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What can 2004 Alex Rodriguez teach the Yankees about 2018 Giancarlo Stanton?

The two biggest Yankee trade acquisitions since Babe Ruth saw declines in production in their first year in pinstripes. Can Stanton return to MVP form like Rodriguez did?

New York Mets v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton was without a doubt the biggest surprise move of the offseason in 2017. After smashing a league-leading 59 home runs, the NL MVP was on his way to the Bronx after an unexpected deal with the Marlins last winter. Yankee fans drooled at the thought of Stanton’s unparalleled power in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, but Stanton’s home run total dropped to 38 in 2018, despite logging almost exactly the same playing time as 2017.

Of course, 38 home runs and 100 RBI make for a great season, just maybe not up to the standard Stanton set for himself during his monster 2017 season. His OPS+ dropped from 169 to 126, and his strikeout total catapulted from 163 to 211. The strikeouts were the most frustrating aspect to Stanton’s transition to New York, as so many praised Stanton (and rightfully so) for his track record as a complete hitter who can go the other way with power, cover all quadrants of the strike zone, and work the count all while shattering exit velocity records.

Stanton showed flashes of these attributes in 2018, but a painfully slow start and an inconsistent finish to the season left fans wanting more. It was a similar feeling to the last time the Yankees dropped an unexpected trade bomb, grabbing the AL MVP Alex Rodriguez from Texas for Alfonso Soriano after Aaron Boone suffered a season-ending injury. After mashing 47 home runs and posting a .600 slugging percentage in 2003, Rodriguez dropped to 36 dingers in 2004, and his slugging percentage fell almost 100 points, much like Stanton this year. Rodriguez also matched his career-high in strikeouts up to that point, which he had originally set in 2001 while playing in seven more games than he did in 2004.

Did Rodriguez just need a full season and offseason in New York to settle into his new home? His 2005 numbers would certainly suggest that, as his slugging percentage shot back up to .610, while mashing 48 home runs to take home another MVP award. His OPS rose almost 150 points, and his oWAR increased from 6.2 to 9.4. His monster season sparked a five-year streak where Rodriguez finished with an OPS over .900, before leading the Yanks to a World Series title in 2009.

Of course, nobody should expect Stanton to return in 2019 and have a 2005 Rodriguez-type season, but what does Rodriguez’s early Yankee career tell us? Perhaps the centerpieces of some of the biggest trades in franchise history need a season to quiet the hysteria around them and get back into their own routines, before getting back to their old selves.

Rodriguez was the superior hitter compared to Stanton, but after a full season of adjustment, while still posting solid numbers, there’s no reason why Stanton can’t draw closer to his MVP numbers in 2019. Perhaps next year, instead of so many of his full counts turning into strikeouts, Stanton is more settled in the box, and becomes the force behind Aaron Judge that we know he can be. A more efficient Gary Sanchez behind him in the lineup would help as well.

Stanton is just about to turn 29 years old, and is still in his prime. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and sometimes need an adjustment period when arriving to a place like New York. Rodriguez needed it, and he turned out fine. There’s no reason to believe Stanton can’t do the same.