If Jeffrey Loria knew as much about baseball as he does about deceit and fraud, maybe the Miami Marlins wouldn't have finished in last place two consecutive years and given him the impetus to turn the fail-safe key on his failed ballclub. Around the team, there is a joke about the baseball-operations leadership. Mike Hill is the general manager, but he's really third in charge. Larry Beinfest is president, a title larded with gravitas if not absolute power. That belongs to Loria, the mad king of his opulent castle.
Nowhere else does an owner walk up to players in the clubhouse and inform them of their need to start producing – or, in some cases, of an impending demotion. Loria struts about the players' domain as if he's one of them when so many look at him and wonder what he's doing there, why he wants to be the offspring of George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones, only, you know, clueless.
Were Loria not some megalomaniacal charlatan, he already would've complemented the Marlins' latest salary dump with a move that makes far more baseball sense: trading Giancarlo Stanton, the power-hitting leviathan whose value never will be higher than it is right now.
This has a chance to be baseball's version of the Herschel Walker trade. Teams are begging to give up a minivan full of young players for the 23-year-old Stanton, an outfielder with more raw power than anyone in the game. In the immediate aftermath of the trade that saw the Marlins offload Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio for a bevy of prospects, teams called Marlins executives and asked what it would take to get Stanton.
The response, according to two sources who inquired: He's not available – yet.
Which is to say Stanton is probably going to price himself out of Miami soon, too, but they plan on milking his talent so long as he's cheap enough. Not only is this tack stubborn and short-sighted, five executives surveyed said holding onto Stanton for even a year could mean the difference between a historic return and the regular sort of bounty big-name players fetch in such deals.
The executives, granted anonymity because they did not want to speak publicly about another team's player, almost all agreed on the sort of package necessary to acquire Stanton: three top-of-the-line, major league or major league-ready players with next to no service time, plus another two or three prospects to fortify a Marlins farm system that would be the best in baseball.
Their rationale was clear: While 2013 is bound to be a lost season, the Marlins' future looks far better with a wide swath of young talent as insurance for the inevitable flameouts of some prospects. Among the talent collected from a Stanton deal, the Toronto trade and other salary dumps, the Marlins at the very least could start over with a group of young players who would ascend through the minor leagues together absent the sourness that permeates those in the major leagues shafted by Loria's if-you-build-it-you-are-dumb business plan.
"They basically said eff you to their fan base," one National League general manager said, "so why not now?"
Why not indeed. While the Marlins could pay Stanton $500,000 this season – unlike other teams that reward high-achieving players before they hit arbitration, the Marlins renew the contracts of their pre-arb players at the minimum salary possible – they know next year his contract will spike to the $7 million range. The executives estimated that over the three years of arbitration, Stanton would receive more than $30 million. Still, to have four full years of control during Stanton's prime years appeals greatly, particularly considering as a position player he offers far less risk than a pitcher.
Take, for example, the trades last offseason of Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos. For Gonzalez, the Oakland A's received left-hander Tommy Milone, catcher Derek Norris and right-handers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole. Milone became a rotation stalwart, Norris their future everyday catcher, and Peacock and Cole are tantalizing talents. Just as bountiful was the Latos deal, in which San Diego got a starting first baseman (Yonder Alonso), catcher (Yasmani Grandal) and pitcher (Edinson Volquez), plus a bullpen piece (Brad Boxberger).
And those were for pitchers who aren't nearly the quality of Stanton.
The Texas Rangers are loath to deal shortstop extraordinaire Jurickson Profar. Dangle Stanton and he's in. The Pittsburgh Pirates have Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon, plus Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco, and could use another bat in that lineup next to Andrew McCutchen. The Seattle Mariners might have the game's best farm system, and they've needed power since Ken Griffey Jr. left more than a decade ago.
Sure, the size of the return would limit the market – maybe 10 teams have the young players to make a Stanton deal worthwhile – but that's enough to find a partner. This is the sort of player for whom teams ignore their best intentions. Prospects may be overvalued today. Not for Stanton. Farm systems may be harder to replenish with the new bonus limits on the draft and in Latin America. Oh, well. If you're going to empty it for anyone, Stanton is far and away the best player available.
Those of his ilk – Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are the only similar pre-arbitration position players, while Buster Posey and Jason Heyward are about to hit arbitration for the first time – are untouchable. Stanton, on the other hand, is primed to be had, and it's up to the Marlins to pull off their own Teixeira-Colon deal. When the Texas Rangers dealt Mark Teixeira to Atlanta, they received shortstop Elvis Andrus, starter Matt Harrison, closer Neftali Feliz and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Cleveland acquired Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Colon.
Of course, for each of those there is a CC Sabathia-Mark McGwire-Matt Holliday-Carlos Beltran-Cliff Lee deal in which prospects whiff and the team is left with nothing. Just look at the Marlins' trade of Miguel Cabrera for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. He won a Triple Crown and AL MVP this year. The Marlins' biggest celebration involved moving into a new stadium paid for by taxpayers to whom Loria lied about his finances so they would fund the boondoggle.
If Loria is going to continue lying to people about his motivations – "It's incumbent on us to make the changes necessary to make us a winner again," he said in a statement – the least he can do is back his words with actions. Trading Stanton now allows the Marlins to complement a strong young rotation that by next year should include 19-year-old Jose Fernandez, Toronto-dump acquisition Justin Nicolino (one executive: "He's polished enough to move fast"), Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez. Get another player for starter Ricky Nolasco and build around him, the rest of the Stanton deal and outfield prospect Christian Yelich, and suddenly, one assistant GM said, "you're looking at 2014 as a team worth seeing."
It's not like the Marlins are satisfied with this team. While Yunel Escobar, one of the pieces in the Toronto deal, is listed on the Marlins' official depth chart as the starting third baseman, Miami already has shopped him, according to two sources. In fact, they've been doing so for a week now, even though commissioner Bud Selig didn't approve the trade until Monday.
The Marlins are going full foreclosure on this team, stripping it down to the studs … except for the gleaming piece of marble in the kitchen, which is just too pretty to haul away. That is Giancarlo Stanton, he of 93 career home runs in 1,324 at-bats, of a .553 slugging percentage over the last three years, better than Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder and Evan Longoria.
It's a lot like what the Marlins did earlier this year, in fact. At their spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla., they demanded the staff take down all traces of their old Florida Marlins logo. They were now the Miami Marlins, a new team, a new era, unshackled from their teal past. Well, except for the stuff commemorating their World Series championships in 1997 and 2003. That looked just fine. That could stay.
[Related: Ultimate free-agent tracker for 2012-13]
The Marlins have nothing to lose trading Giancarlo Stanton. Nothing. They've made it abundantly clear that the franchise's first priority is making money. Getting rid of him helps them with that. If winning runs in concert with that, well, so be it – and this gives them a better chance of that, too.
One way or another, Stanton is gone after 2016. The Marlins couldn't pay him enough to stay. Loria, as he does with so many Marlins, poisoned that relationship irreparably.
So it's time to trade him. Not in a year, when, even with a huge season, his value won't be nearly as high. Not in July, when, even with desperate teams, the return will have eroded.
Now. Today. Soon.
Get the Herschel Walker package.
And then, for once, we can actually say Jeffrey Loria did the right thing.
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