Giancarlo Stanton has gotten a lot of attention the last couple of days. A week ago, there were rumors from within the front office that the Miami Marlins were not confident in signing a long-term deal with Stanton this offseason. Naturally, that led to speculation about trades, with the Boston Red Sox being at the front of the line for Stanton's services. However, at the same time, we were hearing that Stanton was happy in Miami now that the team has seen some improvement and that he was "all-in" with the Fish going forward.
According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, it sounds as though Miami is leaning on the latter rather than the former. The latest word is that the Marlins are planning on building a contender around Stanton, whether or not he signs a long-term extension this winter.
As the team's MLB.com official beat writer, Frisaro is privy to information some other "insiders" may not have. Of course, as MLB.com's official team beat writer, he has also spun a lot of positivity into Miami's news, so the conflicting reports should be taken as just that: conflicting, without a known amount of "truth" on either side.
But let's say Miami is interested primarily in keeping Stanton, regardless of contract status. This is essentially a bet that Miami can convince Stanton that it is competitive enough in the long run. It's such a strong bet that the club is willing to risk free agency and the opportunity for Stanton to negotiate with any team and still choose Miami's supposed winning situation going forward. Stanton presumably likes Miami and is more interested in winning than a mammoth payday, but the Fish will face stiff competition from the Los Angeles Dodgers and other high-rolling bidders if the team reaches free agency.
There is also a concern as to just how much money it would cost Miami to make a competitive offer to Stanton. Rarely do players of Stanton's caliber ever make it to free agency; the cost to signing Stanton to a long-term deal may already be high, but the price would be astronomical by free agency. Given the rising cost of players and comparable names like Prince Fielder, you would expect Stanton to earn upwards of $28 million a season in free agency, and he might expect a ten-year contract like Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols received. Would Miami be willing to toss that kind of money at a player and risk another team snagging him away anyway?
That is why there is significant concern and hand-wringing about this offseason. This represents the Marlins' likely last chance to make a bid at a cheaper price (along the lines of maybe $25 million a year for the free agent seasons) and have no competition in doing so. Going all the way to free agency tosses those advantages out.
And then there is the question of Miami's competitiveness. The Fish are 3.5 games back of the Wild Card, but they also have the run differential of a team that three wins worse than their current record. The Marlins are 17th in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement in both position players and pitching, meaning they are at best a slightly below average team so far in 2014.
The Marlins sound like they might try to rectify that problem with free agent help this offseason, according to Frisaro.
More on that possibility in a little bit, but the key to this statement is that the Fish may be interested in making a signing to help the Marlins in 2015. A big-ticket free agent addition like James Shields could also be a sign to Stanton that the club is ready to commit resources to competing long-term. Then again, Miami did the same thing in 2012, and when half a season did not go according to plan, they shucked the rest of the plan and players away, so how much can Miami be trusted?
All of these stories and interweaving influences will ultimately form to make the decision for the Fish. Taking Stanton to free agency is a major risk, and the number one goal this offseason should be to sign him to a long-term deal. Trades should be considered if that goal cannot be achieved, because the odds Miami will pony up $200-plus million in contract to one player seems highly unlikely at this point.