Making a Stanton-to-LA Trade Work

In the next few days, it’s expected that Giancarlo Stanton will decide whether he’s going to waive his no-trade clause to join the San Francisco Giants or, less likely, the St. Louis Cardinals. Those are the two teams that have struck deals with the Marlins, and both made their pitch to him in person last week. Stanton has appeared to be holding out hope that the Dodgers would get into the mix, though to this point, no public reports have suggested they’ve seriously engaged the Marlins in discussions.

The Dodgers’ reticence likely has to do with their CBT tax position. Acquiring Stanton would put them over the tax threshold again, and, as I laid out in my argument for why the Dodgers should be interested, acquiring Stanton would probably force the team to choose between re-signing Clayton Kershaw or making a big run at Bryce Harper in free agency next winter. And according to Ken Rosenthal, the Marlins aren’t interested in taking back any current payroll in a Stanton deal, as they try to trim their 2018 player expenses to under $90 million.

But despite the Marlins’ apparent tunnel vision here, there still might be a way for both sides to get what they’re looking for, and it’s one of Friedman’s go-to moves: the three-way trade.

Since Friedman and Farhan Zaidi took over the Dodgers front office, they’ve made several of these multi-team deals, including the trade that brought Alex Wood (with ATL and MIA), while also facilitating the trade of Todd Frazier to the White Sox, inserting themselves as a conduit in the deal in order to swap out some prospects for other minor league guys they liked better. When there isn’t an exact fit between two clubs, this Dodgers front office has shown willingness to bring in a third party to make the deal work.

And since the Dodgers would probably want to free up some space under the luxury tax this year in order to acquire Stanton, but if the Marlins won’t take on short-term payroll, a third team could be quite useful here. And that facilitator could probably get themselves a pretty decent talent in exchange for helping the Dodgers clear some CBT money for Stanton.

For instance, let’s take the Rockies. They’ve made it known they are looking for a catcher, and Jeff Bridich acknowledged at least an awareness of Yasmani Grandal’s availability. Grandal would be a nice fit in Colorado, giving them a significant upgrade over the worst projected catching tandem in baseball without requiring a multi-year commitment, in case they still believe long-term in Tony Wolters or Tom Murphy.

The Dodgers probably aren’t going to be inclined to send Grandal to a divisional opponent unless it helps them accomplish something else, so if the Rockies wanted to make a move, getting in the middle of a Stanton trade could be the carrot that incentivizes Friedman to make an intra-division trade. And the Rockies have the financial flexibility to let the Dodgers land Stanton while keeping their current CBT calculations pretty close to even.

For instance, let’s say the Rockies offered to take $15 million of the $22 million Adrian Gonzalez is owed in the last year of his contract, along with Grandal and underrated lefty reliever Luis Avilan. As a groundball-and-strikeout guy who doesn’t rely heavily on a breaking ball, Avilan fits the mold of the type of reliever the Rockies have targeted the last few years, and with just a projected arbitration award of $2.3 million, he’s significantly cheaper than signing another free agent to replace Jake McGee.

Grandal and Avilan project to make about $10 million in arbitration this winter, so along with taking on Gonzalez’s money, the Rockies would add $25 million in 2018 commitments. They’d also control Avilan’s rights in 2019, since he’s got another arbitration year after this year. Gonzalez might not have much left, but if there’s a place for him to show he’s got some life left in his bat in his free agent year, it’s Coors Field, and the chance to play at altitude might very well convince him waive his 10-5 rights.

For $25 million, getting Grandal, Avilan, and a flyer on a veteran 1B who doesn’t block Ryan McMahon (if he proves ready) or Ian Desmond (if he comes back to life) without giving up any real talent would probably be a better use of resources than giving lesser free agents multi-year deals. Or maybe the Rockies can figure out how to work Joc Pederson into the deal too, giving them another outfield bat who can help this year and serve as a potential replacement for Charlie Blackmon after next year.

The specific package isn’t as important as the concept. The Dodgers have a bunch of decent arbitration-eligible players who might not have jobs in LA next year but could be significant upgrades for the Rockies. The Rockies have money to spend, but usually have to overpay to land pitching, and going the trade route gives them the ability to avoid the multi-year deals that historically haven’t worked out for them. And in return for picking up some useful players without long-term commitments, the Rockies could take most of Gonzalez’s contract, letting the Dodgers acquire Stanton without pushing way over the CBT threshold or surrendering a dramatic amount of minor league talent to the Marlins.

The Giants’ reported offer is for a few decent-but-not-spectacular prospects and SF would take about $250 million of the remaining $295 million. As Jeff noted, the Dodgers probably don’t have to match that offer to get the Marlins to say yes, since that’s where Stanton would immediately waive his no-trade clause to go. So maybe they ask the Marlins to pick up a little more of the post opt-out money in order to reduce Stanton’s AAV even further for CBT reasons, or they give slightly worse prospects, or some combination of both.

Either way, using some combination of guys like Grandal, Avilan, and Pederson to move most or all of Gonzalez’s contract could give the team the chance to add Stanton without taking on money this year, and getting Stanton’s effective CBT number below $25 million per year going forward. And they probably wouldn’t have to surrender huge parts of their farm system in order to make that kind of swap.

For the Rockies, yes, you’re helping Stanton go to the Dodgers, which isn’t ideal. But neither is Stanton going to the Giants, since that’s the NL West team they’re more likely to be actually battling for a playoff spot in the next few years. If the Rockies are going to have to face Stanton in their division either way, it’s probably more beneficial to put him on the team they’re less likely to catch, rather than letting the Giants get back in the Wild Card race.

The Marlins could probably come out ahead in all this by just simplifying the negotiation, offering to take some decently valuable arbitration eligible guys and Gonzalez’s contract themselves, then repackaging those decent young players from LA to move other deadweight salary — hello, Wei-Yin Chen — in order to get under their self-imposed payroll cap, but as of yet, we don’t have much evidence that the new ownership group is willing to make that kind of move. So, a team like the Rockies might be able to insert themselves into the mix, taking some value for themselves in order to facilitate the trade that Stanton seemingly wants to happen.

We hoped you liked reading Making a Stanton-to-LA Trade Work by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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