You probably heard that last winter the Yankees made a trade with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton, who was not just the reigning MVP of the National League but had nearly hit 60 home runs for them in 2017. In the process, the Yankees absorbed the last nine years of Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract, which meant they were voluntarily giving him the same kind of contract they had once given Alex Rodriguez, one they came to be pretty unhappy with.
The Yankees did this knowing that Bryce Harper was going to hit the market as a free agent after the 2018 season. And looking back now, you have to say that it was a variation of an old song lyric: They couldn't wait for the one they loved, so they were loving the one they were with. Meaning the big guy from Miami.
Now here they are, and not only is Harper still available as a free agent, so is Manny Machado. Stanton is a wonderful home-run hitter, of course. Harper and Machado are both better baseball players. Of all the players who have come onto the market since the end of the 2017 season, these are the three best. But if Harper and Machado go play somewhere else, it will mean the Yankees got the third-best player out of the three of them.
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And, no matter what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says now, you wonder if the Yankees -- knowing everything they know and watching what is happening with Harper and Machado -- would still make that deal with Capt. Jeter of the Marlins if they had to do it all over again.
Here is what Cashman, who has made the Yankees younger and deeper and better over the past few years, said about Stanton when the season was over:
"He's one of the better players in the game, period. Regardless of how he played during the Division Series. … We didn't shy away from the opportunity of acquiring him, and I have no regrets about that."
Understand something about Stanton, who hit 38 home runs and knocked in 100 in his first, period-of-adjustment season in New York: The Yankees would not have been hosting a Wild Card game if he hadn't been on their team last season. They would have been playing in Oakland, and who knows if they would have even made it to the Division Series against the Red Sox if they'd had to go on the road for their win-or-go-home game.
The game was at the new Yankee Stadium instead. Stanton hit a home run that night. The Yankees played their way to Fenway. They ended up losing in four games to the Sox, even though the Sox were hanging on at the end of Game 1, and hanging on for dear life at the end of Game 4 as Craig Kimbrel turned the bottom of the 9th into a Friday the 13th movie for Boston fans. So it was a four-game series that felt as close as a five-game series in the end. Still: The Yankees watched the Boston Red Sox celebrate their Division Series win at Yankee Stadium, same as they had celebrated winning the AL East there.
Stanton, who struck out 211 times during the regular season, struck out six times in four games against Boston, hit no home runs and knocked in no runs, left the bases loaded late in Game 1 and came to the plate as the tying run in the ninth inning of Game 4. He struck out both times. There were others who let the Yankees down, starting with Luis Severino, their ace, who came into a 1-1 series and got lit up in a game the Red Sox ended up winning, 16-1. But Yankee fans remembered how they couldn't find Stanton in those big moments, big as he is.
Now they have all those years and all that guaranteed money invested in him at a time when Harper, who is left-handed and a leading man and still just 26 years old and a kid who grew up loving the idea of Mickey Mantle, is looking for big money of his own. So is Machado. It doesn't mean the Yankees are officially out of it with either Harper or Machado. I always say that I believe that guys like them are signing somewhere else when they actually sign somewhere else.
But is it so crazy to assume that Harper might already be a Yankee if Stanton were not?
Stanton will likely hit more home runs this year for the Yankees than he did last year. There was even some talk around the Yankees during the playoffs that they want his batting stance to become more "athletic" this season. But again, 40 homers are 40 homers, and he and Aaron Judge still can be the modern reimagining of Mantle and Roger Maris, which is what we thought they would be when Cashman made the trade for Stanton in the shadow of the Yankees getting shunned by Shohei Ohtani.
But would they be willing to spend on Harper, or Machado, if they weren't spending the way they are on Stanton? And oh, by the way, how would they be looking at their finances if they still weren't paying off Jacoby Ellsbury, who got $153 million for seven years on a contract that still has two years left on it?
Yankee finances are further complicated by the fact that the Yankees, already paying Stanton, know they are going to have to pay Judge someday soon (not to mention Severino). So there is that huge shadow falling over Yankee Stadium. Just not as big as the one cast by Giancarlo Stanton, from the last baseball offseason all the way into this one in New York.