How seriously are the Cubs pursuing Giancarlo Stanton? Would the Marlins really trade him before next season?
Those could turn into the most intriguing questions of the next month for Chicago baseball. Because if the Marlins are to deal Stanton – and why wouldn’t they, at this point? – there are few teams positioned as well to land him as the one run by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote Sunday that the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Orioles have joined the Cubs in exploring Stanton’s availability. But of those teams, only Baltimore has a young stud position player under a long-term contract and, unlike Starlin Castro, Adam Jones has no-trade protection in the six-year, $85.5-million deal he signed last May.
Castro agreed to a seven-year, $60 million deal without no-trade protection. That means he could be a relatively affordable piece for the Marlins to build around who is under their control through 2020. They could find that attractive when comparing him to an unhappy Stanton.
What about the relative value of Stanton and Castro?
Stanton, who is under control only until he hits free agency after 2016, has established himself as the game’s best young power hitter and is only five months older than Castro, the game’s top young shortstop.
Both Stanton and Castro arrived in the big leagues during the 2010 season. Castro has played more games – establishing himself as extremely durable – and piled up 529 hits and a career .297 average. Stanton is a .270 hitter but has 93 home runs in 373 games, demonstrating the power to hit 40 homers a year, if not 50. He led the National League with a .608 slugging percentage this year, and has a career OPS of .903, compared to Castro’s .761.
Some question whether Castro will remain at shortstop, as he’s error prone and at times shows a tendency to be an airhead. But Bill James says he saved the Cubs three runs last year, a total that ranked him between Cliff Pennington and Erick Aybar, who are both considered more than adequate defensively. The athletic Stanton is considered an asset in right field, saving the Marlins 10 runs last year, according to the James metric.
While Castro has averaged 24 stolen bases in his two full seasons, he led the NL with 13 caught stealing last year. James’ metrics rank Stanton as a better baserunner but clearly the upside there is on Castro’s side.
Could the Cubs pull off a Stanton trade? I think they could, if they offered the Marlins their choice of Castro or future superstar shortstop Javier Baez, who is probably two years away from the big leagues.
While I love Castro, you couldn’t blink if the Cubs moved him to get Stanton and a package including Yunel Escobar, who would supplant Junior Lake as the most likely place-holder for Baez. Escobar might be persona non grata at Wrigley Field because of the gay slur he stupidly wore on his face last season, but images always can be rehabbed. If his can’t be, then he could be cut loose as he’s owed only $5 million through next year (with club options for 2014 and ’15).
There’s been talk about Stanton bringing a “Herschel Walker’’ package if the Marlins do trade him. The problem with that theory is teams rarely trade their young assets. When I look around the majors, I don’t see many proven players under 25 who you can argue are part of a positional surplus. Because of Baez and the Cubs' rebuilding plans, it works with Castro, which is why I think they bear watching closely if the Marlins are ready to make their Stanton trade.
They’re going to make one. We know it, and they know it. The only question is when.
Whether it happens at the winter meetings next week or in the middle of the season, the quiet talks between the Cubs and Marlins could become blaring headlines. A package headed by Castro and Dan Vogelbach and including another two or three prospects – say Brett Jackson, center fielder Jae-Hoon Ha and shortstop Arismendy Alcantara – could be better than anyone else is offering.
While Stanton won’t help the Cubs contend in 2013 and maybe not ’14, for him they become the team he hoped the Marlins would be – one committed toward surrounding him with a winning nucleus when he’s in the prime of his career. And they can afford to offer him a long-term contract immediately.
When you think about it, it’s easy to picture the marriage.
How awesome would it be to have both Rizzo and Stanton back-to-back in the order for years to come!