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Assessing the Cardinals competition for Giancarlo Stanton

A lot of teams would love to have a bat like Stanton. How likely are the non-St. Louis options

MLB: Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

We know the Cardinals are going after Giancarlo Stanton. They probably aren’t the only ones. Jon Heyman mentioned the Phillies and Giants and Jon Morosi mentioned those teams as well as the Red Sox. Any team could use Stanton, but not all of them are as good of a fit and fill a need like Stanton would for the Cardinals.

The Phillies definitely appear to be still in the rebuilding phase. With the talent they have on hand, they would probably win just over 70 games. Adding Giancarlo Stanton would get them to 75 wins, still not really a viable contender. Of course, Adding Stanton’s contract only puts the Phillies payroll at about $72 million, about 100 million less than what it was five years ago when they were contending.

If the Phillies decided they wanted to accelerate the rebuild, they wouldn’t have to stop at Stanton. They could add Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb for under $50 million and add another five wins. Spend another $25 million on a couple bullpen arms and add a few more wins and that puts the team above .500 with a payroll around $150 million. If J.P. Crawford’s second half in the minors was for real and he’s back being one of the top prospects in baseball, and Rhys Hoskins hits his projections, all of a sudden the Phillies are contenders.

Could the Phillies sell Stanton on all of that? Are they willing to go big in free agency before their young core is really ready to compete? Those are some tough questions, but I’m not sure we can completely dismiss the Phillies just because they look like a 90-loss team as presently constructed. Their payroll commitments are so low and their financial wherewithal is so great that the team could make a huge leap in one season if they wanted to. Just signing Jake Arrieta and some other decent free agent isn’t going to do much for them, but Stanton-plus could get them into contention.

The Giants are pretty much in the opposite situation of the Phillies. Their current core is on the downside and expensive, but Stanton could get them a year or two more with the current set of players. Cots Contracts estimates that the Giants went just over the competitive balance tax in 2017. They also went over in 2015 and 2016 which means they are taxed at a 50% rate. That doesn’t mean much for 2017 as paying an extra million dollars isn’t that big of a deal.

Paying a 50% tax rate in 2018 if they add Stanton would result in a pretty large pay hike for the Giants. Right now, Cot’s has the Giants sitting less than $10 million under the luxury tax. Adding Stanton’s $25 million means a 50% tax on $15 million of his salary, making the Giants pay around $33 million next season to bring in Stanton instead of $25 million. If the Giants did get under the tax last season, that amount would be less.

San Francisco could trade some salary away, but the players they could trade away—like Brandon Belt or Jeff Samardzija—would end up negating the benefit they would receive by adding Stanton. The team has a black hole at third base and the outfield, making a pursuit of Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas or Todd Frazier perhaps a wiser use of their money, or if they are going to go big, J.D. Martinez might also be a fit. A Cain/Frazier combo might cost the same as Stanton with less of a long-term commitment and the same upgrade on the field.

Even those moves aren’t going to make the Giants favorites for a playoff spot. Projections have them only a few games above the Phillies right now. The Giants are on the west coast like Stanton seems to prefer, but the Giants outlook in 2018 isn’t great, and it looks worse in future seasons. Given the expense, Stanton would be an all-in for a team that has other, cheaper alternatives to make themselves better. If they want to spend, they can, but it won’t be easy.

The Red Sox went under the tax last year and should have no problems exceeding it this year, but that still means a 20% tax on Stanton’s contract plus an extra 12% on the amount. That means an extra $6 million for Stanton when they already have one of the best rightfielders in baseball plus two other taken outfield spots and a full-time designated hitter in Hanley Ramirez. They could move an outfielder, presumably Jackie Bradley, Jr., But that lessens the impact of adding Stanton by removing a good player. The team has a black hole at first base that they tried to fill with Mitch Moreland last season because they were going under the cap. Stanton isn’t the best fit on that team or with the payroll given their hole at first base. Carlos Santana or Eric Hosmer could make close to the same impact as Stanton for a fraction of the cost.

As for the rest of the teams:

We know the Yankees are going under the tax amount next year, and adding Stanton—even without considering they already have a powerful right fielder of their own—basically puts them over the cap considering they also need a starting pitcher and a designated hitter.

The Angels probably seem out after signing Justin Upton. They need a second or third baseman and pitching help, but could trade Kole Calhoun to make room for Stanton if they really wanted.

The Rangers have three young outfielders plus Shin-Soo Choo. They have the resources and a few improvements could put them in contention, but they desperately need pitching help.

The Dodgers print money, but with taxes, Stanton’s contract is going to cost $40 million in 2018 on a team that already has a good rightfielder, two other competent outfielders, and doesn’t really need Stanton to win the division. He would also put the team close to going $40 million over the cap where the team’s top draft choice drops by ten spots, adding another cost to his acquisition.

Any mystery teams? The Astros are like the Phillies, except they are already great. They could easily afford Stanton and have no problem making room for him in the outfield. The Mariners are in win-now mode, and they could make a splash if they wanted to. They would vault from fringe contenders to contenders pretty quickly and Nelson Cruz’s contract expires after 2018 with Felix Hernandez’s off the books after 2019, lessening some of the financial blow. Then there’s the Cubs, who need starting pitching more than they need a hitter, but they have a ton of money and got the last rightfielder the Cardinals were trying to get to St. Louis for a long time.

Until Stanton gets traded, this is going to be the story that dominates the Cardinals offseason. Stanton, the baggage his contract comes with, and the prospects necessary to land him lead to a lot of variables in coming to a deal. Other teams and Stanton’s no-trade contract further complicate matters. This is far from a done deal, but it should make for an exciting winter.