The Cardinals have reportedly been in contact with the Miami Marlins about Giancarlo Stanton. John Mozeliak and Mike Girsch need to resist the temptation to make a big move.
Giancarlo Stanton just turned in one of the best months of all time. He cranked 17 home runs, while the next best, Josh Donaldson, hit 12 homers. Stanton’s wOBA of .583 was 84 points better than that of second place Nelson Cruz. Perhaps his wRC+ of 267 illustrates the point best of all: Stanton was more than 2.5 times better than average during August.
With the Marlins going nowhere this season, teams are still reaching out to Miami to see if the star outfielder is available. According to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, the Cardinals are one of those teams. I suppose the thought of 50 home runs (before September!) can be very appealing, but the thought of paying a player $300 million for the next ten seasons is even scarier, and in a much less appealing way.
Stanton’s contract is backloaded so he will receive $285 million from 2018 to 2027. Whoever he plays for at that point will have to pay him another $10 million to buy him out or pay another $25 million for the 2028 season. When healthy, Stanton is the top power hitter in baseball. But the price is just too steep for the Cardinals to make the plunge.
How much can he add today?
Priority number one for the Cardinals is finding a way to make the playoffs if such a way exists. The Cardinals’ chances of making the playoffs today are low, though aided by a relatively weak schedule. FanGraphs’ projection system gives the Cardinals just a 13.2 percent chance of making the playoffs in 2016. Those same projections show the Cardinals missing the playoffs by an average of 4.7 wins. Stanton alone cannot make up enough of that five win difference.
If the Cardinals make the trade for Stanton, then their outfield will likely be Stanton, Dexter Fowler, and Tommy Pham. The difference between Stanton and Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk is large, but not for one month.
The Cardinals have 32 games left, meaning that they could have Stanton for roughly 140 plate appearances. Stanton would hit higher in the order, so he would be replacing closer to 130 Piscotty/Grichuk plate appearances, but we will assume 140 for the purposes of this analysis.
Stanton currently owns a .430 weighted on-base average for the season. Amazingly, Piscotty and Grichuk are within a point of each other in wOBA, .315 and .314, respectively. That .115 point difference over 140 plate appearances equates to a little more than 16 runs in 2017. Adding 16 runs erase about one-third of the 4.7 win deficit that they appear to be facing.
However, that assumes the players involved continue at their current rates. According to Statcast, Stanton’s expected wOBA (xwOBA) is 15 points lower, at .415. Piscotty’s xwOBA sits at .337, while Grichuk’s is .320. In both cases, Statcast’s metric suggests that Piscotty and Grichuk should be doing slightly better. The problem with xwOBA, though, is that Statcast still doesn’t capture all balls in play. In 2016, they were still missing over ten percent of balls in play. They have likely gotten better, but the league average xwOBA is not that close to the actual wOBA this year.
Instead of Statcast, we can use the ZiPS and Steamer projections, which also suggest the gap is a little closer. Stanton is projected for a .395 wOBA by ZiPS and a .415 wOBA by Steamer for the rest of the season. For Piscotty, those numbers are .329 and .330, respectively, and for Grichuk they are .319 and .320, respectively.
Using the average projections, we get a .405 wOBA for Stanton and a .325 wOBA for Piscotty/Grichuk. The end result is that Stanton now improves the Cardinals’ rest of season projection by just 9.5 runs. That is close to a win, but the Cardinals still appear to be 3-4 wins short of a playoff projection.
Stanton is having an incredible season, but the reality is that he can’t carry the Cardinals into the playoffs. If the Cardinals will play baseball in October, they need their players to perform much better than expected and their opponents to regress unexpectedly. That is a large gamble to make on top of paying a hefty price tag for employing Stanton.
OK, but what about next year?
Stanton is under contract for ten more season, so the Cardinals could be looking at him for the next few years, too. If that’s the case, then the Cardinals can’t be planning on giving up too many prospects in this deal. The team is expecting some of their top prospects to make an impact in the next 3-4 years, but some of those guys will have to go in a Stanton deal.
In another year, the Marlins might be happy to just offload Stanton’s contract. In a year where fans are coming to the ballpark to watch him play, they will ask for a lot more. Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, and Jack Flaherty should soon replace Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and Michael Wacha. That won’t happen as planned if Stanton is coming to St. Louis. If Delvin Perez is currently the Cardinals shortstop of the future, then he would become the Marlins shortstop of the future. As great as Paul DeJong has been, he is no sure bet.
The Cardinals probably turn a net positive on the field in the next two or three seasons by making such a deal. However, I am still not sure that it gets them far enough. There is little youth among the Cardinals current starters. The MLB aging curve suggests that Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, Yadier Molina, and Jedd Gyorko have already played their best seasons (and Stanton, too, for that matter).
The Cardinals have a good group of prospects in place to replace those players. However, a trade for Stanton might force them to scramble to fill those holes in three seasons. Thus, they would need to be contenders next year or the year after to make this deal a smart one. A healthy Stanton adds 3-4 wins by himself, putting the Cardinals right on the edge of the playoffs. The hope would be that the Cardinals keep Reyes and he fulfills their biggest dreams quickly.
Moving from Wainwright to Reyes could improve the team by another 3 wins if he recovers well from Tommy John surgery. At the end of all this maneuvering, the Cardinals are probably around an 88-win playoff team. But is that enough? The Dodgers have young superstars in Cody Bellinger and Cory Seager. The Cubs have their own big time sluggers in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Perhaps the Cubs are fading enough, but the Dodgers will likely be better than an 88-win team each of the next two seasons, barring the unthinkable to Clayton Kershaw.
There is also a lot that has to go right for the Cardinals to maintain that 88-win number. First, Stanton has to play the full year, which he has only done a couple of times in his career. Next, the rest of the Cardinals better (and older) players can’t get hurt. Then, the older players have to maintain a high enough level of production. Oh, and Alex Reyes has to turn into a phenom shortly after recovering from Tommy John surgery. The best teams plan a season knowing that some unexpected things will happen, and the Cardinals would be ignoring that possibility by trading for Stanton.
Did I mention that they would owe him $300 million?
Because of Stanton’s price tag, this isn’t a deal that you can move on from if it fails. Stanton is making the kind of money that forces teams to hold off on signing other big free agents. Sure, the Cardinals don’t have any enormous contracts right now, but that doesn’t mean adding one is a good idea.
I know that you can dream of trading for Stanton and then signing Manny Machado after the 2018 season. But can you really see Mozeliak allowing the Cardinals to put $70 million into just two players? It would certainly be un-Cardinals-like, even though there is a scenario in which it works.
Stanton is a great player, but if the Cardinals want to watch him hit home runs, they should do it on SportsCenter, not in their home ballpark.
Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove – USA TODAY Sports