It’s been a slow offseason for baseball. Aside from manager turnover and the regular tender/non-tender decision process, few free agents have been signed and no significant trades have been made. The biggest reason for this lethargy seems to be teams waiting for decisions in the ongoing Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton sagas. Once we find out where they will play next year, teams will start doing stuff finally.
With the news last week that Ohtani will not be signing with the Yankees, Brian Cashman would do well to zero in on Stanton. The reigning MVP is very publicly being shopped by the new Derek Jeter ownership team in Miami, who have stated that moving Stanton and his 13-year, $325 million contract is their top offseason priority. After courting serious offers from the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, it would appear that the time for the Yankees to make their move is running out.
I believe this failure to make a reasonable pursuit for Stanton is a grave mistake. Both offers tabled for Stanton currently include no significant prospects. The best players kicked about by the Cardinals are Michael Wacha, a career 104 ERA+ starter, and Jose Martinez, who had a decent 2017 but is 29 years old entering his second MLB season. The Giants’ package, meanwhile, includes nobody of note, unless you like Joe Panik a lot. The point here being that the primary incentive for Miami appears to be less and less about player or prospect return, and more about jettisoning the Stanton contract itself. This is where the Yankees should have an advantage over just about everyone in baseball.
Aside from the Los Angeles Dodgers, no team can better absorb a contract like the Yankees. This is a franchise that essentially cut Alex Rodriguez while paying him in full, without missing a beat. To add to the financial advantage, the Yankees’ system is deep enough that they could offer a better package than an average starter and middle-aged rookie without doing damage to the farm. Such a package could even open up the necessary room on the roster for Stanton, as Clint Frazier probably holds higher present value than Wacha or Ramirez, and finding an opening for Stanton to play every day would not be difficult.
Hicks and Frazier are nice pieces to have on a baseball team, of course. But a look at their expected 2018 production makes them shoddy alternatives to the reigning NL MVP, especially when that MVP can be acquired in his physical prime. Steamer projects a 104 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR season for Hicks and a 97 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR campaign for Frazier. Meanwhile, Stanton’s predicted production? 150 wRC+, 5.4 fWAR. Now, Steamer has been known to be a little on the conservative side of projections, but that cuts both ways. If you’re skeptical of those numbers for Frazier or Hicks, you should believe that Steamer is also undervaluing Stanton to an extent.
Even Bryce Harper, who many fans – myself included – want the Yankees to back the truck up for in 2019, is projected for a 156 wRC+ and 5.8 fWAR in 2018. The difference between Harper and Stanton is marginal, and Stanton can be had RIGHT NOW. I don’t believe Harper will get the eight-year, $400 million contract that’s been spouted for his free agency, but his deal has a chance to cost more than Stanton’s current contract.
Maybe the Marlins would be looking for pitching instead of offense in a deal, since they currently have approximately zero real major league pitchers. Even if that’s the case, the Yankees have four well-regarded pitching prospects—Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, Justus Sheffield, and Albert Abreu—five if you include Jordan Montgomery. Any one of those pitchers also probably has a higher NPV than the Giants or Cardinals packages, and a loss of one or two in exchange for a player like Stanton is a trade I would make any day of the week.
Giancarlo Stanton ultimately controls his own destiny. His full no-trade clause ensures that he will only be dealt on his terms. We’ve seen one offseason pursuit end because the desired player didn’t want to play in the Bronx, and there’s no telling if Stanton wants to any more than Ohtani did. What’s crystal clear, though, is that the Yankees are missing out on a golden opportunity and may as well buy the lottery ticket for the Stanton sweepstakes. They can beat out other proposals, absorb the contract, and offer the World Series contender that Stanton may be looking for. Maybe he decides to go a different direction, but the failure of this front office to even get their hat in the ring is stunning.