Following Sunday’s 6-2 win over San Diego, powered by Giancarlo Stanton’s 2-run bomb in the 8th, the Miami Marlins pushed their record to 66-63, within 4 1/2 games of the second Wild Card spot, and Stanton has 50 dingers and is on pace to hit 63 home runs. With the Marlins in the process of being sold by Jeff Loria, one of the most despised men in sports history, to a group that includes Derek Jeter, one of the most beloved men in sports history, this all presents a difficult question: do you trade Stanton and his massive contract or keep him?
Stanton must now be considered the favorite in the NL MVP race. His 50 home runs leads the league, and he’s tops in SLG, OPS and OPS+. Meanwhile, his 6.0 WAR is 4th-best in the NL, behind Max Scherzer (6.7), Gio Gonzalez (6.5), and Joey Votto (6.1). As teammates, Scherzer and Gonzalez are apt to split the vote, while also getting overlooked for being pitchers, and Votto’s Reds are in the cellar.
A few years back, Stanton signed what remains the richest contract in baseball history: 13 years, $325 million. But the first few seasons were arbitration years, so the big-money seasons don’t start until next year, when he begins a 10-year run during which he’ll make an average of $28.5 million a year. The market currently values 1 WAR at about $8 million, so Stanton will need to produce roughly 36 WAR between then and the third year of Ivanka Trump’s first administration, aka 2027, to make the contract worth it for the Marlins.
In baseball history, 114 hitters have managed 36 WAR from age 28 to 37, ranging from Tony Perez (36.0) to Babe Ruth (100.2). Among active players, there are 10 guys who’ve done it: Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Beltran, Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano, Ben Zobrist, Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Ichiro Suzuki, and Adrian Beltre, with Votto (31.1 WAR, age 33) appearing likely to join them. In the past 30 seasons, there have been a total of 42 guys who’ve done it, with no shortage of power hitters among them, including Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Bagwell, and Alex Rodriguez.
Stanton will finish this season with the 8th-most home runs of any player ever through his age-27 season. Among current 27-year-olds, his 258 home runs is #1, 64 ahead of Mike Trout at #2, and 94 ahead of Anthony Rizzo at #3. By any sensible measure, Stanton is an elite power hitter. And Stanton has done it despite suffering a terrifying beaning in September of 2014, and a series of injuries that limited him to “just” 54 home runs and 193 games in 2015 and 2016. But now he’s healthy and raking, and appears ready to make a run at 500 or maybe even 600 home runs
So does Jeter, who will be a 20% owner, as well as CEO in charge of baseball operations, build the Marlins’ future around the greatest power hitter of his generation, or cast off the largest contract in baseball history?
The history of mega-contracts is an ugly one, though Jeter made good on his own massive deal. A-Rod made good on his first one, but the Yankees took a bath on the second. Similarly, Miggy’s first deal was good, but his second is apt to get ugly. Albert Pujols has become a cautionary tale, as has Prince Fielder. What lessons can we draw from the past successes and failure? Signing a guy long-term in his 20s is WAY better than doing it in his 30s. Also, don’t sign megadeals with catchers – looking at you Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. Finally, don’t put big bets on big people like Fielder, who in retrospect was destined to break down.
Stanton is only now peaking as a player, and can reasonably be expected to maintain this level of play for four or five years, during which time he could easily hit 200 home runs and amass 30 WAR. He’s as good a bet this side of Mike Trout as anybody, and if you’re not willing to make big bets, you shouldn’t be running a baseball team.
There’s a lot on the Marlins that needs fixing, like their pitching staff, which WAR rates as the second-worst in all of baseball, in stark contrast to their lineup, which rates third-best. So if the new CEO is looking for some place to focus his energies, it should be on the mound and not the batter’s box. Marlins fans have suffered enough indignities, losing Stanton would be the death knell for MLB in Miami for a decade.
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