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November 19, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Trading Giancarlo Stanton

by Sam Miller

How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.
G. K. Chesterton


To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.
G.K. Chesterton


Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
—Also G.K. Chesterton


It would be easier to know what the Marlins should do if we knew what the Marlins actually want to do. There’s no point suggesting that they go out and sign, say, Nick Swisher if their long-term desire is to render all their players into glue so that Jeffrey Loria can bedazzle a Caravaggio. There are far cheaper ways to get glue.

But let’s assume Loria’s priorities fall into five-ish categories:

1. Generate revenue
2. Cut expenses
3. Win baseball
4. Troll so hard
5. Maintain future revenue streams

It’s rare that a trade could meet all five of those goals, and the pending deal with the Blue Jays does not: It meets goal no. 2, and goal no. 4, and in a vacuum it probably hits goal no. 3, but at the expense of goals no. 1 and 5 and perhaps in a non-vacuum at the expense of goal no. 3. And what about trading Giancarlo Stanton? On the surface, the only goal it certainly achieves is goal no. 4. But which goals does keeping Stanton meet?

1. Nobody is going to come out and watch the Marlins this year, Stanton or not; his public disgust at his employers might actually suppress fan enthusiasm.
2. He’s barely making the major-league minimum, but after his first arbitration hearing after 2013 he’ll quite possibly be the Marlins’ highest-paid player.
3. He helps the Marlins win games, but at least from this moment in history it doesn’t look likely that he’ll help the Marlins win any meaningful games for at least two years and maybe forever years.
4. No troll.
5. He does help maintain future revenue streams, as the Marlins’ last potential future revenue stream is kidnapping Stanton and making us all pay a ransom to get him back.

Basically, Stanton is either going to be traded soon or he’s going to be traded in a couple years. The Marlins probably aren’t going to achieve anything, on the field or with their fans, in the next couple years. So in the meantime Stanton is a superstar wasted, and Jeffrey Loria has created a spectacular situation where it's not worth hanging onto a 23-year-old pre-arb player who just led the league in slugging percentage.

Now we’re going to talk about fake trade proposals. I know how you feel about fake trade proposals, because I feel the same way: they’re all a shame upon our species. But you know how I feel about making fake trade proposals—that is, I can’t help it :( —because you feel the same way. The average human male thinks about a fake trade proposal every eight seconds. As long as we all acknowledge that these fake trade proposals are for entertainment purposes only, that they’re really just a way of talking about team needs, the relative value of different contracts, the role players have or could have on a major-league team, and the like, we can proceed without hating each other.

It would be easy to say this about the Marlins: they could trade Giancarlo Stanton for a bunch of prospects. They could do it, and it’s not really worth putting together an imaginary package of such prospects here; presumably, they would want great prospects, and that’s the sort of prospects they would get. That would accomplish something, and it’s acknowledged. But get past the Stanton-for-prospects construction and let’s think about what else the Marlins might hope to accomplish by trading their best player before he costs anything.

1. They could get a player of a type they couldn’t otherwise sign. “Couldn’t otherwise sign,” in this case and in the current atmosphere, refers to almost anybody good, as the Marlins have recently blown their good will.
2. They could spend money. This might seem odd, since the Marlins are in the middle of a fire sale. But trading Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell might not have been about being broke, but about trading contracts that aren’t good. A pretty simple fact about long-term contracts is that GMs consent to the disadvantageous later years because they want the advantageous first year. I imagine every GM would love to trade their multi-year contracts after the first year. Loria just had the total lack of self-awareness to actually do what everybody else only thinks about. The upshot: We know Loria has the money to spend, if he finds the players he wants to spend it on.
3. Cubans? I don’t know, just throwing it out there.
4. They could be stupid ambitious. At this point, Loria has to hope that he can convince everybody he’s not a rational sociopath, but an irrational drunk. If we think he’s in control of himself, we’ll always distrust him. If we think he’s got a sickness, we’ll party with him any time, until he wraps his car around a telephone pole, at which point we’ll feel a little guilty that we didn’t do anything to help him.
5. They should try to win some games by the end of 2014. If any team is in an existential crisis, it’s the Marlins, and other than perhaps the Angels and Dodgers, there might not be another team that could benefit from a 90-win season more than the Marlins right now. That’s an unlikely ambition, but it would be swell.

With those in mind, here are five templates for a trade, and don’t forget: I said stupid ambitious! I am absolved of all blame.

1. The total rebuild.
Rangers get Giancarlo Stanton.
Marlins get Ian Kinsler, Mike Olt, Leonys Martin and cash from Rangers; Garrett Richards and Kendrys Morales from Angels.
Angels get Alexi Ogando

Theory behind it: The Marlins get a mix of short- and long-term regulars, a top-20 prospect but also an immediate innings eater, and add enough players to the 2013 team that they rebuild some immediate credibility, and get all sorts of Cubans. They take advantage of one team’s positional glut and perhaps extension regret to add an All-Star middle infielder, the sort of player not typically available unless the Marlins are holding a fire sale.

Who says no? Actually forget the Who Says No part of this. Who Says No is dumb. These fake trades aren’t pointless just because one team is going to say no; after all, we’ve seen plenty of trades (Crawford/Beckett/Gonzalez to the Dodgers, Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers, Casey Blake to the Dodgers, lot of trades involving the Dodgers) where the Who Says No answer was so obvious before the trade even existed yet the trade still happened. No, these fake trades are pointless because they involve a bunch of names and no basis in reality; it’s like trying to guess what number between 1 and 100 a GM is thinking of, and then trying to do that five more times. Whether the trades are unbalanced barely matters.

2. One very great for two very goods.
Mariners get Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco;
Marlins get Kyle Seager from Mariners; Jeremy Hellickson and Sean Rodriguez from Rays;
Rays get Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin from Mariners.

Theory behind it: The Marlins lose the best player in the deal, but without forfeiting upside or immediate help. They trade Stanton without totally punting 2013, and get two credible All-Star candidates in their mid-20s. While the Marlins are going to have a hard time signing a star like Stanton for a long time, they’re also going to have a hard time signing major-league regulars, and Hellickson and Seager fill two holes for a while.

3. A-Rod.
Yankees get Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco;
Marlins get Alex Rodriguez, Michael Pineda;
Yankees pay the difference between Rodriguez’s salary and Nolasco’s.

Theory behind it: The Marlins essentially give the illusion of spending money by having the highest-paid player in baseball, lots of media interest, and a historic home run chase, without actually spending any money. And who knows, maybe Rodriguez is still good.

4. The online reputation builder.
Giants get Giancarlo Stanton
Marlins get Tim Lincecum, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, Brian Wilson, and some combination of all the prospects and all the cash.

Theory behind it: The Marlins realize everybody hates them worse than they were expecting, so they overcorrect and take on a whole bunch of veterans that the Giants might deem inessential, as they won the World Series without many contributions from the list. They field a credible 2013 lineup, have a couple trade deadline chits if the season gets out of hand, and otherwise get to shed a lot of the salary after a year. They get a superstar back (though, barring a return to form by Lincecum, certainly not one as good as Stanton), and at the end of it they have a big-league regular in Belt and maybe a couple new prospects. Alas, the Giants probably don’t have the prospects or cash to make this happen.

5. The challenge.
Diamondbacks get Giancarlo Stanton
Marlins get Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer

Theory behind it: Instead of one superstar, Marlins spin it into two possible superstars, both under team control for plenty of time, both with a non-zero chance of flopping. If things work out, Upton and Bauer make the Marlins sort of good in 2014, and maybe very good in 2015. If they don’t, it hurts the going-nowhere Marlins a lot less than it would hurt the Diamondbacks.

Do any of these moves make the Marlins winners? Probably not, for at least few years of being loathed. But that’s not these trades’ fault. The Marlins are just terrible. Frankly, it’s more fun right now to talk about them without Giancarlo Stanton than with Giancarlo Stanton. I’m tempted to fake-trade Jacob Turner next. 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Trade Rumors,  Giancarlo Stanton

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