Astros: To Stanton or Not to Stanton? That is the Question
While the Astros don’t need offense, it couldn’t hurt to look at Giancarlo Stanton.
Giancarlo Stanton is a murderer. Of baseballs; he kills baseballs. This past season, he killed 59 of them, eventually winning the National League Most Valuable Player award. And the Miami Marlins are going to trade him. Should the Astros be interested?
He just turned 28 and posted a 7.6 bWAR, tops among all position players in the National League. Players of Stanton’s stature are rarely dealt so, of course, there’s a catch –295 million catches, to be more accurate.
Stanton is owed a minimum of $295MM through 2028 because, apparently, the Marlins have never heard of Albert Pujols.
Could the Astros have interest?
Few teams have both the financial flexibility as well as the player resources to trade for a guy like Stanton. And wouldn’t you know it – the Astros happen to be one of them. Oh, don’t take my word for it.
"Don’t think we haven’t thought about how easily the ball would go out in our ballpark. … There are only four or five teams that can take on that kind of contract at this time, and we are one of them. – Astros owner Jim Crane."
Let’s put aside the cost of Stanton just for a moment and luxuriously wallow in the thought of Stanton hitting clean-up for this Astros offense, which was not just the best offense in baseball last year but one of the best offenses in the history of Major League Baseball.
While you’re doing that, don’t forget – the Astros HAVE kicked the Stanton tires previously; leaked in the hacking aftermath was documented conversations between GM Jeff Luhnow and then- Marlins’ general manager, Dan Jennings:
"JL [Jeff Luhnow] talked to DJ [Dan Jennings] and said we had interest in Stanton. DJ said he doesn’t think he’ll trade Stanton and the only deal he could think of from us that would work would be Springer and Correa. JL said that would not work. JL posited a deal around Cosart and Deshields."
Stanton-to-the-Astros is more than just erotic fan fiction I may – or may not – have written during the past several months. There are legitimate crumbs here and there…
Which raises the, well, $295MM question: should the Astros trade for Stanton, becoming the first team in league history to boast the two reigning Most Value Players?
YES! YES! DEAR GOD, YES!!!!
Sorry; that was unprofessional… Ahem………
There are two critical components of Stanton’s deal that complicates any move, the first of which is the enormity of it. Stanton will make $77MM the next three years, which will put him through his age-30 season. And while that’s below market value, it’s all the money he’s owed after that ($218MM) that’s concerning.
We mentioned Pujols earlier. He signed a 10-year, $254MM deal with the Angels following his age-31 season. After averaging 8 WAR/year with the Cardinals (most of it at the Astros’ expense), he has yet to post a single 5+ WAR season in Anaheim, topping out at 4.8 his first season. He has since totaled 8.1 WAR, bottoming out last year at -1.8; his age-37 season. Stanton’s deal will end after his age-38 season.
Of course, it takes more than money to trade for Stanton; he’ll also cost a team prospects – how many will depend on how the Marlins handle Stanton’s deal. The more Miami pays of Stanton’s remaining contract, the better the prospects they’ll receive in trade. If Miami views this as a strict money-dump, though, and refuses to pay much, if any of his contract, Stanton could, prospect-wise, be had relatively cheap.
On second thought.
Ah – but therein lies the second wrinkle in this: Stanton has a player opt-out after the 2020 season. So that $77MM he’s set to make the next three years? That could be the entirety of what he’d cost the Astros, financially, if he elects to become a free agent.
In other words, if the Astros were willing to take on Stanton’s entire contract, it could initially minimize the prospect cost. And if Stanton opts out of his deal after three seasons, it would additionally minimize the financial cost, essentially taking Stanton off the books before Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman’s current deals expire.
What’s the likelihood Stanton would opt-out? Great question. If he puts together three more MVP-like seasons these next three years, he’d almost certainly opt-out. He could turn his remaining deal (7 years/$208MM guaranteed + a minimum $10MM buyout for the final 8th year) into a fully guaranteed 10+/$300+MM contract.
If, however, he regresses or battles injuries (he missed 131 games between 2015 and 2016 and, before this past season, hadn’t played at least 150 since 2011), he’ll almost certainly opt-in, locking in his remaining salary through 2028.
Worth the risk?
It’s a fascinating game of Russian roulette: if successful, the Astros could significantly fortify their championship window by adding one of baseball’s most feared bats. If unsuccessful, they could very well sink their burgeoning dynasty with an anchor contract that would almost certainly lead to a mass exodus of Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Correa, and Bregman.
Me? What would I do?… Simple: if the Astros think they have the financial flexibility to absorb $295MM, they should call Scott Boras (Jose Altuve’s agent) and offer a gargantuan-sized contract extension that keeps their own (wildly underpaid) most valuable player an Astro for life. (And then, just for fun, I’d ask the Marlins about their two other outfielders, Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna, see what they might want for one of them.)
The Astros have carefully built the foundation of a potential dynasty in large part by avoiding the kind of budget-crippling contracts that limits their year-to-year financial flexibility to augment their young, evolving core.
Next: Astros lose third catcher Centeno via waivers to the Rangers
Giancarlo Stanton may murder baseballs – but his contract has the potential to kill the Astros’ promising future. What would you do? Let me know on Twitter: @Bags4HoF
***Stats and salary information from Baseball-Reference***