If you sign him, they will come.
That’s the philosophy underpinning the massive, MLB-record contract the Miami Marlins just handed Giancarlo Stanton: Nail down the young superstar—possibly the best pure power hitter of his generation—and construct a winner around him.
President of baseball operations Michael Hill spelled it out after Stanton signed on for the long-term, per Christina De Nicola of Fox Sports Florida:
We understand that this is about a team and building a team we put together that can sustain winning because that’s our goal. He’s a big part of it. Obviously he’s one of the best players in the game, but I would hope when we talk to free agents that they look around and say, ‘I may be that missing piece or slide in here and help this team do special things.’
Stanton was more direct with his words.
“We’ve got to add pieces around me,” he told De Nicola. “[The contract] was built that way in order to do so financially. That’s what we’ve got to trust.”
“Trust.” That’s your key word. It hasn’t always been there between Stanton and the Marlins, specifically owner Jeffrey Loria.
In 2012, after Miami jettisoned a gaggle of veterans in a midseason white-flag trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, Stanton took to Twitter to voice his displeasure:
Two years later, he signed a pact that could make him a Marlin for life. We say “could,” and that’s where the specifics of the contract become important.
For one, the 13-year, $325 million deal is back-loaded. Stanton is due just $6 million next season and $9 million in 2016, affording Miami financial flexibility to improve the roster in the short term.
And Stanton has an opt-out clause in 2020, his age-30 season, meaning if Loria and company haven’t built and sustained a winner by then, he could walk.
So there’s plenty of incentive for the Fish to swim headlong toward contention. What’s the plan?
First, let’s take stock of what they’ve got.
Despite losing budding ace Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery—and losing Stanton for the season’s final three weeks after he was beaned in the face by a pitch on Sept. 11—the Marlins finished with a 77-85 record, a 15-game improvement over 2013.
Fernandez, still just 22 years old, is expected back by midseason, according to ESPN.com‘s Jim Bowden. He’ll bolster a burgeoning staff that also includes a trio of talented 24-year-olds: Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi and Jarred Cosart.
While Stanton shines brightest among position players, he’s joined by 22-year-old Gold Glove-winning left fielder Christian Yelich, another of the National League‘s rising stars.
Miami has a strong nucleus, no question. And one of the first orders of business should be locking that nucleus up.
As De Nicola notes, “there have already been talks” about extending both Yelich and Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
Additionally, the Marlins should consider inking their young rotation for the long term, though they’ve got more promising arms in the pipeline, including left-hander Andrew Heaney and right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, each of whom made his big league debut last season.
OK, that’s what the Marlins are working with. What do they need?
First, they could use at least one power bat to complement and protect Stanton. Miami was in on Adam LaRoche—and offered him a two-year, $20 million deal, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald—before the veteran first baseman signed with the Chicago White Sox.
That’s a fine profile: an experienced, playoff-tested slugger. Unfortunately for the Marlins, this year’s free-agent class is thin in that department.
And next year’s projected market isn’t loaded with pop either, though Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes could well be available.
Speaking of which, there’s a Cuban with (reportedly) prodigious pop available right now: Yasmany Tomas.
The Marlins don’t crop up in any recent Tomas rumors, though they did send a pair of scouts to watch him swing in late September, per MLB.com‘s Joe Frisaro.
Tomas won’t come cheap. Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com speculates the 24-year-old might become the first Cuban defector to land a $100 million payday. Plus, he’s an unknown commodity.
Considering the potential of pairing him with Stanton, though, and the buzz it’d undoubtedly generate in South Florida, this is a gamble the Marlins should at least consider.
All right, let’s talk pitching. As mentioned, the Marlins have it, especially if Fernandez comes back and performs like the guy who posted a 2.25 ERA with 257 strikeouts in his first 224.1 big league innings.
But the rotation, like the lineup, could use a steadying veteran influence. Hence Miami’s tire-kicking on 32-year-old James Shields, per FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal:
Shields, as Rosenthal correctly states, carries a hefty price tag. Even if Miami stretches the budget, it may not make sense to burn so much dough on a No. 2 starter.
Instead, what about right-hander Jason Hammel, who posted a 3.47 ERA for the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s last season and who’d be less expensive than Shields while not swallowing a draft pick?
It appears Miami is thinking along those lines. They’ve “expressed interest” in Hammel, according to the Miami Herald‘s Jackson, as well as free-agent right-hander Justin Masterson and left-hander Wade Miley, assuming the Arizona Diamondbacks are willing to deal.
Whichever pieces the Marlins sign or trade for, the real question is whether they’ll keep the team intact.
Loria assembled what looked like a contender on paper before his club moved into its shiny new ballpark in 2012, then proceeded to blow it all up.
What’s to prevent that from happening again?
For one, there’s Stanton’s nuclear option, the aforementioned opt-out clause. And for now, the Marlins are saying the right things about building for the future and expanding the budget, which could swell “into the $60 million range” next year, according to De Nicola, and possibly higher as Stanton becomes more expensive.
Still, talk is cheap. Actions are what matter—and, most essentially, results.
As Stanton himself put it, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com): “You can’t keep saying, ‘We’re going to win this year. We’re going to do it this year.’ I’m sick of hearing that. Everyone is sick of hearing that. It’s doing something about it.”
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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