After more than a month on the sidelines recovering from an injured right hamstring, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton finally began a minor-league rehab assignment this week. Barring a setback, that puts him on track to rejoin the team in the next several days. And when he does, the Marlins will have added much more than simply their starting right fielder. They will have regained potentially the most valuable trading chip in the game, at least among those players with a realistic chance to be moved this year.
It’s not at all hard to see why other teams would covet Stanton so much. He’ll play the entirety of this season at just 23 years of age, and he needs only four more home runs to become the 21st player in big league history to hit 100 homers through their age-23 season. With a big second half, he could conceivably get himself into the top 10 of that list, which is littered with inner-circle greats like Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. In the entire history of baseball (minimum 1,500 plate appearances), there’s exactly nine men with a higher isolated power mark than Stanton’s .276, and there again you’ll find the names of all-time elites like Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and Babe Ruth.
On most teams, Stanton’s combination of production, youth and team control — he will only be arbitration-eligible for the first time next season and can’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season — would make him an absolute untouchable. But of course the Marlins are not most teams, and as one of the few survivors of last winter’s teardown, Stanton made his unhappiness towards the club clear. So as Stanton returns and (presumably) begins to mash again for the worst team in baseball, the trade winds around him will only continue to increase.
Nearly every team in baseball will show some interest. The price, understandably, will be massive. But for as great and rare a player as Stanton is, there’s a small but growing worry: for interested teams, the best Stanton move might be the one that isn’t made at all.
On the field, there’s little not to like about Stanton. But it’s the term “on the field” that’s key here. So far, he has been absent for 40 of Miami’s first 60 games of the season; since the start of the 2011 season through Thursday, Stanton has missed 93 games, and that figure doesn’t even count the weeks at a time of spring training that he’s been sidelined for as well.
Rather than one large injury robbing him of a chunk of time, Stanton keeps missing games because of various smaller problems. In 2011, he missed nearly a month of spring training with a right quadriceps strain, then missed 11 games during the season with aches to his hamstring and toe. Last year, he again missed much of camp due to soreness in his left knee. After being sidelined for a full month of the summer thanks to right knee surgery, he came back in time to sit out again in September with a right oblique strain.
Even this year, the hamstring hasn’t been his only concern; he missed a week of games in April thanks to a sore left shoulder, then had his hamstring rehab slowed in late May by soreness in both knees when he began to jog. That’s a considerable list of injuries for someone so young, and it’s especially concerning because of the types of problems we’re seeing. Stanton hasn’t been dealing with freak occurrences like broken bones or on-field collisions; he’s almost entirely been dealing with strains, pulls and pains. Continued injuries to knees and hamstrings can quickly become chronic woes, and health is rarely a skill that usually improves with age. We’ve already seen the impact his spring training and early-season woes can have on his performance; somewhat shockingly, he has never hit a homer before April 21, and his initial long balls the last two years have come on April 29 and 27 respectively.
While no one questions Stanton’s toughness, the concern is that he is an extremely large man in a sport that is often unfriendly to those of his size. Stanton is listed on the Major League Baseball website as being 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, and only two players have ever met each of those specifications while sticking around long enough to collect as many plate appearances as Stanton already has — Adam Dunn and Frank Howard. In fact, only one other hitter that large has ever collected as many as a mere 300 career plate appearances aside from that trio, and that’s Kyle Blanks of the San Diego Padres. Blanks is just 26 but has seen his once-promising career almost ruined by multiple trips to the disabled list, including 2010 and 2012 seasons nearly lost entirely to injury (he has yet to play in more than 55 games in a season). Though Dunn and Howard were prolific sluggers who played into their 30s, the fact that they stand as the only two ever other than Stanton to make a career out of being that large isn’t exactly a promising sign.
The amount of injuries that have already slowed Stanton should raise a significant red flag for those teams looking to acquire him. But even that won’t stop the interest. After all, how nice would Stanton look in Texas, replacing the struggling David Murphy on a team that already has a loaded roster? Or in Chicago, joining with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to form the offensive core of the next great Cubs team? Or in Seattle, which has plenty of young pitching but can’t seem to ever develop power from within? Due to Stanton’s age and time remaining before free agency, his market is unique in that it won’t be limited only to those teams looking to win in 2013.
That means that the Marlins can essentially name their price, and that’s where some of the biggest prospect names in baseball are going to come into play. It’s difficult, for example, to imagine the Rangers acquiring Stanton without giving up Jurickson Profar and probably more. You might say the same about the Pirates and Gerrit Cole, or the Mariners and Taijuan Walker. To pry loose a player who has already accomplished as much as Stanton has at such a young age, teams can expect to empty their farm systems.
In this new age of teams locking up top young players long before they reach free agency, Stanton’s availability on the market — assuming that either he won’t want to remain in Miami or that the Marlins won’t be able to afford him, which are each equally likely — is a rarity. That’s going to put the Marlins in a very enviable position should they choose to shop Stanton around, and some team is going to give up a huge ransom for him. But for as wonderful a player as Stanton can be when healthy, it’s the teams that don’t trade for him that might end up happiest.
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