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Giancarlo Stanton Has Finally Become the Most Frightening Hitter in Baseball

After he cleared waivers Sunday, can the Marlins afford to trade their star outfielder right as he rounds into his final form? The better question might be: Can they afford to keep him?

Miami Marlin Giancarlo Stanton pointing toward the sky with both hands Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Through Tuesday’s action, The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton had hit home runs in his past six games, eight of his past nine, and 10 of his past 12. Despite a six-game homerless streak before that, and never homering more than twice in a single game, TMGS has left the yard 23 times in his past 35 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two people have ever hit more.

The Marlins have played 118 games so far, in which TMGS leads the major leagues with 44 home runs. Extrapolated over 162 games, that pace would put him at 60 home runs by season’s end—a mark that only five hitters have reached in MLB history, and none since 2001. Even 50 home runs, which seems like a lock with six weeks left in the season, is a frontier that’s been breached only 43 times in MLB history, and only twice in the past decade.

The reason I’ve been calling him “The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton” in print for the past five years is that when we first laid eyes on Stanton, his size was overwhelming and otherworldly.

This is the 20-year-old then known as Mike Stanton not only standing on first base and looking Ryan Howard in the eye, but getting there because he flew down the line to beat out an infield single. We’re not disturbed by that sight nowadays, because Kris Bryant and Aaron Judge have shown that big guys can run, and Carlos Correa and Mike Trout have shown us that they can even play up-the-middle positions, but back in 2010 Stanton looked like a Brontosaurus driving a motorcycle.

Stanton hit 22 home runs in 396 PA as a rookie. He became the seventh player age 20 or younger to post a .240 ISO in 300 or more PA. The others: Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, and Frank Robinson—four of the greatest hitters of all time; and two players who were on track to make the Hall of Fame with room to spare if not for injuries—Tony Conigliaro, who did it twice, and Bob Horner.

Even so, Stanton didn’t receive a single National League Rookie of the Year vote. TMGS had the misfortune of debuting during a great year for NL rookies: Buster Posey took home the award with a .305/.357/.505 line from behind the plate, and Jaime García posted a 143 ERA+ in 28 starts. In MLB history, only 10 first-year players age 20 or younger qualified for the batting title with an OBP of .340 or higher: five of them went on to become Hall of Famers (Williams, Robinson, Arky Vaughan, Willie Mays, and Orlando Cepeda), and two of the remaining five (Jason Heyward and Starlin Castro) got their first MLB action in the National League in 2010.

The day TMGS started his home run binge, July 5, the Edmonton Oilers signed Connor McDavid to an eight-year, $100 million contract extension. That deal doesn’t break the NHL record for total value, held by Alexander Ovechkin and his nearly decade-old 13-year, $124 million deal, but it does make McDavid the highest-paid player in league history on an annual basis.

Later that week, the Houston Rockets extended James Harden’s deal through the 2022-23 season, taking his future guaranteed money to six years and $228 million, the richest contract in terms of total value in NBA history.

Put McDavid’s contract and Harden’s contract together, and you’ll end up with $328 million over 14 total years of control, almost exactly the same length and value as the 13-year, $325 million deal TMGS signed with Miami before the 2015 season.

Since the deal was in part an arbitration buyout and the early salaries were scaled toward arbitration payouts, it’s heavily backloaded. Through three seasons TMGS will have seen only $30 million total. Assuming he doesn’t opt out of the deal after 2020, as is his right, TMGS’s salary will rise gradually until it peaks at $32 million in 2023, 2024, and 2025.

That contract allowed TMGS to slip through waivers unclaimed Sunday, leading to speculation that he could be on the move, either before the August 31 playoff-eligibility deadline or this offseason. The Marlins, who have not traditionally run up big payrolls for long periods of time and are in the process of being sold, have a .500ish team and one of the worst farm systems in recent memory. Trading their best player could offer payroll flexibility and an influx of young talent.

The Marlins moved from multipurpose Sun Life Stadium (now called Hard Rock Stadium) to an eponymous retractable-roof facility in 2012. That same year, the team changed its name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins and swapped out the black-and-teal look in which it had won two World Series for a set of uniforms that went heavy on orange. Stanton himself changed his nom de guerre—after years of going by “Mike,” he announced that he’d prefer to be called by his first name, Giancarlo.

Heading into 2012, Miami had a core of homegrown players that included TMGS along with Hanley Ramírez, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and Logan Morrison. To inaugurate the new park, the famously miserly Jeffrey Loria regime shelled out in free agency for pitchers Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, as well as shortstop José Reyes. They traded for veteran pitcher Carlos Zambrano. It was a gesture of goodwill to the fans and the city who’d financed the park and a shrewd baseball move, timed well to capitalize on a wide-open NL East: The Nationals of today were still on the rise, and the Mets’ young pitching factory was still years off. Meanwhile, the Phillies and Braves, who’d combined to win 16 of the past 17 division titles, were on the decline.

The new-look Marlins lost 93 games and lasted one season. By Thanksgiving, Reyes, Bell, Sanchez, Buehrle, and Ramírez had all been traded, much to the displeasure of TMGS.

The replies to Stanton’s Twitter outburst were mostly from fans of other teams—plus a couple of big leaguers—with one message: “If you’re not happy in Miami, you should come play here.”

The most distinctive feature of Marlins Park is a sculpture beyond the center-field fence that lights up and sprays water whenever a Marlin hits a home run.

Many modern parks have some sort of movable art installation that goes off when the home team hits a home run, but the Miami “home run feature” (or “dinger machine,” depending on who you ask) is the gaudiest. TMGS has triggered it 103 times since the park opened, more than twice as many as second-place Marcell Ozuna, and more than any combination of three of his teammates. That was the idea; TMGS was 22 when the Marlins moved, and he was already the team’s best power hitter. He was supposed to be to the dinger machine what Barry Bonds was to “Splash Hits” at SBC Park in San Francisco. The dinger machine was, if not explicitly then practically, an altar to Stanton’s might.

The team’s new ownership group, bankrolled by Florida billionaire Bruce Sherman and fronted by Yankees legend Derek Jeter, reportedly plans to dismantle the dinger machine.

TMGS made his first All-Star team in 2012 and led the majors in slugging percentage. Two years later he finished second in MVP voting when he hit .288/.395/.555 and led the NL in home runs (37), total bases, SLG, and intentional walks. Those are the only two years in which TMGS has played in 130 games, as over the course of eight big league seasons he’s dealt with injuries to his knee, abdominal muscles, hamstring, groin, hand, and face. Horner’s career was derailed in large part by injuries to pretty much every part of his body below the neck, Conigliaro’s by a pitch to the face. Stanton’s had both, and the first player on his Baseball-Reference similarity score list is Conigliaro.

Since Stanton’s been injured in so many different places, rather than experiencing one chronic ailment like Ryan Zimmerman’s busted shoulder, and since his injuries have frequently been contact-based, it’s tough to tell if he’s injury prone or just unlucky. Perhaps the biggest factor allowing TMGS to put up a career season has been health. He’s missed only two games this year, and while a hit-by-pitch two months ago brought back bad memories of a previous season-ending plunking, TMGS returned to pinch hit the next day and start the day after that.

It’s shocking that TMGS set a new career high in home runs in the second week of August, but while the gross total is uncharted territory for the 27-year-old, the pace isn’t. TMGS is hitting home runs in 8.8 percent of his plate appearances this year, through 495 PA. In 2015, he hit home runs in 8.5 percent of his 318 PA. In 2012, he homered in 7.4 percent of his 501 plate appearances. The rate isn’t that shocking, based on TMGS’s history, but his durability this season has been.

That injury history only exacerbates the danger of TMGS becoming A Contract. He has at least 10 years and $295 million left on his deal if he doesn’t opt out, and time tends not to be kind to players his size as they play through their 30s.

When TMGS is healthy, he’s well worth $29 million a year, particularly for a team that’s willing to shell out something more than a bare-bones payroll. What makes this situation even more complicated is that the Marlins, a team with six winning seasons in 25 years, followed both of their World Series victories with fire sales. With all of the other big names gone, TMGS is the face of the franchise, already by far the team’s WAR leader at age 27. While dumping his salary might make financial or even baseball sense, it would reaffirm this franchise’s reputation for being nothing but a gleeful, nihilistic race to the bottom—never more so than in the wake of the best few months of TMGS’s career. It would be a clear signal to the league, the city, and the fans that behind Derek Jeter’s smiling face lurks the same nefarious business approach as the previous regime’s.

At the All-Star break, TMGS was tied for third in home runs in MLB and tied for 24th in both wRC+ and fWAR. Out of 166 qualified position players, plus a couple of hundred more bench players and taxi-squad guys, that’s a very, very good hitter—an All-Star by anyone’s standard.

But it’s not special. The combination of size, strength, feel to hit, and athleticism that made him Baseball America’s no. 3 prospect heading into 2010 was no longer unique. TMGS is what you’d get if you put Reggie Jackson in Rob Gronkowski’s body, and now every power hitter is like that—Bryant, Judge, Joey Gallo, Miguel Sanó—and the news only gets worse. With the juiced ball, the swing-plane revolution, and a couple of transcendent young talents in Mike Trout and Bryce Harper who, in Joey Votto’s words, “fucked that up for everybody,” TMGS wasn’t playing like the most expensive player in American team sports.

Since the break, TMGS has hit 18 home runs (first by six). Over that same span, as of Tuesday afternoon he had a 210 wRC+ (first in MLB) and an .849 SLG (first by more than 100 points), and he was tied for second in fWAR out of 181 qualifiers. As if the numbers are the selling point for TMGS, and not this:

… which over the past month has become expected the way you’d expect a Bruce Springsteen concert to feature a rendition of “Born to Run.” This is the final form we wanted that 20-year-old man-child to take so many years ago. Maybe the coldly rational thing to do is to move on while his value is highest, but that assumes a business-focused and frankly joyless worldview. Whoever’s running the Marlins this offseason shouldn’t find it easy to trade Stanton, not only because of the potential harm to the team’s image, but because it’s hard to take trade calls with your jaw on the floor.