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.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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4 years ago

I know the Rockies are difficult to predict (see: that wacko deal for Ian Desmond), but I don’t think they’re going to pay $27 million for one season of Grandal, a good lefty reliever, and the end of Adrian Gonzalez. This is an ownership team that doesn’t like to spend huge amounts.

I think if the Dodgers are going to dump Kazmir and/or Gonzalez on someone, it is going to be a big-market team like the Phillies who might be willing to buy one of their prospects.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Agreed. Rockies are not the ideal team to be the facilitator.

Johnny Dickshot
4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yup, the Phillies are a much better candidate to pull something like this off than the Rockies. And it would need to be a combination of short-term dead money (like Gonzalez) and much better long-term prospects (not a arb-eligible short-timers like Grandal or Avilan).

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Bill Giles and the guy screwing his sisters out of their inheritance
(Google: Anna Nupson ) do not pay for prospects.

Cleveland Spellcheck
4 years ago
Reply to  JimmieFoXX

It’s a flat out FELONY FRAUD!!!!!

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Rockies have slowly been creeping up the payroll ranks. And Bridich recently mentioned starting this season at around the same payroll as they ended last season (after taking on extra salary in mid season trades).

If they actually target a payroll of ~145-150 million…they have a lot of money coming off the books this year (Cargo and Reyes) so they are more than capable of making this deal.

4 years ago

Bridich also said that their top priorities this offseason were a veteran catcher and bullpen depth, with the next priority being a power bat that might see 1B. If he can get all of that accomplished with 27 million, I think he jumps all over it.

4 years ago
Reply to  thetoddfather

Throw in Toles and a pitcher like Oaks and I would think the Rockies would bite at this concept. With Verdugo on the cusp and Stanton added to the roster, Toles is very expendable.

Dave T
4 years ago
Reply to  TommyLasordid

Toles looks like a lot more than a throw-in. He does have the question mark of coming back from a torn ACL, but he’s a 25 year old minimum salary player who has been highly productive in his limited playing time in the majors.

Dave T
4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Don’t know if Gonzalez would agree to go to Philly. He has 10-5 rights to block any trade, and he’s a Southern California guy who reportedly lives with his family in the San Diego area (La Jolla).

If it’s truly just a salary dump, though, I suppose that issue could be solved with some sort of assurances (written or not) that the Phillies will release him after acquiring him.

Ryne Durenmember
4 years ago
Reply to  Dave T

Acquiring an aging (or aged) first baseman makes no sense for the Phillies.

Dave T
4 years ago
Reply to  Ryne Duren

The point isn’t to acquire him in order to play him. It’s to take the salary from the Dodgers as a way to “buy” a prospect who would come along with him. That’s why I say that the Phillies could just take Gonzalez and then release him almost immediately, meaning that they pay the $22 million that he’s due in 2018.

The Phillies have money to spend on their rebuild with their combination of high revenue and low payroll. This deal would make sense for them since teams are very limited in ways that they can acquire young talent for only money.

For the Dodgers, the goal would be to dump Gonzalez salary for luxury tax purposes in 2018. Cots currently shows them $8.5 million over the tax for 2018 before any free agent signings. If they got Stanton, dumping Gonzalez would keep them from pushing up against $40 million over the tax line, at which point the monetary penalties on incremental dollars get higher and their 1st round draft pick drops 10 spots.

If they don’t get Stanton, dumping Gonzalez’s money would provide the Dodgers with a path to stay under the tax line in 2018, especially if they also trade Grandal and the approximately $8 million that he’s expected to make in arbitration. They’re at a 50% luxury tax rate as a multiple payer, and dipping under for 1 year would reset their future luxury tax rates to 20% (year 1), 30% (year 2), and then 50% (year 3 or later). That could save the Dodgers a lot of money in later years if they move back up to well over the tax line in 2019 by re-signing Kershaw, signing free agent(s), and maybe extending young players such as Seager and Bellinger. Getting under the tax in 2018 also means that they’d lose fewer draft picks and less international bonus pool money for any free agents with QO’s who they sign after the 2018 season. The Yankees have said that they’re planning for one year under the luxury tax line in 2018 for just these reasons.