Just as the Giancarlo Stanton trade situation appears to be coming to a head, a wrench may be thrown into its complicated works. The Marlins’ attempt to deal the NL MVP has been a slow and fitful process, but over the last two weeks, two teams have emerged as finalists: the Giants and Cardinals. Both San Francisco and St. Louis have gotten far enough along in talks to meet with Stanton face to face, and both teams have terms worked out with Miami with regards to compensation. But according to NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Alex Pavlovic, while the Giants expect a resolution by the end of the week, a familiar foe could jump into the running at the last minute.
This can obviously change as it goes, but Giants expect a Stanton decision by the end of the week. I'm hearing they continue to view Dodgers, not Cardinals, as biggest threat.
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) December 6, 2017
It’s fitting that the Dodgers might be the stumbling block for the Giants, but just how likely a destination is southern California for Stanton? It’s unwise to write the Dodgers out of any competition where money is involved, but reality isn’t as straightforward.
Since a Stanton trade first floated into consciousness at the start of the offseason, the Dodgers have been a popular destination, yet the team has been more on the periphery of talks for him than front and center. On Tuesday night, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted that Los Angeles and Miami had stayed in touch with regards to a Stanton deal, but that “discussions … are not serious” (albeit with an ominous “for now” added at the end of that tweet). Beyond that, though, there’s been no link between the Dodgers and Stanton—no leaked discussions, no rumored prospect packages, and no Los Angeles-colored invocations of a #mysteryteam still in the running.
Instead, what’s got Dodgers fans dreaming of Stanton in blue and white is where he’s from. The 28-year-old outfielder was born in Panorama, Calif., a northern suburb of Los Angeles, and went to high school in nearby Sherman Oaks. He grew up a Dodgers fan and lives in southern California during the offseason; when the Giants and Cardinals met with him to talk trade, they came to Los Angeles. And while Stanton hasn’t publicly said that he wants to be a Dodger, that’s the industry-wide belief (again, per Morosi). And beyond coming home, the Dodgers offer Stanton something he’s never had: a stable, contending organization. To go from the Marlins’ perpetual rebuild to a team fresh off 103 wins and a pennant is as sharp and desirable a 180-degree turn as possible.
It helps that, while it’s the Marlins who want to move him, Stanton holds all the cards thanks to his no-trade clause. The big slugger gets final say on where he goes, and if it’s Los Angeles he wants, then he can simply reject all deals otherwise. In fact, he doesn’t even have to say no; as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported, Stanton can simply ignore whatever proposal Miami sends his way—a “pocket veto,” as Olney puts it.
All of that would seem to put the Dodgers in the driver’s seat if they want to make an offer, or at least make them the favorites. While Los Angeles is a team wary of sacrificing top prospects despite its loaded farm system, neither San Francisco nor St. Louis could top them in terms of a potential package, especially given the financial demands of Stanton’s contract.
But the Dodgers have stayed on the sidelines, and the money will likely keep them there. There are still 10 years and $275 million left on Stanton’s deal, unless he opts out of it after the 2020 season—unlikely, barring the greatest three-year run in MLB history. And that’s not including the $25 million team option in 2028 or, more likely, the $10 million buyout after that year, Stanton’s age-38 season. For as good as Stanton is now, the prospect of paying him at least $25 million every single season for the next decade—particularly for a player who will be in his 30s for the majority of it—has to be scary, even for the richest team in baseball.
That also doesn’t take into account Los Angeles’ already existing financials. For 2018 alone, the Dodgers already have $185.8 million on the books in guaranteed deals. Add in the projected $25 million they’ll be spending in arbitration, and you’re looking at a payroll of $214 million before the team does any offseason spending. There are ways the Dodgers can offload or offset some of Stanton’s cost, but it won’t be easy. They’re already reportedly looking to deal former starting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is looking at a 2018 salary of close to $8 million via arbitration. Los Angeles could also try to unload declining veteran Adrian Gonzalez ($22.36 million next year) or the oft-injured Scott Kazmir ($17.67 million). But barring some kind-hearted front office doing the Dodgers a favor, it’s unlikely either of those two would depart without some other bad contract coming back in exchange.
Adding Stanton without a counter move would rocket the Dodgers’ payroll to close to $250 million next year. For a team that pulled in nearly half a billion dollars in revenue in 2016, that figure isn’t all that problematic on its own. But you also have to take into account Los Angeles’ mortal enemy, the luxury tax. There’s no way the Dodgers will get under 2018’s threshold of $197 million, and with every dollar over that figure taxed and with repeat offenders—which the Dodgers are, having surpassed the limit in 2016 and ‘17—penalized extra, that disincentives large expenditures like Stanton.
Ultimately, though, what may stay the Dodgers’ hand is what’s coming next winter: the free-agent apocalypse that will be Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon and a dozen other stars hitting the market all at once. And that group could include resident ace Clayton Kershaw, who is signed through 2020 but has an opt-out clause after next season. Kershaw would have no trouble beating the $69 million due to him after 2018 in free agency; at the very least, he should be able to squeeze another big multi-year deal out of the Dodgers. Stanton is a definite upgrade in leftfield over the combo of Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson, but considering they’ll combine to make around $3–4 million next year, is it worth tacking on Stanton’s contract and potentially hamstringing future offseasons or losing Kershaw to accomplish that?
So while the Giants may be looking over their shoulders in a panic, it’s unlikely that the Dodgers are creeping up on them to snatch Stanton away. In the end, though, it may not be the Dodgers who scuttle San Francisco’s (or St. Louis’) hopes, but Stanton himself. His no-trade clause gives him all the power, and while leaving Miami’s endless dysfunction is probably plenty appealing by now, there’s no reason for him to accept a trade to anything but his preferred team just to spare Derek Jeter’s checkbook. The prospect of another year with a franchise that actively doesn’t want him can’t be fun, but he could always hold out and hope for better next year. In which case, maybe we’ll be going over this same series of issues and breaking down the Dodgers’ chances yet again next December.