Let’s talk about the Cardinals and Giancarlo Stanton.
First, I don’t care about the rumors that flood the web on a daily basis. Rumors can be fun … but only if there’s a cap placed on the rumors. Maybe 100 per day, max? But I don’t care what an insider survey reveals, or get all dizzy when Twitter spits out new or recycled speculation.
I just want to talk about Cardinals and Stanton … and this will be an Insider Free Zone. I have no rumors to offer.
But I do have some thoughts:
1. Your team doesn’t have to put up huge home-run counts or rack up a robust slugging percentage to attain success. During the first six seasons of the double wild card postseason format, 30 National League teams made the playoffs. Fifteen of the 30 finished in the top five in the NL in homers. And 15 of the 30 finished in the top five in slugging. But even that’s misleading; in the first five seasons of the two wild card setup only 10 of 25 NL postseason teams ranked among the top five in slugging. Here’s a close-to-home example: the 2015 Cardinals were 11th in the NL in homers and 9th in slugging … and won 100 games. The 2016 Cardinals led the league in homers (225) and were second in slugging percentage (.442) … and won only 86 games and failed to make the postseason.
2. But if the Cardinals are serious in their desire for a BIG BAT who can give their lineup some thump, some wallop, some thunder, some danger, some intimidation … well, Giancarlo Stanton is the fit. Not that you’ve forgotten this already, but Stanton rocked 59 homers in 2017. Since his first full season in the bigs (2011), Stanton ranks third in the majors in raw HR count, trailing only Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz. He’s second among active players since 2011 in slugging percentage (.560) … with Mike Trout slightly ahead at .566. And Stanton has the best HR ratio in the majors since 2011, going deep every 13.13 at-bats.
3. About the Stanton contract: unless he opts out after the 2020 season, the team that employs the big fellow is obligated to pay him a guaranteed $285 million through the end of the 2027 campaign, which is his age 37 season. If the team picks up Stanton’s $25 million option for 2028, then the total cost of the remaining deal is $310 million. If the team declines to exercise the option, they’ll owe Stanton a $10 million buyout. And that adds up to $295 million through 2027.
4. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. But MLB is bringing in an all-time high revenue stream, and player salaries continue to rise. The Stanton contract will average $29 million per season over the next 10 years. But do you think player salaries will be going down over the next 10 seasons? Of course not. The salaries will continue to increase. Here’s how we know this: 10 years ago, in the 2008 season, only two big-league players made a salary of $20 million or more: Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter. By 2010, that number grew to five players. By 2012 there were 12 players getting at least $20 million. By 2015, there were 21 … by 2017, MLB teams paid 35 players a salary of $20 million or above. And in 2018 — this is before the free-agent signings this offseason — 35 players will receive $20 million or more. And in that group, four will make $30 million or more. And 13 will be paid at least $25 million. The point is, over the next six, seven or eight years the Stanton contract won’t seem as imposing as it is right now. I’m not saying he’ll be a bargain down the road a few years; after all players age. But his salary won’t come with the sticker shock that we see now. Oh, yeah … and the team owners’ revenue will be escalating over the next 10 years. No team will go broke by having a $29 million salary on the roster.
5. The Cardinals have enormous financial strength because of fan support, marketing-sponsorship deals, the successful Ballpark Village development, and a local TV contract that is about to enter a prosperous new realm: a $1.1 billion deal with Fox Sports that begins next season.
6. The Cardinals also have the future payroll flexibility to afford an expensive slugger. According to Cots Contracts, the Cardinals presently have a 2018 player payroll of $126.3 million. Obviously, that figure will be cranked up once the team adds players this offseason. But look ahead to 2019 and beyond. According to Cots, the Cardinals have $97.5 million in payroll accounted for in 2019, $80 million in 2020, $36.7 million in 2021, and $8 million in 2022. Again, those payrolls will substantially grow each offseason. But the important takeaway is this: the Cardinals, right now, are not bogged down with bad contracts that will clog their payroll for the next several years. They’re in much better shape, for example, than the San Francisco Giants. The Giants already have a $187.4 million payroll for 2018, $114.1 million for 2019, and $109.3 million for 2020. That is serious payroll congestion. And those upcoming payrolls will only swell as the Giants add roster pieces.
7. Unlike other teams out there, Cardinals aren’t looking — and grimacing — at payroll-tax problems. According to the Cots projections, the Cardinals right now are about $60 million under the payroll-tax threshold for 2018. Some potential Stanton suitors — including Boston and San Francisco — would end up in payroll-tax hell by taking in Stanton’s contract.
8. To acquire Stanton (or any BIG BAT) in a trade, the Cardinals can deal from their generous supply of talented young pitching, and tap into an intriguing surplus of young outfield talent. This is why so many baseball pundits continue to insist that the Cardinals — with their payroll flexibility and collection of prospects — are in the best position to land Stanton.
9. If the Cardinals want a premium power hitter — which are in short supply in the marketplace — they’ll have to pay up. It’s as simple as that. There are no discounts. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. will have to pay the premium rate. As I mentioned before, the contract costs for established power hitters won’t be going down. Those type of contracts will spike even higher in the coming years. Yes, maybe the Cardinals can entice the Marlins into absorb a percentage of Stanton’s contract by offering a higher-quality package of prospects. We’ll see. But either way … if Stanton is the Cardinals’ No. 1 target on the wish list, they have to pay up. There is no getting around that.
10. I agree with an opinion expressed by my colleague Kevin Wheeler: if Stanton, who is 28, was entering the free-agent market this offseason after bombing 59 home runs — wouldn’t he command a 10-year deal worth $300 million? Perhaps teams would give him seven or eight years on the contract length instead of 10 years … but the yearly salaries would be massive. Given the impulsive spending that we see from some teams, Stanton the free agent could probably get more on the open market than the $295 million he’s got coming to him under his current contract.
11. And if free-agent slugger and corner outfielder J.D. Martinez is destined to come out of the offseason contract frenzy with a $200 million deal – averaging $28 million or more per season — then what’s so scary about Stanton’s contract? Stanton is two years younger than Martinez. And Stanton is superior right fielder defensively. This past season Stanton ranked 4th among MLB right fielders with +10 defensive runs saved, and he’s plus 45 in defensive runs saved during his career at the position. Martinez is a terrible minus 28 in defensive runs saved for his career in right field; that includes a minus 22 in 2016 and a minus 5 this past season.
12. Of course, Stanton can veto any trade. That includes a potential deal that would bring him to St. Louis. But given the Cardinals’ consistent success, and the replenishment of the player-development system, Stanton would have a chance to win here … and likely win big. How much does that matter to him? We may find out.
13. Then again, how much does winning matter to the Cardinals? I think it matters — a lot — but if they take a pass on Stanton because of the money, questions will be raised.