ST. LOUIS -- He may not be a free agent, but there is little doubt that you'll hear the name Giancarlo Stanton often in the coming weeks. The possibility that the Marlins could make the 28-year-old slugger, coming off a career-best season, available via trade no doubt will be enticing to numerous clubs.
That includes the Cardinals, who reportedly first expressed interest in pursuing a deal with the Marlins over the summer. It's impossible to handicap the chances of the Cards pulling off such a trade this offseason, but it isn't too early to explore some of the questions and concerns in play.
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Here are a few that pertain specifically to St. Louis:
Is Stanton even available?
The assumption is "yes" given that the Marlins, now under new ownership, are said to be entering another transition phase and looking to shed payroll. Trading the face of the franchise may not be popular among the locals, but it may be necessary as the new management team, featuring icon Derek Jeter, reconstruct the Major League roster and free salary space.
What is his contract situation?
This is where things get complicated. Stanton signed the largest contract extension in baseball history three years ago and there are still 10 years remaining on the guaranteed portion of the deal. Stanton's salary jumps to $25 million in 2018 before eventually peaking at $32 million annually from 2023-25.
Over the course of the next 10 years, he is guaranteed $285 million. Additionally, the contract includes a club option for 2028 worth $25 million. If that's not exercised, Stanton will be awarded a $10 million buyout.
There's a caveat in all this, too. The deal includes an opt-out clause that Stanton can trigger after the 2020 season if he'd prefer to explore what else may be available in the free-agent market. Stanton will be 31 years old at that time.
Will the Marlins cover some of that salary in a trade?
It seems certain that they would have to given the dollar figures involved. Furthermore, Stanton did clear waivers in August, meaning that not one of the other 29 teams was willing to make a claim and take the chance that the Marlins would just hand over Stanton and his contract.
What are the Marlins looking for in return?
Aside from salary relief, the Marlins aren't going to deal one of the game's best hitters without a significant return. The talent they get back will be directly related to how much of Stanton's salary the Marlins eat. Any deal with the Cardinals would likely start with Miami asking for some of St. Louis' young pitching and outfield talent.
Would Stanton fit in St. Louis?
In an offseason in which the Cardinals are trying to declutter their outfield depth, it may seem counterproductive to be pursuing another outfielder. But an impact bat like Stanton's can't be found just anywhere. Acquiring Stanton would give the Cardinals a projected 2018 starting outfield that includes him, Tommy Pham and William Fowler. It would increase the likelihood, too, that the Cards deal away both Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.
Would Stanton accept the trade?
Not to be lost in all this is the fact that Stanton has the ability to veto any deal. There was speculation over the summer that he would not be enthused by a trade to St. Louis, but he has never publicly taken that stance. While the West Coast native might prefer a landing spot in California, it's hard to envision him nixing a deal to an organization that has enjoyed such sustained success.
Who are the other suitors?
High-spending clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants seem likely to at least check in with the Marlins. The Phillies and Braves, two teams in a rebuilding mode with plenty of room to add payroll, have been tossed about as potentially interested, as well. Any match must have the combination of payroll space and prospects to pull off a deal.
Can the Cardinals afford it?
The payroll was roughly $148 million in 2017, and the club is committed to $126 million in guaranteed contracts for '18 already, before any acquisitions, the arbitration cases for Michael Wacha, Grichuk and Tyler Lyons, or filling out the roster with cost-controlled players. Next offseason, Adam Wainwright comes off the books ($19.5M), but Pham, Greg Garcia and Matt Bowman all become arbitration-eligible, followed by Aledmys Diaz, John Gant, Jose Martinez and Alex Reyes the following offseason. So while there would be room to add a contract, it will take some smart machinations by the front office to add a Stanton-type deal while also keeping the young talent in place around him.
Is it worth it?
That's ultimately what the Cardinals would have to decide. They'll weigh the salary commitment and potential talent they'd be dealing away. Remember, the Cardinals have been hesitant to unload prospects in the past because of the organization's success in creating a pipeline of players to the Majors. That could be a hindrance again.
There's also the question of durability with Stanton, who has started more than 116 games just three times in eight years. The guaranteed portion of his contract will take him through his age-37 season.
That being said, Stanton, who led the National League with 59 homers and 132 RBIs in 2017, would transform the look of the Cardinals' offense. And, according to the FanGraphs metric that puts a dollar figure to production, Stanton has been worth the Marlins' investment so far. That metric asserts that Stanton has provided a value worth $253.2 million over the last eight years. That includes production valued at $55.5 million in 2017 alone.