As a team, the New York Yankees led the majors in home runs last year. As a player, Giancarlo Stanton did the same. He’ll fit in quite nicely with his new ballclub.
The Yankees and Marlins agreed to a stunner of a trade Saturday, and if Stanton, who has a full no-trade clause, approves the deal, he will become the newest Bronx Bomber. New York is reportedly sending second baseman Starlin Castro back to Miami along with two non-top-tier prospects, low-A righthander Jorge Guzman (the Yankees’ ninth-best prospect, per MLB.com) and Jose Devers (who’s not in the top 30), while Miami will chip in $30 million to help cover Stanton’s future salary. The deal marked the culmination of a dizzying turn of events: Between Thursday night and Saturday morning, the reigning National League MVP wielded his no-trade clause to scuttle potential deals with the Cardinals and Giants, informed the Marlins that he would accept a trade only to the four playoff semifinalists from last season, and became the centerpiece of the most intriguing baseball move since, well, Shohei Ohtani announced he was signing with the Angels just one day prior.
From a pure baseball perspective, Stanton—the only reigning MVP besides Alex Rodriguez to be traded in the last century—makes a New York roster that finished just a game short of the World Series last season all the more talented. Only the Astros’ lineup scored more runs or had a better batting line last year than the Yankees’, which averaged 5.3 runs per game and ran a cumulative 108 wRC+. And New York’s newest player just exceeded a 1.000 OPS and crushed 59 home runs, becoming only the sixth player in history whose home-run peak climbed so high. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle are the only teammates in MLB history ever to hit 50 homers in the same season, and Stanton and new teammate Aaron Judge will have a shot to match that feat in 2018.
Stanton enjoyed his best season in 2017 by riding the juiced-ball wave and improving his own approach at the plate. Most power hitters—Judge included—exchange extra chances at home runs for extra strikeouts. Swing for the fences, and either reach them or whiff entirely. But Stanton managed to combine a career high in isolated power with a career low in strikeout rate in 2017, transforming himself from a hitter who struck out 30 percent of the time to one who was barely worse than league average in that category.
Obscured by Stanton’s immense homer totals is the fact that he’s also an all-around contributor. Since 2014, he’s been rated one of the five best defensive right fielders in the majors; he’s shown he has the plate discipline to take a walk; and he’s established himself as not a bad runner on the basepaths. He ranked third among position players last year by both Baseball-Reference’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR, trailing only José Altuve and Judge (he also tied Anthony Rendon for third in the latter). In Baseball Prospectus’s version, he led the majors.
Stanton’s placement in an already potent lineup doesn’t produce diminishing returns, but rather compounds to add even more opportunities for the Yankees’ best bats. As FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron explained when the Blue Jays traded for Troy Tulowitzki in 2015, “In a good line-up, the whole really is greater than the sum of the individual parts, because good hitters create more opportunities for other good hitters to turn their production into runs. And because players tend to hit better with men on base than the bases empty, a good hitter can have a positive impact on his teammates’ performances as well.”
What makes this trade particularly tasty for the sport, though—and what makes it particularly terrifying for fans of the other 29 teams—is how it impacts New York beyond a pure baseball perspective. Specifically, it means that Stanton will team with Judge to place two colossi in the Yankee lineup. Standing next to each other, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Stanton and 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge will make the McGwire-Canseco “Bash Brothers” photo shoot look like it occurred at a Little League game.
At 6-2, 230, and 6-4, 220, respectively, catcher Gary Sánchez and first baseman Greg Bird will somehow look like Ronald Torreyes next to their titanic teammates; the actual Torreyes might just disappear. The Knicks could surround Kristaps Porzingis with the new heart of the Yankees’ order and probably earn a top-four seed in the East.
Returning to more practical matters, on the surface, Miami’s return feels awfully light for a half-decent regular, let alone a reigning MVP and the best player in franchise history. But Stanton’s contract is so immense that the Yankees didn’t have to surrender much talent in exchange for relieving his salary from the desperate new Marlins ownership. He’s owed $77 million over the next three years, and if he doesn’t opt out after 2020, he’ll make at least an additional $218 million over the subsequent seven or eight seasons, the exact length depending on a 2028 club option. The $30 million Miami is reportedly including in the trade will apply only if Stanton doesn’t opt out, though it helps the Yankees immediately for luxury-tax purposes by effectively spreading out evenly over the length of his contract.
Stanton has already played the first three seasons of the extension he signed in 2014, and the remaining money on his contract would, by itself, still represent the most expensive deal for any player in league history. (At least for now—as free agents next winter, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will likely sign deals that will sail by Stanton’s contract.)
Add in the extra layer of uncertainty posed by the opt-out clause—if he’s productive enough to exercise it, his team would want to keep him; if he’s injured or plays poorly enough to decline the option, his team wouldn’t want to keep paying him at that rate—and it’s easy to see why so few teams entered serious trade discussions with the Marlins. As good as he is, Stanton has little, if any, surplus value on his deal, and baseball’s richest teams want to retain financial flexibility for next winter’s free-agent bonanza. With the Yankees committing to Stanton for what could be a decade that includes his age-36 and -37 seasons, they will have that much less money to offer Harper a deal for a decade that includes his age-26 and -27 seasons—though this might not be a complete either-or situation. A Yankees pursuit of a top free agent next winter might still be possible, though Stanton obviates their potential—and need—to sign more than one.
Before Friday, the Yankees seemed to be veering toward conservation this winter, but then Stanton declined pitches from St. Louis and San Francisco, and new Marlins CEO Derek Jeter lost all negotiating leverage. As the New York Post’s Joel Sherman wrote Friday, “The Yankees are essentially the Accidental Suitors. They were not pursuing outfielders or righty power. … Stanton was the star the Yankees couldn’t resist because of the prices.”
The falling prospect price may have made assuming Stanton’s contract palatable, but the Yankees are also assuming various risks. The salary structure confers plenty of potential downside; it’s unclear how a player like Stanton will age; taking on most of his contract could compromise their 2018 free-agent efforts; and Stanton has a history of health issues.
The last two times he was healthy enough to play 130 games, he led the NL in home runs and slugging percentage each year and finished second and first in MVP voting. The health qualifier is a real concern, though, as those two are the only seasons since 2011 in which Stanton didn’t spend time on the disabled list. His injuries have been sufficiently fluky—the most recent whoppers, which ended his 2014 and 2015 seasons, came via a pitch that hit Stanton’s face and an otherwise normal swing that broke his wrist—that there’s a path in which the Yankees’ new star doesn’t get hurt, but it’s not a given, either.
So New York unexpectedly pounced on Stanton, and the greatest slugger in the sport will find a comfortable new home in the Yankee Stadium bandbox and move from the malaise of Marlins Park to the clubhouse of a contender. Not only has Stanton, who’s spent his entire career in Miami, never reached the playoffs, he’s also never even played for a team with a winning record. Meanwhile, the Yankees haven’t finished below .500 since Stanton was 3 years old.
And if the Yankees’ run to the ALCS last year felt reminiscent of their prospect-fueled, mid-’90s breakout, Saturday’s acquisition recalls other eras of recent franchise history. The Yankees are acting like the Yankees of old, adding an expensive star not because they particularly need his skillset or position, but because they can. They have the money and the allure and the personnel to welcome a giant (sorry, not the capital-G kind) like Stanton as family, so why not slot a reigning MVP into the lineup?