The Giants Need More Than Just Giancarlo Stanton

If the Giants weren’t 2017’s biggest disappointment, it’s only because the Mets lived their own waking nightmare. The Giants remain a popular product, but with popularity comes expectations, and the Giants have been garbage for a year and a half, in large part because the home-run spike seems to have passed them right by. Fast-forward to the present day, and the Giants find themselves in a situation of some urgency. They want to maintain their market share in the region, and they could stand to add some dingers. The Giants haven’t hit many dingers. They don’t want to spend another year in the basement.

It seems like the stars are aligning almost perfectly. When the Giants have needed help the most, there has become available a certain player, a certain dinger-hitter and league MVP, a lineup-changing colossus who’s rumored to want to play out west, around where he grew up. It’s no secret the Marlins are looking to trade Giancarlo Stanton, and it’s no surprise the Giants are deeply involved in the mix. Nothing has yet actually happened, but the two current favorites would have to be the Giants and the Cardinals. They’re the suitors who’ve been most aggressive.

And yet I’m not sold the Giants make such great sense. One can speculate only so much about a move that would be undoubtedly complicated, but the Giants don’t find themselves in an enviable position. Acquiring Stanton could be an awfully dangerous commitment.

I don’t want to approach this from just the normal, rational perspective. By which I mean, I don’t want to talk only about payroll and WAR. Fan sentiment is its own kind of rational, and it’s extremely rational for any team to want to add Giancarlo Stanton to the outfield. Stanton is one of, I don’t know, 10 or 20 players who could be a draw on their own. Stanton is one of those come-to-the-ballpark attractions, and if the Giants landed Stanton tomorrow, I imagine there would be a surge in season-ticket sales. The Cubs could improve their rotation by signing Alex Cobb, but if the Cubs signed Alex Cobb, there would mostly be a shrug. It’s fine. He’ll probably help. Cool. A team getting Stanton would be a team acquiring excitement. Baseball is entertainment, and Stanton is one of its premier entertainers. The 5-WAR version of Giancarlo Stanton makes more memories than the 5-WAR version of Jason Heyward.

The Giants have every reason to want Stanton. Most team would have every reason to want Stanton. And the Giants do want to improve, given that they’re not positioned so well for a rebuild. The trouble is in the particulars. Giancarlo Stanton is expensive, and the Giants don’t seem to be very good.

As a reminder, Stanton is due $295 million over the next 10 years. He has an opt-out clause after 2020. That is a humongous contract, but then, Stanton is a humongous player with humongous value. What is Stanton actually worth? As Ken Rosenthal noted in a column the other week, industry perception is that Stanton would sign for something similar were he a free agent today. In other words, while you could quibble a little bit on either side, Stanton has a value north of his contract of something like zero dollars. I’d say he’s a little better than that, just because he is a singular talent and there’s value in having him for yourself, but the surplus value is limited. And the contract is the reason why the Marlins want to move Stanton in the first place.

So as you already understand, the Marlins can probably move Stanton for big-time salary relief or for big-time prospects, but not both. Now look at this from the Giants’ side. The Giants, like every team, have some good prospects, but theirs isn’t considered a deep or strong farm. They’re also right up around the luxury-tax threshold, which they’d like to drop below. Just based on this little paragraph, the Giants might not be able to satisfy the Marlins’ requests. Not as much as another club, like, for example, the Cardinals. This could come down to how strongly Stanton wants to play in California.

The complications are still even bigger than that. None of us know how Stanton is going to age. He just had himself a heck of a season. Maybe he’s going to age gracefully. Maybe he’s not! We do know that, the way these things usually work, these mega-players provide most of their value up front. You want Stanton for the next three years; you don’t really want him for the last three years. We should consider, then, how the Giants are positioned. And there’s a quick way to do that. It’s far from perfect, and the picture is going to change as the offseason evolves, but let me show you a snapshot. Based on our team depth charts and the Steamer projection system, here is the current National League, by projected 2018 WAR, which correlates pretty strongly with wins.

The Giants, in yellow, show up in tenth place. They’re in fourth place in their own division. Of course, there are tiers, and they’re not that far from the Rockies or Phillies on either side, but the Giants are nowhere close to, say, the Dodgers. They’re also a good distance behind the Diamondbacks. Note that the Giants are two places lower than the Marlins, who are trying to shed. They have their own internal reasons for that, but this is just for some perspective.

Now let’s imagine a Stanton trade. I can’t sit here and guess the particulars, but let’s say the Giants get Stanton without subtracting much from the major-league roster. For this plot, I’ve just swapped the Marlins and Giants’ right-field projections.

Congratulations, Giants: you’re better! The trade moves them up to eighth place, just ahead of the Rockies. The Giants start to look like a legitimate wild-card contender, and, as we’ve known for a while, wild-card contenders are World Series contenders. But, eighth place. Five teams make the playoffs. One of them gets eliminated almost immediately. The Giants would still be behind the Diamondbacks. They’d still be well behind the Dodgers.

And they’d be more or less out of money. There would hardly be any way to further upgrade, unless ownership were content to blow past the luxury-tax threshold again. Which, hey, it’s possible — the Giants have been a revenue machine. Theirs is a popular brand. But getting Stanton might cause the Giants to have to shed elsewhere. Maybe that means they dump Brandon Belt. I’m not really sure. They’d be limited, is all. The Giants would be left with very little flexibility, a roughly .500 team hoping the other good or decent teams underachieve.

The farm system, again, isn’t so promising. It has its pieces, but you figure a Stanton move would leave it somewhat depleted. The Giants would have to include some prospects if they didn’t assume Stanton’s entire contract. With a weaker farm, the Giants would be left with fewer future reinforcements, and while Stanton is going to be 28 next year, and while the same goes for Madison Bumgarner, Belt will be 30. Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey will be 31. Johnny Cueto will be 32. Jeff Samardzija will be 33. It’s hard to believe the Giants are on an overall upward trajectory. If anything, 2019 might be even more of a challenge. Even with Stanton, the Giants’ core would be aging, and the system isn’t overflowing with the promise of nearer-term help.

It’s not entirely bleak. The Giants aren’t the Tigers; the 2016 Giants made the playoffs. It’s not as if the Giants should give up on getting better, and there is reason to hope for a considerable turnaround in the season ahead. The Giants are better than what they most recently showed. You could even argue they should just lean into this, assuming the future could be rough no matter what. Maybe you could say the Giants should try to get as good as they can right now. There would be some amount of sense to that. But it’s important to recognize where the Giants are, and where Stanton would leave them. Stanton would make them better, absolutely, but he would deplete the organization of some flexibility and talent. He would also leave the Giants still flawed, still maybe the third-best team in their own division, with all the other teams in the NL still just getting their offseasons started. What if the Giants took Giancarlo Stanton away from the Cardinals? What if the Cardinals then responded by getting Josh Donaldson? For the Giants, it would be maybe their one bullet. It probably wouldn’t solve every problem.

I imagine Stanton will get traded. I imagine he’d like to play out west. In that event, there’s a good chance he ends up in San Francisco. Some things, Stanton would make a hell of a lot better. Other things, he’d be powerless to fix.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

As a Dodger fan, I enjoyed this article enormously.

It is interesting how tough it is proving for the Marlins to move basically a market value superstar, though.

tramps like us
6 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

As a Giants fan, I enjoy deciding which World Championship cap to wear each day. Enormously.

6 years ago
Reply to  tramps like us

Each year … those caps will become increasingly more faded – just like your team

6 years ago
Reply to  rayincal1

those dodger hats from 1988 must be faded into nonexistence at this point

6 years ago
Reply to  tramps like us

Oh man… I’m concerned for you. I sure hope that the old wives tale of hats straining your hair follicles and causing your hair to fall out aren’t true!

tramps like us
6 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

LOL….thank you for your heartfelt concern. I like faded caps just fine, ray. Funny you mention it, bleu, but the snow on the mountain DOES seem to be melting. Of course, at 61, that’s not too shocking. Still, it did seem to accelerate beginning in 2010. And my concern for YOU is finding a tech who still remembers how to service VCR’s so you can watch your 1988 tapes. Whew, that’s gotta be tough these days. Happy Thanksgiving!

6 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

Off the field, it’s a tough spot for a new ownership group. If they just get salary relief and a few B prospects, then it’s just business as usual and you disenfranchise fans right off the bat with a move right out of the Loria playbook.

If you get prospects you can at least sell it as a move towards The Future, but then it better be a huge haul to move someone as exciting as stanton and there just aren’t many teams with that kind of farm system.

Baseball ops is hard enough, but adding in the marketing challenge that is baseball in southern FL and it’s a hard problem.

david k
6 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

Is it “tramps like us” or “Trumps like us”, because that part of the thread reads like a bunch of Trump tweets. This is something I’d expect to see on the Yahoo comments section, not in here.