By all accounts, Giancarlo Stanton was loved by his teammates in Miami. He led mostly by example, but if something needed to be said, he didn't hesitate to speak up. He soaked up every bit of knowledge that he could, and he displayed a work ethic that was said to be off the charts.
A guy like that -- a humble, homegrown, hulking superstar -- develops quite a following; remember the overwhelming love that Yankees fans showered on Aaron Judge last year? So it was hardly surprising that Marlins fans reacted with anger, frustration and resignation when Derek Jeter, barely two months into his tenure as Miami's chief executive officer, traded Stanton to the Yankees.
But what if it was destiny? What if Stanton's move had been preordained? In January, the slugger recalled a frank conversation he had at the 2016 All-Star Game with Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez, just two months before the young pitcher passed away in September.
As Stanton told it, Fernandez stood on the field at Petco Park in San Diego and predicted that the freshly crowned Home Run Derby champ would hit 60 homers the following year and be named the National League MVP. Those words echoed in Stanton's head after Fernandez's tragic death in a boating accident.
In 2017, Stanton honored Fernandez the best way he knew how. He posted career highs in games (159), hits (168), runs (123) and doubles (32). His 59 homers and 132 RBI didn't just obliterate his previous highs (37, twice, and 105), they also led the Majors. In 2014, he finished runner-up to Clayton Kershaw in the MVP voting. In 2017, he edged out Joey Votto, 302-300, making Fernandez's bold prediction come true -- almost.
"So, I didn't get to 60," Stanton said during his acceptance speech for the 2017 NL MVP Award. "I'm sorry buddy, just close."
Fernandez's crystal ball didn't stop there. There was another part to that conversation in San Diego that Stanton -- and, you'd think, Yankees fans -- will never forget.
Fernandez was a bright young kid who knew he had the type of talent that would command big bucks in the Big Leagues, and he could see that the time would likely come when Miami could no longer afford to keep him.
"Hey, if this doesn't work down here and I'm going to be a free agent, I'm going to sign with the Yankees," Stanton recalled his friend saying. "And you're coming with me."
In Brian Cashman's mind, the New York Yankees are always open for business. The longest-tenured general manager in baseball says it's his duty to remain on the lookout at all times for ways to make the Yankees better. Doing so may require different means at different times, but the day will never come when Cashman sits back, turns his phone off and says, "We're all set."
Some deals require incredible amounts of legwork -- which can be for naught. The Yankees were one of several teams that invested much time and effort in preparing to woo Shohei Ohtani last winter, only to be told abruptly that the 23-year-old pitcher-slash-slugger was not interested.
Much more rare is the situation where a new owner wants a clean slate and is willing to part with one of the great talents in the game. And that the great talent envisions himself in pinstripes. And that he has some leverage from a no-trade clause. Two storied National League clubs, the Cardinals and Giants, had deals in place to acquire Stanton from the Marlins. He invoked his right to turn down both.
They say winning comes at a cost, and Stanton was willing to pay a steep price to come to the Bronx, where he'll wear No. 27 and look to add to that number of rings in the Yankees' championship display case. After that 2014 season when he finished second in the MVP voting, Stanton agreed to a 13-year, $325 million extension -- the richest deal in sports history. It was back-loaded: $30 million over the first three years, followed by 10 years of no less than $25 million guaranteed annual salary, starting in 2018.
Stanton could have stayed in South Beach, where's there's no state income tax; instead, he waived his no-trade clause to come play in a state where his salary "is going to be taxed like he's never seen before," Cashman said. "That is a statement in itself about how badly he wants to be part of a winner. He's personally paying for that, to some degree. So that's a huge validation, I think, of where his intent is and what he wants out of this."
The Yankees completed the deal by sending All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects -- infielder Jose Devers and right-hander Jorge Guzman -- to Miami. If Stanton does not exercise his opt-out clause after 2020, the Marlins will kick in $30 million. He has indicated that he has no plans of going anywhere else.
"I'm certainly hopeful that collectively, from all of us and his teammates, we can reward him for that decision," Cashman said.
Aaron Boone knows better than anyone that the Yankees don't stand pat. Before Stanton's 2014 megadeal, the largest contract in sports history was given to Alex Rodriguez -- the same guy Boone had been cut by the Yankees to make room for in 2004.
But what goes around comes around and Boone -- who was hired as Yankees manager on Dec. 4 -- quickly found out what it feels like to be on the other side of the teller's window.
While Boone spent the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 6, getting to know the New York media at his introductory press conference at Yankee Stadium, a large swath of MLB's fan base stayed glued to their Twitter feeds for confirmation on Stanton's departure for San Francisco. Then St. Louis. Then the Dodgers. In a span of three days, various reports had Stanton headed for every corner of the country.
By Saturday morning, though, Stanton was a Yankee, on his way take a physical.
"I gave [the Marlins] my list of teams, and they went to San Francisco and the Cardinals and struck deals with them, and I was open to listening to them," Stanton said. "But those were not my teams. Those are great people and they were great meetings, great organizations and culture there, but that just wasn't the fit for me."
Cashman later revealed that the Yankees had "a toe in the water" since the General Manager Meetings in late November, "but I never thought we had a legitimate shot.
"I think around Thursday was when it really got serious and I was like, 'Jeez, I think this has a chance to happen," he said.
There was a collective disbelief at first. "It's one of those things that, you sit around are you're like, 'Ah, it probably won't happen -- but it would be awesome if it did!'" said Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray, who monitored the developments and then shared in the euphoria on social media. "And then when it happens, you're just kind of like, 'Are you sure!? Are you serious!?'"
Two words immediately popped into Carsten Sabathia's head: "World Series." Soon after, the free-agent left-hander signed a one-year deal to return to the Yankees -- at a 60 percent pay cut from his 2017 salary.
As the Yankees' merchandise buyer placed orders for No. 27 Stanton T-shirts and baseball nerds extrapolated Stanton's power to Yankee Stadium (one analytics site deduced that Stanton's 59 homers would have translated to 73 if he played in the Bronx last season), Boone let his imagination run wild.
"I picked up that pad, a paper and pen, and just started [writing]; What's this lineup going to look like?" he said. "It's a lot of good options."
Casey Stengel must have felt the same way in 1960.
The Yankees owned the 1950s under "The Old Perfessor's" guiding tongue, but after losing 75 games and finishing third in 1959, the Yankees called on their "country cousins," the Kansas City Athletics, and poached their biggest star, Roger Maris. Stengel experimented with different lineup configurations in 1960, but wherever he put Maris and Mickey Mantle, good things seemed to happen. After one torrid stretch, Stengel quipped, "I guess you'd have to say it's the best month I ever had managing in baseball."
For much of the season, the newcomer Maris homered at a faster pace than Babe Ruth did when he set the Major League record of 60 in 1927. In a strange sort of reverse foreshadowing of the record- breaking home run race that lay ahead in 1961, Mantle and Maris's 1960 seasons diverted in opposite directions down the stretch.
On Aug. 14, one day after the Yankees won, 1-0, on Maris's seventh-inning triple followed by a Mantle sac fly, Maris injured himself in a collision at second base, while Mantle drew ire from the fans for failing to run out a double-play ground ball. The boos that Mantle heard were short-lived; he hit a pair of two-run homers in a 4-3 win on Aug. 15 and stayed hot for the remainder of the season.
The Yankees' offense struggled without Maris and took a while to get back on track even after he returned from a nine-game absence. But after a 2-1 walk-off loss at Kansas City on Sept. 14 that left the 82-57 Yankees in a dead heat with Baltimore for first place, everything clicked. The Yanks won 15 straight games to end the season and roared into the World Series with their 25th pennant in 40 years.
Over that 15-win stretch, Mantle blasted six homers to finish with an AL-best 40. Maris, who finished with 39 and an AL-best 112 RBI, won his first of back-to-back AL MVP Awards.
Mantle would finish second each time.
The M&M boys, No. 7 and No. 9, combined for 79 home runs that first year together, then famously blasted 115 in 1961, besting the record for a pair of teammates (107) set by Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1927.
Which brings us back to today. Given their reputations as great teammates, Stanton and Judge will surely gel better than The Babe and Lou ever did. The more intriguing question is just how much further can they push each other on the field.
"We're excited," Stanton said just moments after slipping on the pinstripes for the first time during a Dec. 11 press conference at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida, to formally announce the trade. "We're excited to get better together and use our talents together because we're very similar. We're going to learn from each other and make each other better."
If the free-agent market was slow to take shape this past offseason, perhaps it was because pitchers were reluctant to come to the AL. The thought of facing an improved Stanton and Judge in the same lineup is the stuff of nightmares.
For Stanton, it is a dream -- Fernandez's dream -- come true. After eight seasons in the Bigs in which his Marlins teams always finished more than 15 games behind the division leader, he joins a squad loaded with talent, one that was on the cusp of the World Series last year. Now it's up to Boone to figure out how to best utilize Stanton and the wealth of quality options surrounding him in the lineup. "I think that the other managers and coaching staffs throughout the game would love to have the problem that Aaron Boone has," Cashman said.
All the 28-year-old MVP has to do is be himself. Stanton doesn't need to carry this team on his own or change his approach in any way. The thought of showing up for Spring Training with a team intent on winning a championship was all he ever wanted.
"I'm glad to be here and be a part of the New York Yankees," Stanton said. "This is going to be a great new chapter in my life and my career."