. If the Marlins choose not to make improvements on their existing club at clear positions of need for the 2015 season, you can expect the team to quietly begin shopping Stanton in search for the right deal. If and when that time comes, we should only hope that it does not end like the Cabrera trade.