GIancarlo Stanton has taken the baseball world by storm the past few weeks by putting on one of the most impressive power displays in baseball history. Power has always been the 27 year old’s main calling card but even this recent stretch has been impressive for his standards. In a stretch of 35 games, Stanton pounded out 23 long balls, claiming the attention as the game’s premier slugger that Yankees rookie Aaron Judge tried to take away earlier this year. Stanton slugged a healthy .731 in the month of July and is slugging a ridiculous 1.018 in August. He’s been baseball’s best hitter and player in the 2nd half so far, leading baseball with 2.2 fWAR and a 215 wRC+(115% better than the league average hitter).
As is custom with good Miami Marlins players, Stanton’s name is now floating around in trade talks around the league. With a mediocre MLB team, the league’s worst farm system and the team in the middle of changing ownership, it seems inevitable that Stanton will end up changing teams in the next calendar year. Add in the fact that Stanton is having a monstrous year and it makes too much sense that he will be shopped to contending teams in the next 6 months. What makes any Stanton trade tricky, however, is the huge amount of money he is owed for the next decade.
In late 2014, the Marlins and Stanton surprised the baseball world by agreeing to a 13 year 325 million dollar contract extension. This deal is still the largest in baseball history and likely will be until Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are slated to be free agents in the next 4 years. At the time of the deal, it looked like a fair contract, albeit one with a lot of risk, given Stanton just slashed .288/.395/.555 with 6.3 fWAR as a 24 year old. Given his generational like power and surprising speed and athleticism for a 6’4″ 245 pound man, it seemed like he was on the verge of becoming a consistent top 5 player. Stanton produced well in 2015 but missed 88 games due to injury, then produced just 1.7 fWAR and a 114 wRC+ in 2016, leaving his future value in doubt. It appears as if Stanton is now back to his elite self, thanks to a change in his stance and swing mechanics that have led to a decline in strikeouts(22.8% strikeout rate in the 2nd half) while keeping the prodigious power. Here’s a look at the changes he made to his stance, which have helped him cover more of the strike zone and not allow himself to open up his front side too quickly.
What’s noteworthy about the Stanton trade rumors is one team that is listed as a possible suitor: the Angels. J.P. Morosi of Fox Sports came out with a piece on Wednesday that listed the Angels, Giants and Nationals as 3 serious suitors, citing that the Angels will likely be interested after being off the hook for Josh Hamilton’s contract this coming offseason. With 50+ million dollars to spend this offseason and a farm system that won’t supplement the major league club all that soon, the match with Stanton is pretty obvious. Angels owner Arte Moreno has never been shy about making big splashes(Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton) and while the club has been resistant to make big moves lately, Stanton represents a young, star level player who also has ties to Southern California(Los Angeles native).
Let’s assume the Angels are serious bidders for Stanton. The first and obvious red flag here is the fact that he is under contract through 2027 and has a 25 million dollar club option in 2028 with a 10 million dollar buyout. Assuming that club option isn’t exercised, Stanton will be paid 295 million dollars from 2018-2027, nearly 30 million dollars a year. He does have an opt out after the 2020 season but it seems rather unlikely that he will opt out unless he ends up staying in Miami. In 2027, Stanton will be 37 years old. For a club that has been recently crippled by handing out big contracts to 30+ year olds, this doesn’t seem like a wise move on paper. Stanton is obviously a younger option than the previously mentioned Angels signings but he’ll be getting paid heavily in his later years much like those players. Another serious issue for most of Stanton’s career has been his injury proneness, as he missed pretty significant time in 2012-2013 and 2015-2016. Large human beings like Stanton tend to be a bit more injury prone so that’s another legitimate worry when you add the contract into the mix.
Even with those 2 huge red flags, Stanton is one of the game’s elite talents and would pretty easily become the Angels 2nd best player, or 3rd best(hello Andrelton Simmons). Since reaching the big leagues in 2010, Stanton has been the 15th most valuable position player in baseball. His 144 wRC+ ranks 7th in baseball in that same time frame. His .553 slugging percentage ranks 4th. Stanton is a legitimate middle of the order bat who would instantly make the Angels lineup a formidable group just by grouping him with Mike Trout. Stanton consistently posts above average walk rates and with this recent cut back in strikeouts, there is legitimate talk of Stanton being a top 5 hitter once again, much like he was from 2011-2014. Stanton is also a legitimately good defender in right field, which surprises some people based on his size. He has accumulated a healthy 39 defensive runs saved(DRS) and a 24.2 Ultimate Zone Rating(UZR) in right field. Statcast backs this up as he generally makes all of the routine players and makes plenty of 4 star catches(45.5% in 2017). Add all of this up and you have a true talent 4+ win player and that’s including the time he misses with injuries most years.
We’ve established that Stanton is a really good player. The tricky part is working out a deal. There is so much money tied up in Stanton that any team trading for him likely will either want to take on the whole deal but give up no meaningful talent or have some salary sent back while sending more talent in return. Many believe that the Stanton deal is a really bad deal but if you break it down, it’s not really a poor deal but rather one with a lot of risk due to the length of the deal. I did a very rough projection of Stanton’s value over the duration of the deal, projecting him for a few 5 win seasons coming up then docking a half a win off each following season until the deal is up. I included his annual salary and also calculated what his actual worth is based on his production and what the free agent market pays for 1 WAR. As of now, teams are paying roughly 9 million dollars for 1 WAR on the free agent market. Here’s what Stanton’s breakdown looks like, with his projected WAR listed first followed by his annual salary and what he would be paid in free agency.
Inflation is a basic concept of economics and it applies to baseball as well. If we assume there’s roughly 5-10% of inflation over the next 10 years, Stanton will be worth 300-315 million dollars in this scenario. Again, this is a rough estimate and given Stanton’s injury history, it’s likely he’ll probably have a few injury riddled years. If you think this is too high of an estimate, that’s fair so maybe you dock him down to 250-275 million dollars of earned value. Even if that’s the case, Stanton is being paid pretty appropriately for what he’s providing on the baseball field. That means any team trading for Stanton and taking on the whole contract is probably paying him appropriately, which really means that team shouldn’t have to send anything meaningful back in return. But the Marlins are in the midst of changing ownership and it seems unlikely that Derek Jeter and his business partners will salary dump a franchise icon without getting some talent in return. This is where some potential issues may lie.
If the Angels enter the bidding process, they’ll likely want to take on most of the Stanton deal and give up less talent in return. If the Angels were to take the Stanton deal off and assume he’s being close to what he’s worth, the Angels likely won’t have to send much back. The Marlins likely want prospects and not MLB talent in return since a Stanton trade likely signals a rebuild so this rules out players like Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons, etc. Maybe a top 10 prospect and some filler fits the mold. Chris Rodriguez and some lower level prospects, for example, might be a fair return if the Angels take on all of the salary, or even most of it. The Marlins may ask for more but it’s unlikely they’ll get more value back unless they kick in cash, which is a possible scenario too. For the Angels, they soak up a lot of payroll but they also add a premier talent and will still have enough money to fill a few holes through free agency and trades.
Let’s assume the Marlins eat 25% of the contract, knocking the deal down to 221 million dollars over 10 years. 10 years still looks like a lot but that 22.1 Annual Average Value(AAV) looks a lot more enticing and is probably paying Stanton under what he’s actually worth. In this scenario, the Marlins can ask for a better prospect package in return, with Stanton being a bit of a bargain. Miami can likely ask for a few blue chip prospects, such as Jahmai Jones and Jaime Barria, and another project such as Elvin Rodriguez or Jose Suarez. This hurts the Angels farm system but it also gives the Angels more payroll flexibility and creates less risk by taking on less money on a gigantic deal.
If the Marlins really want to maximize their return value and aren’t too concerned about the money, they can split the cost of the contract, bringing it down to 147.5 million dollars over 10 years. Now, the Marlins have some serious leverage to ask for a monstrous return but are also on the hook for nearly 150 million dollars of dead money while also sending their franchise icon out of town. The Angels are probably sending Jahmai Jones, Jordon Adell, Jaime Barria, Chris Rodriguez and more in this hypothetical deal but are also getting a premier slugger for 14.75 million dollars a year over the duration of the deal. The Marlins likely don’t eat this much money and the Angels are probably hesitant to crush a farm system that is improving so much but it’s a possibility. This scenario means the Angels really undo the work of improving the farm system but they add a legit top 10 hitter and pay him well less than he deserves and allow themselves to spend more in free agency.
What we have here is two sides who are a match for negotiating a Giancarlo Stanton trade. What we don’t have is clarity on what each team would prefer: exchanging money or prospects. In any scenario, there seems to be a fit here considering how much free payroll the Angels have coming up and the dire need for another big bat to pair with Mike Trout before he hits free agency after 2020. Bringing Stanton in could be that big move that signals to Mike Trout that the Angels are serious and could sway him into re-upping to stay in Anaheim for the rest of his career. It’s a risky move and we’ve seen the Angels get crippled with big deals but the Angels also have the chance to add a premier player and possibly create the best duo of hitters in all of baseball. There is no doubt that this is an incredibly risky move, regardless of which route the Angels took to acquire Stanton, but it’s also a move that would help put the Angels firmly into contender mode and would maximize this Trout window. The upside with acquiring Giancarlo Stanton is obvious. The risk of acquiring him may be just as big, if not bigger, than that reward. Deciding if that risk is more than the reward is the ultimate question to any Giancarlo Stanton trade discussion.