With a little over two weeks left before the nonwaiver trade deadline, it is time to explore yet another trade "rumor" involving the St. Louis Cardinals, this time involving Giancarlo Stanton. It likely should not be considered a true "trade rumor" (does that even make sense?), but with the following quotes from Jeff Passan (on The Morning After), it doesn't hurt to at least ponder the situation.
Passan on Cardinals' trade targets: "One (player) in particular ... I'd report if I had enough verification. It would be a big one."— Drew Silva (@drewsilv) July 15, 2014
Some people love Passan, and some people hate him. I completely understand that. However, one thing usually holds true: he knows a lot more about the inner-workings of MLB front offices than I do, so when he talks, I tend to at least give him a listen. As you can see, Passan spoke of "a big one" that he'd report "if [he] had enough verification."
Does this automatically imply Stanton? Not by any means, but he is clearly the biggest name that could theoretically be available (more on that in the next paragraph). As fourstick wrote, Adrian Beltre and Chase Utley may be available and could be good fits at a lower price. We heard from Aaron Finkel about the possibility of going after Cliff Lee. As we all know, the Cardinals have maintained interest in David Price, and secondarily, Ben Zobrist, for quite some time now. What about Jon Lester or Cole Hamels? These are all big names, but none of them really compare to the magnitude of Stanton, not even Price.
What will Stanton cost?
For what pieces the Cardinals would have to sacrifice to land Stanton, let's take a look at a pretty telling quote from the Deadspin article about he leaked internal trade talks of the Houston Astros:
The Miami Marlins seem to have been willing to trade Giancarlo Stanton for prospects Carlos Correa and George Springer. Granting that Correa is an absolute stud, that Springer has hit fabulously well since his callup earlier this year, and that they're under team control for years while Stanton is starting to get expensive, you still wonder if the Astros will end up kicking themselves over that one. Stanton has the 11th-highest isolated power in major league history for anyone with at least 1,000 at-bats, and is a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder as well; he's a generational talent, the kind you can't really overpay for. (Another way to look at this, of course, is that the embarrassing Marlins franchise was yet again willing to trade away an irreplaceable player so as to pocket some of its dole money.)
According to pre-season rankings by Baseball America, Carlos Correa and George Springer are the Astros' #1 and #2 prospects, respectively. Using this same process, the #1 and #2 prospects of the Cardinals are Oscar Taveras and Carlos Martinez. Thus, if the assumptions made in the leaked documents are correct, the Cardinals would have to trade Taveras, Martinez, and likely one or two more complementary pieces to land Stanton. These complementary pieces could, unfortunately, be as high as Stephen Piscotty (with Martinez graduating, he's currently the organization's #2 prospect) or they could be high-risk, high-reward prospects like Vaughn Bryan or Charlie Tilson. The leaked document also is relevant here because the Marlins have denied Stanton is available, but they also did so last fall, which turned out to be false. What is true is that they won't trade him unless they get blown away in an offer.
In my eyes, this trade comes down to whether or not the Cardinals will go "all in" for the "sure thing" or maintain organization-wide confidence in prospects with extremely bright futures. For as much as I rave about both Taveras and Martinez, neither one of them has had enough major league experience to prove just how good they can be. When it comes to baseball prospects, these two are the closest a team can get to having a "sure thing," but as Jason Parks reminds us over and over, "prospects will break your heart." I have very little doubt in my mind that they'll both get "there," but given the unpredictability of the game, I cannot say this with absolute certainty.
On the other hand, Stanton is already "there," and his first half of the 2014 season (154 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR at the break) has projection systems scrambling to recalculate his numbers down the road. Despite not turning 25 until later this year, he has already accumulated 17.2 fWAR (19.4 rWAR), highlighted by a ridiculous wRC+ of 141. Can Taveras become this type of major league hitter? Absolutely, but one could make the argument that Taveras' bat projects to be comparable to Stanton, with Giancarlo having more home run power and Oscar having a higher average, better contact rate.
According to the 2013 ZiPS projections, Taveras' top comp was Ken Griffey Jr (whoa!). In the 2014 ZiPS projections, undoubtedly affected by an injury-shortened season at Triple-A, Oscar's top comp was Shawn Green. For comprehensive discussion purposes, here are the most up-to-date comps for Stanton, via ZiPS:
Current top comps for Stanton - McGwire, Manny, Colavito, Killebrew, York, Powell, Jack Clark, Prince Fielder, Tartabull, McGriff— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) July 16, 2014
Will it happen?
Logically speaking, I must go with "very unlikely" here. This is a prime example of a "fantasy baseball trade," and predictably, these do not happen very often. Stanton does not become a free agent until after the 2016 season, leaving the Cardinals with roughly two and a half years of his services. As fourstick noted on Twitter, "nobody is going to give up that kind of cost-controlled talent for two years of anyone." Given the fact that neither Martinez nor Taveras hit free agency until 2020, the Cardinals would have to be pretty confident in their ability to lock up Stanton long-term.
Now, if GM Mozeliak can somehow work a trade with just one of these two prospects being the centerpiece, it all of a sudden becomes a whole lot more appealing. However, considering the Marlins do not need to trade Stanton and given the offer that was reportedly being kicked around by the Astros, I find it hard to believe that the Marlins would accept anything less than Taveras and Martinez. As a fan of the future of the Cardinals, this would be a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time, there is a chance it could be worth it.