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Happy Halloween from the Miami Marlins! (we’re trading your favorite players...again)

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Clubs around baseball knocking on Miami’s door hoping for a Stanton or a Gordon in their goody bag.

Miami Marlins Press Conference
Trick or treat?
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

If you’re haunted by the shades of 1997 and 2012 this Halloween, one might forgive a sad Marlins fan, but you can’t say we didn’t know this was coming.

The news that Clark Spencer and Barry Jackson collectively dropped late yesterday that the Miami Marlins would seek to trade Giancarlo Stanton (along with Dee Gordon and Martin Prado) wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it does give us an interesting glimpse into the short-term plans Derek Jeter has for his new franchise.

Stanton’s contract is set to kick into high gear for the 2018 season, where he’ll make $25 million, which will then further escalate into seeming perpetuity. Given the financial state of the franchise and the stated payroll goal of around $90 million dollars for 2018, moving his contract is an entirely expected and logical move, particularly when taking into account the long-term flexibility of the payroll.

Moving Gordon makes even more sense, as he will have turned 30 in the first month of the 2018 campaign and his primary asset (speed) never ages well. There is bound to be a team out there that gets googly-eyed over the shiny stolen base numbers and routinely high batting averages Gordon displays and the contract is not large enough ($10 million in 2018, $13.8 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively) to deter would-be suitors. I have no doubt that Gordon has several more solid campaigns in him both defensively and offensively, but with capable depth behind him in the form of Derek Dietrich, Brian Anderson and Miguel Rojas, trading Flash Jr. is among the smartest moves the team can make to gain payroll flexibility.

Trading Stanton and Gordon is completely rational and understandable given the circumstances.

It also sucks.

It’s sad that we finally got to experience what Stanton could be at the height of his power(s), what he still might be going forward, and now he’s likely to be whisked away from a place where he’s built a comfortable life to snag a ring in a slightly less colorful uniform for a fan base who deserves him far less than we do. Gordon, no slouch himself in the entertainment department, has been one of my favorite players to watch during his time as a Marlin; his energy both on the basepaths and in the dugout would be missed.

This encroaching disappointment is a feeling Marlins fans know all too well, and we’d be fools to think that was going away entirely with Jeffrey Loria’s departure. Loria left the team in bad financial shape; it seems grotesquely unfair that he walked away from it all the richer, and now, once again, Marlins fans are about to pay the price for his poor stewardship.

Houston Astros v Florida Marlins
Jeff Loria, still dishing out that garbage candy.
Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

I did find some light beyond the initial darkness in the Herald’s article, though. Arguably more interesting than the bygone conclusion of Stanton and Gordon’s imminent departures is the first look into the grand design of Jeter’s master plans for the Marlins. Not the players he wants to trade, but the players he wants to keep.

According to a source, the Marlins ideally prefer not to trade Christian Yelich (on a team-friendly seven year, $49 million deal) or Marcell Ozuna (projected to make $10.9 million in arbitration and a free agent after 2019). They also would ideally like to keep still-cheap J.T. Realmuto, Justin Bour and Dan Straily.

That, my friends, is the definition of a competitive rebuild. Not just wiping the slate clean and starting fresh (it worked out well for the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, but there was some rough sledding getting there). There are strong arguements to be made about going that route, but I think it’s prudent for Jeter and company not to move everyone the second they have the chance, lest the real fire sale comparisons begin from a fan base that has been burned one too many times. We don’t know what they intend to do about a shattered rotation, but a lineup with Ozuna, Yelich, Realmuto and Bour still in it can’t be the worst thing in the world.

This is Halloween, though, so let’s wade back toward the darkness, shall we? We haven’t even touched on the supposed desire to move Prado yet as a part of the puzzle. A healthy Prado, even at his advancing age and contract, has value. Unfortunately for the Marlins, Prado was limited to 37 games last season due to his reoccurring leg injuries and it makes moving him now a very difficult proposition. They could still find a taker, of course, if they’re willing to swallow a significant portion of his contract, which would be silly and seemingly defeat the purpose of moving him in the first place.

So how, then, do you move Martin Prado? By coupling him with a cheaper, valuable player. Which player, you may ask? Well, pick any of the five mentioned in that snippet above and you have your answer. Prado + Ozuna to the Red Sox. Prado + Yelich to the Cardinals. Prado + Bour to the Yankees (all theoreticals here, don’t @ me). What about the return, you ask?

The return in any such scenario is accordingly diminished in direct correlation with how much money from Prado’s contract the other team is taking on. If they’re talking it all, can expect to be underwhelmed with the prospect return.

Let’s say they manage to get Stanton to agree to waive his no-trade clause and get a team to take on his entire deal (which, no matter what you think about moving him, would be an amazing feat) along with moving Gordon and Prado. They have their $90 million, but what then? They still have to sign free agents to fill out the roster, and they might be taking money back from the players brought in on those trade deals. They’re going to have to cut more. It’s hard to see from where, without involving those players that Jeter supposedly wants to keep.

Hard choices lie ahead for the Marlins. You might want to eat a lot of candy tonight if you’re a Fish fan, because it could be a while until the team is able to indulge your sweet tooth.