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The Marlins and the Giancarlo Stanton trade question

The Miami Marlins insist that Giancarlo Stanton is not available for trade. But is the team right to make him untouchable like this?

The Marlins have an important question to answer with regards to Giancarlo Stanton.
The Marlins have an important question to answer with regards to Giancarlo Stanton.
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Many different things have been bandied around regarding the Miami Marlins this offseason. At some point, the Fish were considered a dark-horse (very dark horse) candidate for Robinson Cano. That never developed into anything, but the point is that Miami has can get their name involved into many a deal this offseason. While the plan has always been to pursue long-term solutions at position player spots, the Marlins could also make a splash in free agency if the timing is right. Just this week, the Marlins were connected to free agent first baseman Mike Napoli, for example.

The one constant this offseason, however, was on a topic of broad interest for many other teams. The Marlins have insisted over and over again that the team is not shopping star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton for any trades. Essentially, the Marlins have drawn a line in front of Stanton and have held that line firm so far. Miami is completely uninterested in trading Stanton in the 2013 offseason.

The reasons for it are multiple. The primary thought here at Fish Stripes is that the Fish will approach Stanton this offseason for a contract extension offer that would buy out some of his free agent seasons. Most small-market teams would make this very logical move, and the Marlins should follow suit. Until Miami receives a rejection from Stanton, the team may not be wiling to entertain offers for the slugger.

But the other reason often cited is far more shortsighted. From a November 6 article:

"We need to put more offense into our lineup to supplement [Stanton] and to supplement our offense, and allow us to score more runs," Hill said. "Obviously, Giancarlo is a big part of our offense. We want to make things easier for him and the rest of our lineup, and lengthen the lineup the best we can to allow us to score more runs."

Then from the most recent Inbox article:

The bottom line is, the Marlins ranked last in the Majors in offense in 2013 and so are not willing to part with the force that is Stanton. Consider this: Miami hit 95 home runs this past season, with just 36 at Marlins Park. Stanton had 24 homers, including 15 in Miami.

The Marlins were certainly the worst offensive team in baseball last year, and in fact, they were one of the worst offensses in recent memory. It figures that Miami would want to improve that terrible offense, and a regression in Stanton's statistics from last year should play a role in scoring more runs. But the idea that the awful 2013 offense should somehow influence long-term thinking in Miami is ludicrous. Miami has to improve the offense, but the long-term implications of Stanton's situation should take precedence, especially since next season will be another lost campaign. With 2015 being the earliest we can expect the Fish to win 75 or more games, why should next year's offense be of any interest to the team?

The most important question facing Miami is the question of Stanton's future with the team. Miami says that it is prepared to go year-to-year with him if it is the only way to retain him, but history points to the opposite direction. The Marlins only went year-to-year with Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett in the early 2000's because the franchise was suddenly competitive after 2003. The team then not only traded Brad Penny (another player set to earn arbitration money) in 2004 and eventually allowed both Pavano and Burnett to walk. Miami traded Miguel Cabrera before his second season of arbitration because the prices had grown too high and Cabrera was set to make $11 million that season. Stanton is not likely to be in Cabrera's price range, but the Marlins are far less competitive in 2014 and 2015 than they were in 2008 and 2009. Owner Jeffrey Loria passed on paying on paying Cabrera top dollar, so why would he be more willing with Stanton?

The Marlins have never re-signed a talent after his walk year. They have barely gotten to six seasons of team control with any player. All of these signs point to the Fish likely trading Stanton before letting him play out arbitration and seeing him walk without significant compensation. But if the Marlins are likely to trade him in the coming years, the team should do its due diligence now. Stanton's value took a hit this past season, but once he reaches arbitration, it will be harder for Miami to get prime prospect return. Stanton's bat has not yet approached Cabrera's level, and he has not had the health that Cabrera boasted in Florida. It would likely be a stretch to expect two previous top-10 prospects like the Fish got for Cabrera, especially if Stanton bounces back and earns a raise closer to $10 million for his second arbitration season.

Unless Stanton has a berserker campaign akin to a full season of his 2012 form, I doubt his trade value is going up next season. And as we detailed in the extension article, extending Stanton before his second arbitration season defeats the purpose of the move.

But the premise remains: the Marlins would have to commit a lot more in years and contract value if they wanted to sign Stanton after this year, as he would be too close to free agency to entice on a five-year contract. Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Cain, Matt Kemp, and Cole Hamelsare among the many players who are examples of commitments a team has made to a star past his first year of arbitration. All of those contracts (many of which replaced older extensions) added at least six years beyond the final arbitration but also committed massive long-term salaries to the player.

The Marlins should focus all of their efforts in presenting Stanton a picture of the future and an extension that keeps him around until 2019. If he considers the offers and counteroffers and still says "no," the team should prepare for the worst and move on as quickly as possible. Why waste a season of Stanton's offense and trade value to improve the 2014 offense when the team is not going to win many games in the year? Miami would be better off getting a full season of development for the top prospects they could expect in return from Stanton if that is the case.

But the team cannot procrastinate further. Miami is using the excuse of improving the present and crossing their fingers that the future will work out fine. But the longer Stanton is not extended, the less likely Miami will keep him beyond 2016. A decision and a long-term plan need to be made this offseason, or the Marlins may be left with diminishing trade value or no return for one of the best homegrown talents the organization has ever come across. What the Fish do with Stanton will reverberate through multiple eras of this franchise, and so far, the team has not performed well.