There has been a lot of recent talk about Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins' ongoing quest to retain him. This has escalated this week after he dropped the pipe bomb of a quote regarding his time here in Miami.
The question was whether the events of this season had altered his top-down view of the organization. He'd raised his eyes, thinking.
"Five months," he said, "doesn't change five years."
Of course, Miami Marlins fans are not happy about that quote. The last five years have been rough. During that time, the Fish have been just 319-398, worth a .445 winning percentage. Stanton says Miami has not been good while he has been here, and he is right; Stanton played a role in three of the most disappointing Marlins seasons in team history. The run from 2011 to 2013 was marred by injuries to key players, the downfall of the great one-year spending era of the Miami Marlins, and the team's worst season since 1998. The Marlins were cellar dwellers in the NL East and the National League for three seasons in a row, and that must have been difficult for Stanton to bear.
But it takes only a year or two of revisionist history to see how different the whole situation could have been. Stanton is set to enter free agency just as players like Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna develop into potentially great Major Leaguers. Stanton was just a neophyte in the majors when the team's last great core, led by Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, and Dan Uggla, were at their logical end. Stanton's draft time in 2007 corresponded with a franchise with a particular dearth of developed talent. Had he just been drafted a year or two earlier or later, Miami might have developed a fantastic core around him instead of the dregs it suffered through for three years.
The 2006 Era
The 2006 era Marlins were built from the fire sale of the 2006 team. That team had a lot less to do with the talent coming from the minors of the team's organization; only three of the five Marlins in the top 100 prospects before 2006 were drafted by the organization, and one of those three was brand new to the top 100 (Josh Johnson). The Opening Day lineup of that 2006 team included only four players who were originally drafted by the team, and one of those was the long-established Miguel Cabrera.
As the years passed on that once-promising 2006 era team, it became painfully obvious that the Marlins' draft failures prevented them from building on a promising core. Only Johnson turned out to be a valuable member of the draft classes from 2001 to 2006. Scott Olsen failed. Jeremy Hermida was a fantastic bust. Jeff Allison ran into drug problems. The vaunted class of 2005 all busted. And those failures affected the oh-so-close Marlins of 2008 to 2010, who had Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez at their peaks, Dan Uggla and Anibal Sanchez playing supporting roles, and almost no other assistance.
Imagine if Stanton had been drafted just two years earlier, tucked away in the second round of that 2005 draft. Just three years and a monstrous Double-A half-season later, Stanton might have arrived in 2008 instead of 2010. A Giancarlo Stanton might have helped stem the loss of Cabrera, the injuries to Josh Willingham, and the failures of Hermida with his play. A Giancarlo Stanton might have been what put the 2009 and 2010 models over the top and into playoff contention next to a superstar Ramirez and an ace-caliber Johnson.
Those late-2000's Marlins may have gotten the playoff berth that they were denied due to poor support. And maybe Hanley Ramirez does not struggle as badly under the weight of "top dog" pressure. Maybe sharing the superstar load lets the fans take it easier on him. Maybe he never struggles mightily in 2012 and is forced to leave via trade.
The 2014 Era
The newest era of Marlins players stood a few years after the old era. This Marlins team is a bit more homegrown; there were still only four players in the Opening Day lineup this season who were originally from this organization, but it happened to be the four most important players on that lineup, including Stanton. But Yelich, Fernandez, and Ozuna may not be at their peaks yet, not to mention potential future top cog Andrew Heaney. The best times for this Marlins era may come in 2016 or 2017, not now.
Unfortunately, that is conveniently when Stanton will become a free agent and may be leaving town. His drafting in 2007 coincided with a time at the end of the 2006 era run and with a set of draft classes that also underwhelmed. Much like the Hermidas and Olsens of the past, Matt Dominguez, Kyle Skipworth, Chad James and company never developed. That has left Stanton relatively helpless until just recently.
Imagine if Stanton had been a second-round draft pick in 2009 instead of 2007. He would have possibly arrived on the scene in 2012, maybe in the midst of Miami's big spending spree. He may have had a hard time in 2013 with a depleted roster, but he would have been hitting his stride as a player just as the new crop of Marlins prospects took over the roster. Stanton could have grown together with these players instead of being the veteran who may soon be departing.
Two years one way or another could have given Miami huge benefits in terms of their ability to show Stanton a competitive core. Instead, thanks to unfortunate timing and bad luck beginning in 2011, the Marlins showed him three years of bad baseball that may have convinced to stay away after 2016. What a difference two years can make.