The prime storyline of the 2017-18 MLB offseason will be the fate of Giancarlo Stanton.
The Miami Marlins' new ownership group, fronted by CEO Derek Jeter, has made clear they want to cut payroll down from $115m to the $85-90m range, and the quickest way to do that is to trade their highest-paid player. Stanton, 28, will be paid $25m next season and $26m the next two seasons before coming up on an opt-out clause that would make him a free agent again at age 32.
We've been seeing rumors about potentially interested teams for weeks but on Tuesday, we received the first smatterings of details about what the trade negotiations of themselves may look like—and they don't reflect particularly well on the Marlins.
Pie in the sky
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, rival executives at the GM meetings regard the Marlins' initial asking price for their superstar slugger as "shockingly high and somewhat out of touch with reality."
There aren't any specific names in terms of teams or prospects being bandied about, but FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Marlins prefer pitching prospects. However, they will take anyone they regard talented enough in order to replenish their organizational depth.
Any team that has a high-demand trade chip like Stanton starts their demands high, and we don't know just how shocking the preliminary discussions truly are—and probably won't know a huge amount of details unless this becomes a drawn-out saga.
But the Marlins may be in for a nasty shock in terms of just how far their demands will have to drop to get this deal done.
The fact of the matter is the Marlins are in a terrible position for negotiating this trade. There are two factors working against them that could combine to see this process draw out considerably unless the Marlins accept reality fast.
The first is that everyone knows their plan. That Jeter and financial partner Bruce Sherman were intent on slashing payroll was common knowledge before they even took control of the team. The league knows they need to move Stanton to achieve their financial goal for the offseason without trading much of the rest of the roster—think the likes of Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, etc—and draining the team of talent at far more positions. You can bet any potential trade partner will leverage that knowledge to get Stanton while giving up as little as possible.
Another problem for Jeter & Co. is the contract they were saddled with by their predecessor, Jeffrey Loria. The extension Loria signed Stanton to prior to the 2014 season was for 13 years and $325m. That's a ton of money to commit going forward and as Olney said, any acquiring team will expect a discount in terms of the prospects based on the financial outlay they will take on if they win the race for him.
There is also that pesky opt-out clause, which will hang like the Sword of Damocles over any team that trades for him. Giving up a massive amount of high-quality prospects when there is no guarantee they will get over three years out of Stanton will be a huge risk, one that any GM will look to moderate when offering their side of the deal.
The Marlins likely hope that high demand will mitigate these issues. Heyman says at least seven teams have expressed a level of interest at the GM meetings so far. The San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox were all identified last week. The other three are still mysteries.
But if the Marlins are hoping for competition to drive up the price, they may be disappointed. The Red Sox look to be focusing more on JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer to upgrade their offense, while the Phillies, according to Philly.com, have decided Stanton isn't a fit.
Then there is one last head of the hydra of Stanton's contract—his ironclad no-trade clause. Stanton can veto any deal, so if he decides a destination is undesirable, the Marlins will have no choice but to turn to other clubs he considers better options. If Stanton wishes narrow the pool of prospective landing spots, the Marlins will be at the mercy of those few teams and what they are willing to offer—and those packages will be far smaller if potential partners know they have fewer competitors.
Jeter has really backed himself into a corner for his first major business as a team owner. He has little leverage in trying to move Stanton and get his payroll to where he wants it—and will have to drop his demands sooner or later to get the deal done.