You can’t turn down $325 million. Over the next 13 years, if Giancarlo Stanton breaks his leg or falls victim to a voodoo curse or develops a crippling case of sesquipedalophobia or happens upon any other sort of unfathomable malady, the Miami Marlins still will owe him that $325 million, a sum greater than any franchise has owed any individual in the history of organized sports.
And with that out of the way, and Stanton’s signature soon to dry on a contract that guarantees him this ungodly sum, comes the answer to a question philosophers and paupers alike have asked for eons: Apparently, the price of a soul is $325 million.
What Robert Johnson did with a guitar, Giancarlo Stanton does with a bat, and in order to preserve that in Miami, Jeffrey Loria promised Stanton just shy of what he spent on his entire team’s combined payroll for the first eight seasons he owned it. This is a staggering deal, a monumental deal, the sort of deal in years and dollars that fits the New York Yankees’ or Los Angeles Dodgers’ or Boston Red Sox’s bailiwick.
Here, instead, are the Miami Marlins, owned by Loria, the man who along with his ex-wife’s son, David Samson, weaseled his way into taxpayers building him a brand-new ballpark despite his continuous ability to trade away all the players worth a damn under his control. He has done this again, and again, and again, and this time he swears it’s different, and maybe it actually is, because Stanton and the advisers that surround him are intelligent, conscientious, forthright people who wouldn’t sign just for the years and the dollars.
What that combination can do is make you want to believe the best in people, even people like Loria and Samson, whose last endeavor into big money ended in a spectacular fire sale that drew Stanton’s ire. He was the last person they wanted angry: a monster power hitter in a sport with a dearth, a marketer's fantasy with his handsome looks and multiple ethnicities that appeal to a wide swath, a good person and a grand presence and a dream anchor around which to build, if only the Marlins could build something Loria and Samson would keep together longer than a sneeze.
The fine print of the contract remains a secret for now, and perhaps it contains a greater explanation of what took Stanton from vehemently against any sort of extension with the Marlins to offering Loria and Samson his prime. Surely an opt-out clause helps. Ultimately, this may be baseball’s version of a football deal: big in years and dollars, far smaller in reality. If Stanton gets an opt-out at 30 years old, say, this would essentially be a five-year contract with an eight-year insurance policy for Stanton.
Giving the Marlins a half-decade to prove Loria’s previous decade-plus of ownership was a mirage is generous of Stanton. He could’ve waited two years, hit free agency and landed the mother lode then. Only he saw, with one Mike Fiers pitch in September that shattered his face and required surgery, how little is guaranteed, how the baseball gods can smite even the good.
The Marlins did right by Stanton during his recovery, engendering good will before meeting with him and delivering the sort of staggering contract proposal that included a huge chunk of we-know-you-can’t-stand-us money. The Marlins tried to wipe away their misdeeds with zeroes. And no matter how principled a man, how stubborn he may be in his opinion, staring at this – $325,000,000 – at 25 years old forces him to ask the logical follow-up: OK, so what now?
The answer satisfied Stanton. He’s got at least one fail-safe key in an opt-out, and with a 13-year deal and a creative agent, there could be more possibilities for him to abscond – more than one opt-out or vesting opt-outs in addition to the no-trade clause that protects the Marlins from straight dumping him? – should Loria do Loria.
Which he will. Because rare is the 73-year-old man who suddenly looks at what made him stinking rich and does the complete opposite. Unless Jose Fernandez is the rare Scott Boras client who ignores advice to hit free agency, he’s gone after the 2018 season – which means the Marlins will trade him before that. When he’s shipped off, or Christian Yelich, or Marcell Ozuna, or someone else who gets too expensive, how will Stanton react?
We know what Loria and Samson will do: cast blame outward. First their payroll was less than Alex Rodriguez’s annual salary because of the lack of a viable stadium. Then when the stadium was built and they lost, they blamed their dumping money on an underachieving team. It’s always something with them.
Stanton knows this, and once he dots his I and crosses the pair of T’s, he’ll be locked in with a clear conscience and deep hope. He’s trusting people who have lied to keep their promises, and it’s a great risk. Stanton loves Miami and his team, and he believes that with the Marlins’ power arms and his bat they can win. Beating the Nationals won’t be easy. The Mets, too, pose a formidable challenge. And if they want to compete with either, the Marlins must beef up their payroll well past the $100 million mark, because one guy taking up more than a quarter of a team’s salary has proven incompatible with winning in modern baseball.
Over the next few years, Stanton will find out whether his trust was well-placed or this truly was a Faustian bargain. He’s about to inherit a title: highest-paid athlete ever. He wants another: World Series champion. The latter ultimately goes back to the Marlins, to Loria and Samson, whose past actions would doom Stanton’s sobriquets mutually exclusive.
No, you can’t turn down $325 million. Giancarlo Stanton will get his money if he wants it, and there’s great solace in that, and he’ll opt out if he wants that, and there’s comfort there, too. Ever present will be Jeffrey Loria, the majordomo of the Marlins, paying his hefty price, getting exactly what he wanted, smiling with his devilish grin.
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