With trade rumors swirling around (likely) NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton as the GM Meetings continue, I decided to consult expert of all things Miami sports Aram Leighton. His phenomenal work can be found at the USA TODAY website Dolphins Wire as well as Fish Stripes, SB Nation's blog dedicated to the Marlins. I would also recommend giving him a follow on Twitter @AramLeighton8.
VEB: To an "outsider" like me, how would you describe the state of the Marlins franchise with the new ownership group taking over?
AL: One word: uncertain. Fans are nervous. They've endured several fire-sales in the last decade that have made fans lose a lot of trust with ownership. Sure, Jeter and Sherman come in and it is a new look, but at the end of the day they are scrapping and starting over. Not to say that rebuilding–or "restructuring" as Jeter calls it–isn't the right move, but fans have seen countless fire-sales and little to show for them. Also, nobody wants to see their favorite players traded and the Marlins have a lot of likable personalities in Stanton, [Dee] Gordon, [Marcell] Ozuna, [and Christian] Yelich.
VEB: Do you think the Marlins will hop on the “tanking bandwagon” and take the same path as the past two World Series champions?
AL: It is time for the Marlins to hit the "reset" button because what they've attempted to move forward with has simply not worked out, especially when you lose a generational talent in Jose Fernandez. It really isn't possible to build through free agency anymore with the magnitude of contracts these days.
VEB: The Marlins don’t have a great track record of trading star players for financial reasons. (See: Cabrera, Miguel) Does that concern you as a fan?
AL: I actually wrote a piece for Fish Stripes about a year back on the five worst trades in Marlins history, Cabrera being number one, of course. It really was amazing to see the response from fans. Generally speaking, fans are definitely nervous, but it is also worth noting that there are completely different people in charge that will be evaluating talent. While the past definitely looms in the back of fans' minds, I still think there's a level of optimism that Jeter and his crew can turn things around and fans are excited to see what he can do.
VEB: How do you think the Marlins will balance looking to dump salary with getting back a quality return haul? Obviously, the more money they keep in a trade, the more they will receive in terms of prospects.
AL: I think the narrative that Stanton's contract will limit the return is overblown. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will command upwards of $350-400 million contracts and even guys like J.D. Martinez will push close to the $150-175 million range. I still think it is going to take a top prospect to get Stanton while eating a majority of the salary. When you look at guys like [Martin] Prado and possibly [Wei-Yin] Chen, it would make sense that the Marlins package one of them with Yelich or Ozuna, which would obviously limit the prospect return, but it is the only way to get those contracts off of the books.
VEB: Give me the pulse of the Marlins’ fanbase. How do you think fans will react to what seems like an inevitable teardown and rebuild?
AL: That's the tough part because like I said fans are just sick and tired of their favorite players being traded. But the fact that Derek Jeter is in the front office gives fans a little bit of hope for the future. I think fans will obviously be upset; in fact a Stanton trade could do some fans in for good, but for those who really know the game of baseball and follow prospects, I think the Marlins could net a return of young talent that could make fans excited for the future.
VEB: In Giancarlo Stanton we’re talking about arguably the greatest player in Marlins history. I know the Heat saw LeBron James and Dwyane Wade leave over the past few years, but what impact would Stanton’s departure have on the local community?
AL: It's really tough because Dwyane Wade was the face of not only the Heat for so long but also Miami sports. I mean, they even called Dade County "Wade County". It could be argued that Jose Fernandez was just as big of a figure for the city of Miami, especially with his Cuban ties and the huge Cuban population in Miami. He was a cultural hero. In fact, attendance was up nearly 20% every time he pitched. It seemed like fans really latched onto Stanton following the loss of Jose and having Stanton on the big stage with the All-Star Game and Home-Run Derby this season definitely strengthened that. [Losing Stanton] will be a brutal blow to a base that hasn't been able to become attached to really any player without the expense of a broken heart. But I do feel like a lot of fans understand it is a necessary evil to move forward as a franchise.
VEB: By Opening Day 2018, what do you hope the Marlins accomplish?
AL: I just hope they execute their plan in terms of roster moves before the start of the season. I would hate to see the trade rumors regarding some of the Marlins' young stars carry into the season because it's exhausting for the players, of course, and even the fans. It would be nice to see what the Marlins have and move forward with that, whether it be a bunch of young talent or the corps the team has now, the former being more likely.
Note: Any italicized text reflects my internal thought process as we simulated Giancarlo Stanton trade negotiations.
VEB: Let’s get to the fun part. Pretend you’re the Marlins front office and I’m the Cardinals. What are you thinking going into our mock trade negotiations?
AL: We need an arm, so if I'm not getting [Jack] Flaherty or [Alex] Reyes I may have to look elsewhere. That's the baseline for sure.
Not to read too much into his initial offer, but Aram not even mentioning Luke Weaver makes it appear that he would prefer the Marlins target higher-ceiling prospects rather than higher floor, surer bets.
VEB: While I wouldn't call Reyes untouchable, it would take Miami adding another core player and/or taking on a huge portion of Stanton's salary to make that move happen. Flaherty, on the hand, is definitely available.
AL: Even after Tommy John? Flaherty struggled at the MLB level in a small sample size. What was your assessment?
VEB: I personally wouldn't place too much stock in five starts no matter who it is we're talking about. The projections...love his upside and see him as having the second-highest ceiling of anybody in the Cardinals' system (behind Reyes, of course). The Cardinals have a surplus of outfielders that they need to consolidate. [Stephen] Piscotty, [Randal] Grichuk, [Harrison] Bader, and [Tyler] O'Neill are all available too.
AL: Flaherty would be a great base. You guys are also said to be interested in [Brad] Ziegler, who was good in the second half after a slow start, so I would expect him to be involved in the deal too. I think with Grichuk you know what you're getting. He's pretty close to what he's going to be. The Marlins could definitely use an outfielder in return, but do you think they would consider trading [Aledmys] Diaz? The Marlins need a shortstop.
Continuing with the theme of higher-risk, higher-reward acquisitions, Aram is clearly intrigued by the prospect of resurrecting peak Aledmys Diaz. Personally, Diaz's awful contact quality metrics significantly concern me going forward.
VEB: I could definitely see Diaz in play.
AL: How high are you guys on Bader? If Diaz is in play, would that limit "the fish" to Piscotty or Grichuk to fill the outfield spot? I'd expect one of the two to be thrown in. The Marlins really do not have any in-house replacements.
VEB: Bader can fly...[but] the plate discipline isn't great. I will also say that Piscotty is valued higher by the Cardinals than Grichuk.
AL: I would agree with that for sure. I think a fair offer that helps both sides would be Flaherty, Diaz, and Grichuk for Stanton, Ziegler, and some money.
Only one prospect and two players coming off rough seasons for Stanton and Ziegler. Doesn't that seem like a fairly light return on Aram's end? Granted, I still need to negotiate the cash considerations because there is no way I am paying Stanton the full $295 million remaining on his contract.
VEB: How much money are we talking? I'll agree to backload the money so if Stanton opts out you guys don't owe us anything.
AL: Stanton's contract inflates to $32 million for three consecutive seasons but stays at $29 million in 2021, 2022, 2026 and 2027. I think $29 million per season is fair for him in today's market. From 2023-2025, he is making over $32 million, which I think for those three seasons making the average $29 million would be fair. So add about $10 million to the deal.
Oh gosh. This is going to be an uphill battle. Miami isn't even retaining 4% of his money! Using the 2018 Steamer projections, a self-created average aging curve, the current price for one WAR on the open market at various positions (i.e. relief pitchers cost more per win than the average player), a 5.9% annual inflation rate, and an 8% annual discount for future value (after all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush), we can calculate the net present surplus value (NPSV) for the Marlins and Cardinals in this hypothetical trade.
Cardinals/Marlins Projected Trade Value (in millions)
Surprisingly, the projections see Stanton racking up enough value early on in his megadeal to easily counterbalance a negative NPSV in every year from his age-34 season onward. I should provide the disclaimer that these types of projection models are not gospel. They do, however, serve as functional snapshots of potential transactions.
VEB: What if I took Martin Prado off your hands? That gives you an additional $28.5 million, but I want 3/4 of that money back later on to help cover Giancarlo's salary if he opts in. That would take the Marlins payroll all the way down to $84 million and if Giancarlo doesn't finish his contract, you just got rid of Martin Prado and his contract for free.
Allow me to explain this incredibly convoluted proposal. One of the things the Marlins will be looking to do this offseason is to shed salary, with the target being a 2018 payroll around if not below $90 million. If Stanton opts out after 2020 (a rather unlikely scenario), it means the Cardinals got incredible production from him far exceeding their expectations for the trade while the Marlins liberated themselves from one of their most straining financial burdens in Prado. If not and Stanton plays out the remainder of the deal, the Marlins still free up money to begin their rebuild now while only having to ever pay a fraction of it back, especially when accounting for inflation. A dollar in 2017 will have noticeably more buying power than a dollar in 2027. Besides, my NPSV model actually has Prado at slightly above a positive $9 million valuation.
AL: I like the creativity, but the Marlins ownership has been said to want no outstanding debts, rather to cut cost and call it a day. Not sure how that would go over with the higher-ups.
VEB: How about we call it at this: Flaherty+Grichuk+Diaz for Ziegler+Stanton+as much money as you think the Marlins would physically be willing to offer. (Aram later told me that "I wouldn't expect [the Marlins] to eat much more than $30 million.")
AL: Thats honestly what I think the deal would be. I like that for both ends.
VEB: The Cardinals get (at least I personally think) the NL MVP and a reliever at roughly market value. Meanwhile, the Marlins gets a pitcher who immediately becomes their top prospect in addition to a shortstop just one year removed from being an All-Star and a power-hitting outfielder in Grichuk.
AL: Exactly. Great for both ends and the Marlins get MLB talent.
VEB: Hypothetically, where do you think the Marlins would go from here?
AL: So you take your first step in fixing your rotation and find a shortstop that could potentially be your longterm starter. [I am] still not sure how I feel about Diaz, but he's a good fit for Miami and an upgrade. As far as Grichuk, he's serviceable but I think he'd be temporary. I think Dee [Gordon] is next to go, then Yelich packaged with Prado maybe. Cleans a lot of salary, brings in some prospects, and maybe the Marlins will be able to hold onto Ozuna after those moves. It would put them near their desired payroll.
VEB: I don't know about you, but this was so much more fun than I was expecting. This was a really interesting thought exercise.
AL: Yeah, for sure. I had a great time. It's cool to bounce ideas off of people who cover other teams just as passionately.
I cannot thank Aram enough for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with me.
What are your thoughts on this mock trade?
This poll is closed
The Cardinals got the better deal
The Marlins got the better deal
The trade was fair for both sides