The Dodgers Should Pursue Giancarlo Stanton

The Giants want to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. So do the Cardinals. Both teams have reportedly agreed to the “framework” of deals with the Marlins, meaning that if Stanton waived his no-trade clause, a deal could be completed to either team in short order. But as of this point, Giancarlo Stanton is still a Marlin, and the prevailing line of thought is that he’s stalling for time, hoping that his hometown Dodgers decide to get in on the action.

Certainly, Stanton would make the Dodgers better. He produced more WAR by himself (+6.9) than the team got from their entire outfieldCody Bellinger and Chris Taylor racked up a good chunk of their WAR while playing the infield — and would certainly represent an upgrade over some kind of Joc Pederson/Kiké Hernandez platoon that the team is currently slated to run out in left field. By keeping him away from the Giants, they wouldn’t have to subject their left-handed rotation to facing him 19 times a year. And they’d again be the clear favorites to win the NL West, and probably the NL pennant as well.

But to this point, it doesn’t seem like the Dodgers have gotten involved in a serious way. While things could always change, LA currently seems somewhat content with the possibility of Stanton joining their arch-rivals, preferring to continue their plan of spreading their payroll around rather than concentrating their spending on a few top-tier players. But in looking at their situation, I think there’s actually a case to be made for the Dodgers to swoop in and take Stanton for themselves.

It’s impossible to talk about Stanton without looking forward to next year’s free agent class. A number of teams that may have otherwise been in on Stanton this winter are likely saving their cash in anticipation of a big spending spree next winter, when Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, and a host of others make up maybe the best free agent class in baseball history. The Dodgers will almost certainly want to retain Kershaw, but may also want to bid on Harper — Machado and Donaldson are tougher fits with Justin Turner and Corey Seager around — and taking Stanton’s contract now would probably force the team to choose between Kershaw and Harper next winter, rather than potentially landing both.

So for LA, this isn’t as much a calculation of how much better Stanton makes them this year, as it is a calculation of how potential value they might be surrendering by limiting their free agent options next year. The Dodgers’ cost to acquire Stanton isn’t just the money they’d have to pay Stanton and whatever luxury tax payments came along with taking most of his deal; it’s the opportunity cost of maybe not signing Harper next year, or having to let Kershaw walk if they decide they really do want Harper anyway.

But if Stanton really does want to go to LA this winter, and is willing to use his no-trade clause to make that happen, it’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where taking Stanton’s deal is a better use of funds than chasing Harper anyway.

By any reasonable estimate, Harper is going cost more than $400 million to sign, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he ends up north of $500 million. The top-end AAV for recent free agents has been pushing $35 million per year, and Harper is both better and younger than the guys who got those salaries. He’s going to crack $40 million a year in salary; the only question is how many guaranteed years he gets. 10 feels like the bare minimum, with 12 or 13 more likely, and 14 or 15 not entirely out of the question if he’ll take a discount on on the AAV.

Because the luxury tax calculations are based on AAV, there’s an incentive in place for teams to go with longer deals, essentially deferring money to unproductive out years, in order to reduce the tax they’ll pay on these monster deals. So I wouldn’t be shocked if someone offered Harper 15 years in order to get him below $40 million in AAV, especially if it was a team like LA that was pushing up against the surtax thresholds. Remember that, in the new CBA, repeat offenders that go $40 million over the CBT threshold pay almost a dollar for dollar tax on those overages and their top draft pick gets moved down 10 spots. For teams in the Dodgers position, AAV is almost as important as the total guarantee.

Just taking Stanton’s remaining contract would add a $29.5 million AAV to the Dodgers’ CBT calculation, but if he exercises his leverage and says it’s LA or he stays in Miami, it’s possible that the Dodgers could strike a deal where the Marlins keep enough of the contract on their books to get Stanton’s part of the Dodgers calculation under $25 million. And Harper isn’t going to sign for anywhere near $25 million per year.

According to Cots, the Dodgers current CBT commitments for 2019 stand at around $101 million, but that doesn’t include any money for arbitration-eligibles or pre-arb big leaguers, who will cost the team about $35 million in 2018. So if we assume the team will spend similarly in arbitration next winter, they’d slot in at around $135 million based on current expenditures. That does include Kershaw’s $30 million, though, which he’ll likely opt-out of, and if the Dodgers want to re-sign him, he’s almost certainly going to push his AAV up over $40 million too.

So a 2019 Dodgers team with Kershaw back in the fold stands at roughly $145 million in CBT commitments, and that’s without re-signing any of their other players who will reach free agency next winter, including Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Logan Forsythe, each of whom are probably regulars on the 2018 squad. Even if they’re not bringing those guys back specifically, their absence would create enough holes on the roster that the team will need money to allocate to fill some of those voids. And thus, it’s basically impossible to imagine a scenario where they could land Stanton now, keep Kershaw, and still chase Harper.

But if you take Stanton at around $25 million per year, there’s still plenty of room to bring back Kershaw at $40 million per year and still fill out the rest of the roster with high-level players. And while Harper is a better long-term bet than Stanton — he’s three years younger and doesn’t rely as much on pure brutalization of the baseball, which seems like a young man’s skill — the short-term differences might not be that dramatic. And for the next few years, Stanton at $25 million per year could be a better value than Harper at $40 million per year.

Stanton’s opt-out limits his long-term value, of course, as the only way the Dodgers retain the contract past 2020 is if he gets hurt or regresses heavily. But with a team relying heavily on Rich Hill in the rotation, Justin Turner to be an offensive star, and Kenley Jansen to be an elite reliever, weighing short-term rewards more heavily than long-term payoffs seems perfectly reasonable.

And, of course, there’s the primary difference between the two: Stanton helps this year, when the team can be pretty sure they’re going to be World Series contenders again. Keeping the money available for Harper in 2019 means that the team would have to bet on lesser players in the last year they definitely have Kershaw. And deferring value into the future might not be the best plan for a team with this many win-now pieces.

If I was Andrew Friedman, I wouldn’t offer to take the whole contract or give up significant high-end pieces to land Stanton. But if I could get the Marlins to keep $45 million of the post-opt-out money on their books and take Joc Pederson as the primary piece going back to Miami, then making a deal for Stanton might be a better plan than chasing Harper next winter.

We hoped you liked reading The Dodgers Should Pursue Giancarlo Stanton by Dave Cameron!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I was just thinking this. You just lost the World Series in game seven. You’re returning most of your team, and most of them aren’t that old. Left field is only one of two lineup spots that you can realistically improve (2nd base is the other).

I don’t really agree that time is running out because of age (they are probably top contenders even if Rich Hill is hurt), except in the sense that this team is probably the top world series contender in the NL and you might as well strike while the iron is hot.

Just do it.

Johnny Dickshot
Member
Johnny Dickshot

The fact that the Dodgers made it to Game 7 and are returning (essentially) the same team this year is exactly the reason for them not to make this trade.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I’m puzzled by this comment. They’re “only” projected to be a 93 win team. Last year, the Cubs were projected for a better record IIRC, and were only projected to have a 16% chance to win the World Series before the season started. Maybe I’m not remembering correctly, but I do not believe that they’re locks to get back to the World Series where they can just try again.

Johnny Dickshot
Member
Johnny Dickshot

No team is a lock for the WS, and trading for Stanton likewise won’t make it a lock. There is little marginal benefit for the Dodgers given the costs of trading for (and paying) Stanton.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Of course it won’t make it a lock, but if you’re prospectively estimating the ability of any one player to make a huge dent in the likelihood of making the world series it’s not going to look good for any team. Moreover, it makes more sense to spend when you’re close than when you’re in the middle of the pack…unless there’s something out there that I’m not considering.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

@sadtrombone – but for a team that’s already projected to win its division by 8 games, and has a pretty good amount of injury depth to cover downside to that projection, is the money for Stanton really a better investment than, for example, spending roughly the same $25 million AAV on one of Brandon Morrow or Addison Reed, one of Mike Minor or Bryan Shaw, and one of Joe Smith or Anthony Swarzak? With, of course, a lesser long-term commitment for those players.

Stanton is probably more of a regular season WAR upgrade than those three relievers even over the 2-3 WAR platoon that the Dodgers would use in the OF instead of Stanton, and I’m aware that reliever volatility is always a concern. If the Dodgers are really focused on post-season success, however, I can see a good argument for wanting the relievers just as much or more than Stanton.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Okay, I’ll take that logic. I still think it’s worth it to get a guy who will *get* you the division, because those projections have huge error bars, and because Stanton is such a huge amount of value at one position (usually more valuable to concentrate value in one roster spot).

But at least now I understand a bit on the other side.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Agree 100%. The dodgers lost the world series because of two horrendous bullpen meltdowns.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

I don’t agree. The dodgers are clearly good enough to maybe win the world series even if they don’t sign stanton, but on the other hand they won’t guarantee winning the world series even if they do sign him. There’s a bigger need for a team which is farther from the top (and i’m not thinking of the giants, they wouldn’t be a serious competitor even if they signed stanton).

The Real McNulty
Member
The Real McNulty

Weren’t the Dodgers projected to have a better record last year, and people went crazy for it being higher than the Cubs?

bawfuls
Member
bawfuls

Yes, they were projected to be something like 10 games better than the Cubs and many many people thought that was laughable. Then they managed to make 104 wins look like a disappointment.

The Ghost of Johnny Dickshot
Member
Member
The Ghost of Johnny Dickshot

You’re making me look bad.

ThomServo
Member
ThomServo

If the price of Josh Donaldson is really just a Matt Carpenter/Jedd Gyorko type package- why not just acquire Donaldson for a similar price? The Dodgers could easily top that price without reducing their 40-man roster by much. Bellinger can play OF just as well as Stanton, Turner could man 1st or push a 2B over.

There simply is no need for a front office as smart as LA to risk an albatross contract- as Dave has written, a 5+ WAR player like Donaldson is likely available for far less. Archer is another player with a projection comparable to Stanton (5.1 streamer, Archer at 4.7) that fits much better with the LA front office MO- and Los Angeles would match up very well as a trade partner for TB.

A recent look at what sort of veterans LA has pursued under Friedman- Hill, Wood, Turner, etc., shows exactly why their they would rather repeat an efficiency drive approach than assume huge risk.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

Three answers to that:

– I think that you’re overstating just how cheap a Matt Carpenter / Jedd Gyorko trade package is. Steamer projects them to combine for 4.8 fWAR in 2018 – they combined for 5.4 fWAR in 2017 – while making a combined total of $22.5 million. Their total combined salaries are $27.5 million in 2019, and then team options for a combined total of $31.5 million in 2020. So there’s value there: two average or above starting position players making less than they would in free agency. I’m not sure what the equivalent package would be from the Dodgers. Instead trading prospects, or worse but cheaper MLB players, doesn’t really fit Dave’s framework of taking the Blue Jays at their word that they intend to try to compete in 2018.

– It’s not clear that the Blue Jays would accept such a proposed trade package for Donaldson.

– Donaldson is a rental who the Dodgers would have only for 2018, which is why a proposed trade package for him looks light compared to his talent level. However exactly the Dodgers made a trade work, they’d undoubtedly be selling several combined years of control of useful players for 1 year of Donaldson. To that second point, it’s been abundantly clear that the Dodgers value depth and are happy to try to get value out of imperfect players by platooning them.

ThomServo
Member
ThomServo

The Dodgers could easily put together a comparable package – they have one of the best 25-through-40 roster depth in the MLB, ditto for their guys pushing to get onto the 40man.

Carpenter (32) and Gyorko (29) make $15m with 4 years of combined cost control (plus 2 yr in options) for 4.8 WAR by Stearmer600.

Andrew Toles (25) and Joc Peterson (25) project for 4.7 WAR and make the minimum, with 8 years of cost control.
Logan Forsyth (31) and Mitchell White (22) project for 4.2 WAR, make $9.5m and have 7 years of cost control. Enrique Hernandez (26) and Julio Urias project for 3.9 WAR, make the minimum and have 7 years of cost control. None are likely to start or play key roles for the Dodgers in 2018. And that’s without getting to players like Austin Barnes (28) and Brandon Mccarthy (34) who project for 4.4 WAR, make $12.5m and have 4 years of cost control (plus 1 year option)- not to mention LA’s excellent prospects.

I take your point that Carpenter and Gyorko are valuable, but if LA wanted to beat that price point it wouldn’t really be tricky. And before anyone notes that none of the combinations I put forward project for more than 4.8 WAR, that’s intentional – pairing Urias and Joc for example projects to 5.7- which might be a bit steep for one year of Donaldson, but wouldn’t cut into LA’s projected key players.

LA has so many options and so many different types of currency, they will probably only spend big in a market that, to them, is a buyers market- IMO Stanton’s downside risk makes it unlikely they will view him as available on buyer-market terms even if he leverages his no trade clause to make a cheap trade possible.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

Going through some of these names:

– there’s no way that the Dodgers would trade Austin Barnes for a rental, even one as good as Donaldson

– Urias had shoulder surgery in June 2017 from which the recovery time is 12-14 months. He’s out most if not all of 2018.
https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2017/06/julio-urias-to-undergo-shoulder-surgery.html

– Mitchell White is a minor league pitcher with 28 innings in AA. Maybe he gets a cup of coffee in a call-up at the end of 2018. He’s a prospect.

– Andrew Toles is coming back from a torn ACL.

– Enrique Hernandez is a useful player, but he’s also shown massive career platoon splits that make him appear to be best suited to being the short-side of a platoon.

– Pederson and Forsythe look to be the most useful MLB players on your list for 2018. I’d be willing to bet on Pederson hitting his projection for 2018, but he was also bad enough for part of 2017 that he was sent to AAA. It’s easy to see some teams taking a negative view of him. Forsythe is a free agent after 2018, which sort of defeats the point of Dave’s idea that the Blue Jays lower their projection some in 2018 – but still have a legitimate chance to compete – while also adding multiple players who help them out in 2019 and possibly 2020.

FWIW, I think the Gyorko + Carpenter for Donaldson is a trade idea that both the Cardinals and the Blue Jays would dislike for various reasons.

To your last point: I’ve yet to see any indications that Donaldson is a buyer’s market. The Blue Jays, if we take their public statements at face value, seem quite content to hold onto him and try to make the playoffs in 2018. If they’re out of contention before the trade deadline, that view could obviously change, but that’s not the market for trying to acquire Donaldson right now (and it might not ever be, if the Blue Jays win enough games in 2018).

Mark Davidson
Member
Member

Justin Turner would like to say hi