By Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
It’s all about leverage.
Right now, presumably, the St. Louis Cardinals are engaged in a cross-country staring contest with the Miami Marlins. The prize for he who blinks first? Bright lights slugger Giancarlo Stanton, the Mark McGwire of his time. If there’s a man positioned to hit 60-plus home runs next season, it’s Stanton. And the Cardinals desperately want the majority of those dingers to fly out of Busch Stadium.
But there are, supposedly, other teams in the hunt.
The San Francisco Giants are one of those teams, with their devoted fan base, winning culture, and, most importantly, west-coast location. They emerged as a favorite somewhat early on, if you believe the reports. Stanton’s perceived preference for the beach life elevated them above the initial frontrunners in St. Louis. If Stanton could be the next McGwire in the Midwest, could he be the next Barry Bonds in San Fran?
Maybe. But I doubt it.
Most “experts” don’t hold the Giants’ available prospects in high esteem, at least not compared to those the Cardinals could offer. Yes, the Marlins are primarily looking for salary relief – that’s why they want to trade Stanton in the first place – but that’s a given in any potential deal. If a team wants him, they’re going to have to pay him. But how much they pay him, and how much the Marlins are willing to continue to pay him, depends greatly on the player value a rebuilding team with new ownership gets in return.
To put it simply, players have value, and the right package of players could not only buy down some of Stanton’s massive contract but also sway the Marlins’ front office to their side of the negotiating table. Of course, the Marlins know this too.
Recent reports suggest Miami gave Stanton an ultimatum as far back as October, making it crystal clear that he has two choices: Accept the trade proposal the FO eventually puts in front of him, or become a squatter on a roster ripped apart in a relentless attempt to reduce payroll.
If true, this report only makes sense if Miami was anticipating a deal with St. Louis, the town Stanton supposedly refuses to go to. Think about it…
If the Dodgers – again, supposedly Stanton’s number one choice – were in play, there would be no reason to threaten the eventual NL MVP. The same is true with San Francisco. While it’s not LA, the Giants’ geography still fits with Stanton’s reported obsession with the west coast. And Boston? Pfft. Recent reports out of whatever deep, dark room keeps spewing such garbage have the Red Sox interest as “tepid” at best.
That only leaves the Cardinals (and whatever lurking, mystery team is out there…if you believe that).
If Miami executives expected, as most did, that the best trade package from the most motivated buyer would inevitably come from St. Louis, they certainly could have started paving the way for such a deal early on by telling Giancarlo, “It’s Missouri or bust, bub.”
And, to use the common buzz words flying around Twitter these days, I’m fairly confident in that assessment.
So what’s with all these reports of other teams, then?
If you’ve been paying attention the last 72 hours, you’ve heard all manner of rumor come careening out of the mill. The best one…
The Dodgers are Stanton’s preferred team, and they could easily clear payroll, carry his salary, and finally position themselves to win it all.
The problem is, LA isn’t motivated enough to do what needs to get done to win the Stanton Sweepstakes. Let’s not forget that the Dodgers were one of the best teams in baseball just months ago, a status they lived up to by making it to the World Series and nearly winning it all. Such a team doesn’t need a big splash signing like Giancarlo Stanton. They need tweaks and maybe one more year of seasoning. That’s it.
Besides, if the Dodgers were really such a big player and obvious winner for Stanton’s services, you wouldn’t be hearing quite so much about it. Such a media blitz only kills any leverage the Marlins have to negotiate a good price for their slugger.
(And if you still believe MLB front offices don’t selectively leak information to better their negotiating position, we can’t be friends anymore.)
The same is true of San Francisco.
If the Giants were really the only team capable of convincing Stanton to waive his no-trade clause, as reports continue to imply, you wouldn’t be hearing quite so much about it. Again, if you’re playing along at home, say it with me: Such a media blitz only weakens the Marlins’ ability to negotiate.
In fact, the only team you continue to hear negative things about regarding their chance of landing Stanton…is St. Louis. Such reports would have us believe that St. Louis, Missouri is so unacceptable that Stanton couldn’t see his way clear to play in such a rotting cesspool of “scum and villainy.”
As Matt Holliday recently put it, you play baseball six months out of the year. Live it up for the other six months wherever you want (Hell, even his spring training location would remain the same if he went to the Cardinals – they share a complex with the Marlins!). But when it comes to playing baseball, “there’s no better place” than St. Louis.
That means something to a guy looking at the prime of his career having never played in the postseason and enduring season after season of the worst Major League Baseball has to offer under the former owners of the Miami Marlins.
Still hung up on the location? Okay. I get it. I mean, that’s all you’ve been told matters so far. But let’s take the Matt Holliday approach here.
Out of a six-month baseball season, half of Stanton’s games would be played on the road. That leaves him with three months worth of baseball to be played in, say, L.A. Becoming a Dodger also means he would spend almost two months of the other six in Arizona (remember, the Dodgers ain’t in Florida no more). And as I just stated on Twitter, a move to L.A. likely means selling that beautiful Florida penthouse he just bought in Miami. Why keep a place literally across the country just to retain a beach life you theoretically have in your new home?
But…if he went to St. Louis…
That’s half a country closer to that Miami penthouse. And the Cardinals share the same spring training complex in Jupiter, Florida that Stanton has called home with the Marlins, not to mention established rehab and minor league facilities. That’s just an hour and a half up the Florida coast from his Miami bachelor pad…on clear highways…in an all-too-familiar environment. The Dodgers spring training home in Glendale, on the other hand, is almost 400 miles from L.A…plus traffic.
So to recap:
Go to L.A. – 3 months in L.A., 3 months on the road, and 2 months in Arizona.
Go to St. Louis – 3 months in St. Louis, 3 months on the road, and 6 months in Florida.
I’ll just say it. When compared to the chance to play as a living hero in a baseball town like St. Louis – with so much pressure to win that two winning seasons of playoff-free baseball and $3.4 million fans convinces them to trade for Giancarlo Stanton! – I have to believe the “night/beach life over everything else” angle is way overblown.
And that brings us to what you should be hearing when you hear Stanton rumors.
Report: Stanton might not accept a trade to St. Louis because he loves the beach life.
Hear: “Hey, St. Louis! Better bring your best offer to the table.”
Report: The Giants are the new frontrunners to get Stanton, especially with their California address.
Hear: “Hmmm, I don’t know. I think Stanton’s preference for night life and beaches might keep him from approving a trade to Missouri. Can you offer enough to convince us? Or him?”
Report: Dodgers are Stanton’s first choice, and they might actually want to pay him.
Hear: “You sure that’s your best offer, Mozeliak? Cause…I mean…Stanton REALLY wants to go to L.A. How deep are DeWitt’s pockets?”
Report: Giants might actually take on all of Stanton’s salary AND give prospects.
Hear: “Okay, look…you sure you can’t take on just a little more of his salary, St. Louis? Up your bid, Mo.”
Report: Marlins would likely accept potential Giants trades.
Hear: “I’ll do it! I’m not kidding! I’ll do it, Mo! You better kick in some more cash!”
In fact, the Giants, Dodgers, and Red Sox – even the Yankees! – have been used as leverage against some other team. And yet the Cardinals have not been used even once. They’re the one team no one is leaking information about. Instead, every team is being used against them.
You should hear: St. Louis has a very real shot at landing Stanton, and the Marlins are preparing him for the likelihood that they’ll bring him an offer soon.
Look, I get it. St. Louis hasn’t exactly won the offseason lately, and there seems to be a lot stacked against them this year. But in the end, I stand by my initial assessment.
St. Louis is the most motivated team and the one with the best combination of payroll flexibility and prospect value. It’s going to be hard for them to miss out on Stanton.
It could still happen, especially if the Dodgers do actually find enough motivation to pony up and retool a World Series team, but if we’re just talking about all the rumors that say Stanton is going everywhere else BUT St. Louis…?
At this stage, that makes me think he’ll be a Cardinal in 2018.
Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entities. He’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.