The annual General Managers Meetings -- which will be held next week in Orlando, Fla. -- are the unofficial Opening Day of baseball's Hot Stove season.
This year, the big-name activity didn't wait that long.
The Marlins have had preliminary communication regarding a Giancarlo Stanton trade with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants and Phillies, sources told MLB.com late Friday. Officials from the involved teams expect the Stanton dialogue to intensify during next week's Meetings, and it remains possible that additional suitors will emerge.
In particular, the Miami Herald reported that talks between Boston and Miami could be "heating up," with a Major League source telling the Herald that Boston was "in play."
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The Marlins, under new ownership, are prepared to make "unpopular decisions" -- as chief executive officer Derek Jeter put it -- in order to rebuild their farm system and increase payroll flexibility. A Stanton trade could help them to do both.
Stanton, the reigning Major League home run champion, has 10 years and $295 million left on his contract, albeit with an opt-out following the 2020 season. He also possesses a full no-trade clause.
A successful suitor must have three key attributes: sufficient payroll flexibility to add around $30 million in annual salary, minus any cash the Marlins include in the deal; young players whom the Marlins want; and an appealing recruiting pitch for Stanton, who could reject the deal if his new team's chances of winning or its geographic location are not to his liking.
Stanton, who turned 28 this week, has never appeared in a Major League postseason game. He wants badly to change that and realizes Miami won't be an optimal place to try over the next several years while the organization waits on the arrival of prospects.
During their discussions in Orlando, Marlins officials will gauge the viability of their two-part ambition: They want to find a trading partner willing to surrender elite young talent and assume most (if not all) of the money remaining on Stanton's contract. That could prove difficult, even after Stanton's 59-homer season. When Stanton cleared trade waivers in August, it was an indication that many in the industry remained uneasy about assuming the full $295 million obligation.
The sheer magnitude of Stanton's contract -- the largest in the history of North American professional sports -- has upended the usual paradigm of the baseball offseason. General managers often prefer to explore trades first before turning to the free-agent market, because players available from other clubs generally are locked into cheaper salaries than high-end free agents.
With Stanton, the opposite is true. So, he could linger on the market while teams improve their lineups by signing free agents like J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain for fewer years and dollars than remain on Stanton's contract.
Martinez, whose profile most closely resembles Stanton's, is in position to heavily influence the Stanton talks. Martinez recently hired Scott Boras as his agent, and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported this week that Boras is seeking a contract in the range of $200 million. While it's unknown if Martinez ultimately will sign for that much, the figure represents a nearly $100 million discount from what Stanton is owed. And the two have had similar offensive production over the past four seasons: Stanton's OPS is .939; Martinez's is .936.
Some rival executives see the Cardinals as the best trade fit for the Marlins. The Cardinals' need for an impact bat is glaring, and their payroll has been managed carefully enough that they can afford Stanton while still making necessary bullpen improvements. The team's revenues are expected to rise in the coming years, too, with the start of a new television rights agreement with FOX Sports Midwest next year.
Video: Are the Cardinals eyeing Giancarlo Stanton?
The Cardinals also have the sort of young, high-end pitchers whom the Marlins covet: right-handers Alex Reyes (23 years old), Sandy Alcantara (22) and Jack Flaherty (22).
The Giants and Red Sox also have been linked to Martinez, after each team struggled to hit home runs.
While the Phillies aren't viewed as a World Series contender now, Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak is beginning to add the players he hopes will be with the team when it becomes one. The Phillies, who consistently carried payrolls beyond $160 million not long ago, have less than $7 million committed to players for 2018. They have the bandwidth to add Stanton's entire contract -- and keep spending after that.