When the most storied franchise in the game acquires its most prolific home run champion, as the Yankees did Friday, its impact is best measured on a Richter scale. But when that home run champion’s unveiling comes amid the media frenzy of baseball’s annual winter meetings and when he proceeds to publicly torch his former team with barely concealed rancor, it is enough to break the scale altogether.
Eventually, baseball will get back to other business — free agent signings, trades and the other mundane tasks of roster-building, with spring training looming some two months away — but for now it is difficult to view the sport’s 29 other teams in any terms other than how far away from the Stanton epicenter they were, and how much damage each sustained.
The Marlins, it almost goes without saying, were reduced to a pile of rubble.
Not only did they suffer the inherent indignity of essentially giving away their franchise player — sending the 28-year-old Stanton and $30 million in salary relief to the Yankees for second baseman Starlin Castro, whom the Marlins may spin off in another cost-cutting move, and two low-level prospects — but then they had to hear him blast them on the way out the door.
He called the organization an “unprofessional circus” in an Instagram post. He advised Marlins fans to “hang in there” but “maybe watch from afar.” And he criticized the franchise for having “no structure.”
“You’ve seen what’s gone on down there,” Stanton told the assembled media Monday. “It’s a different direction every spring training. You’ve got to learn something new. Every spring a different manager.”
What became clear is that two different Marlins ownerships erred badly in their handling of Stanton, from the ill-conceived, 13-year, $325 million contract — with full no-trade privileges and a player opt-out near the midpoint — that the Jeffrey Loria regime gave him in 2014, when the franchise’s finances never supported such a massive expenditure, to the bungled trade process the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter regime put Stanton through this month. Once the new owners rejected Stanton’s pleas to beef up the pitching staff in hopes of contending in 2018, it seemed almost certain he would be dealt.
“I thought our lineup was legit and we needed help with our pitchers, and we needed to add rather than subtract,” Stanton said. “The way they wanted to go was to subtract, so I let it be known that I didn’t want to be part of another rebuild.”
But that’s where things got ugly. First, the Marlins struck separate trade agreements for Stanton with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants last week, even though neither team was on Stanton’s shortlist of acceptable destinations. (“Those,” he said Monday, “were not my teams.”) Then, as Stanton confirmed Monday, they tried to threaten him into accepting one of those deals by presenting him with an alternative of spending the rest of his career on a bare-bones Marlins roster.
“It was said, so it was definitely a thought I had to be ready to deal with,” Stanton said. “But … I’m not going to be forced to do that. You can’t say that and expect me to jump at what’s there, if that’s not the right situation for me.”
Jeter, the Marlins’ chief executive, was notably absent from baseball’s annual gathering, but on a conference call with reporters Monday he defended the team’s handling of Stanton. “No,” he said, “there isn’t anything I would do differently.”
But the Marlins weren’t the only team having to assess the damage left by the Stanton deal. There are also the Yankees’ four division rivals in the American League East who now face the prospect of 19 games per year against New York’s new Murderer’s Row lineup, centered around the only two players in baseball — Stanton and Aaron Judge — to surpass 50 home runs in 2017. The former hit 59 homers and was the National League MVP in 2017, the latter hit 52 and was the American League rookie of the year.
“The rich got richer, right?” Baltimore Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette said. “The Yankees had a good year this year and were able to add the National League home run [leader], so that makes it more challenging for our ballclub. … They used their resources to go out and acquire the biggest contract in the industry.”
The Boston Red Sox, who edged the Yankees for the division title in 2017, will almost certainly make their own splashy roster addition(s), as president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is considered one of the most aggressive GMs in the game. The Red Sox, starved for power, were already expected to add one or more impact bats this winter. Among their likely targets are outfielder J.D. Martinez and first baseman Eric Hosmer, two of the top free agent hitters available.
The presence of Stanton in the Bronx, in fact, has raised the stakes for every hopeful contender in the league, from the World Series champion Houston Astros to the Central Division champion Cleveland Indians to the resurgent Los Angeles Angels, who last week added Japanese two-way ace/slugger Shohei Ohtani to a roster that already included the consensus best player in the game, center fielder Mike Trout.
At the opposite end of the damage spectrum, meantime, were the four NL East teams that were thrilled to get Stanton out of their division and safely housed in the opposite league.
“I’m glad I don’t have to see him 19 times this year,” Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. “He’s been a great player against us.” Praising his Yankees counterpart, Rizzo added: “Brian Cashman’s an aggressive guy with no fear, and he made a good trade.”
But if the fallout from the Stanton deal has divided the game into winners and losers, no team was a bigger winner than the Yankees. In one monumental move that all but fell into their laps, they added the majors’ reigning home run champ to a lineup that already led the majors in homers and another superstar to a roster that came within one win of making it to the World Series.
And they did so at a minimal cost in talent and at a price — they will owe Stanton $265 million over the next 10 years, if he doesn’t opt out after 2020 — that constitutes a bargain relative to the prices top free agents such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado could command next winter.
Not that the Stanton trade necessarily eliminates the Yankees from those markets. Even with the Stanton trade, the Yankees have room to acquire a starting pitcher or two and still remain under the $197 million luxury tax threshold, which would help strengthen their buying power in future offseasons.
“In years going forward, guys are going to be coming off the roster, and some guys are going to be coming on,” Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said. “… I’m going to put every dollar I possibly can into making this club as good as it can be.”
In other words, if you thought the Stanton trade was an industry-rattling earthquake, imagine what next winter might bring.
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