Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is at the center of a bevy of trade rumors, as you may or may not have heard. And while the Los Angeles native seems to have particular interest in joining the defending National League champion Dodgers, two teams have submitted offers to the Marlins which are apparently good enough for them—the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.
But Giancarlo Stanton has a no-trade clause, and he ultimately has control over where he will spend the next three to ten years of his career. And although Stanton may be biding his time until the Dodgers trim their budget to fit his contract without incurring a massive luxury tax penalty (or until they decide to just take the penalty), between the Giants and Cardinals, it appears that Stanton is leaning towards the Giants.
On the surface, it seems absurd that Giancarlo Stanton, whose primary motivation for leaving Miami is tied directly with the fact that the Marlins are trying to trade him—that the Marlins are trying to shed payroll and rebuild rather than gear up for a postseason run, would prefer to join the Giants than the Cardinals. While the Cardinals had a mildly disappointing 2017, winning a lowest-since-2007 83 games, the Giants were an utter catastrophe, winning just 64 games but missing out on the #1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft because Pablo Sandoval, who was a -1.4 WAR player in 279 plate appearances in 2017, hit a walk-off home run on the final day of the season. It was that kind of year for the Giants.
The Cardinals had as much of an advantage in 2017 wins over the Giants as the Cleveland Indians, the second-best team in baseball, had over the Cardinals. But this is just one measurement for evaluating whether or not to join a team.
Baseball analysis has a tendency to take a team-centric lean, I suspect because most baseball fans prioritize rooting for their favorite teams rather than their favorite players. Even those of us who on general principle like when players have no-trade clauses because it grants them more power find ourselves annoyed when players exercise a right that they totally deserve to have because it inhibits our ability to be armchair general managers.
So for once in my selfish, selfish life, I’m going to consider the perspective of Giancarlo Stanton, a man I have never met and probably never will meet, rather than my own desire to live in a video game. From Giancarlo Stanton’s perspective, are the Giants or Cardinals a better landing spot? There are several factors to consider.
Giancarlo Stanton has the largest contract in Major League Baseball history, and he will still have the largest contract in Major League Baseball history whether he is traded or not. Call it the Alex Rodriguez precedent: when the then-Texas Rangers then-shortstop was being discussed in trade negotiations with the Boston Red Sox, Rodriguez agreed to take a salary cut to play for the Red Sox, but the Major League Baseball Players Association vetoed such a move—a player would have to receive something in return for forgoing salary.
His salary in St. Louis would be the same as his salary in San Francisco, but he would keep more of the salary if he played for the Cardinals. Taxation for Major League Baseball players is complicated and involves paying taxes in every state (or province) in which a player plays, but the simple answer is that the highest tax rate in California, the state in which a San Francisco Giant will play the majority of his games (home games plus road games against two division opponents, plus potential interleague games against two more teams), is 13.3%, while the highest tax rate in Missouri is 6%.
Seemingly, this would be a huge advantage for the Cardinals, but Stanton currently plays in Florida, which does not collect a state income tax. Stanton stands to lose quite a bit of money by moving to a California team—ESPN’s Buster Olney cites numbers from agents suggesting that it could be in the $25 million to $27.5 million range over the next decade—but he would also be losing many millions in net income by coming to St. Louis. Stanton may have more marketing opportunities playing in a larger media market in San Francisco, but he is already a nationally-marketed star playing for a team with the NL’s worst attendance last year. Anyway, I have an accounting degree and even I find this boring, so let’s move on to baseball things. Slight advantage: Cardinals.
Role on team
Needless to say, Stanton is going to start for either team. He represents a larger upgrade for the Giants, whose current right fielder, Hunter Pence, will be nearly 35 by Opening Day 2018 and was barely above replacement level in 2017, putting together career-worsts in on-base percentage (.315) and slugging percentage (.385) while having his worst defensive season since 2012. Stanton can improve the Giants more dramatically than the Cardinals because of how much better he is than the Giants’ incumbent. Slight advantage: Giants.
I only include this because it is apparently a big deal in Shohei Ohtani’s unique free agency. The Cardinals have a good stadium—no major structural issues, it’s in a central location, it has the gorgeous visual of the Gateway Arch in center field. It’s not an especially unique design for a stadium but it’s fine. But AT&T Park is one of baseball’s most highly regarded pieces of architecture. Slight advantage: Giants.
Quality of team
As referenced before, the 2017 Giants were a disaster, but they are a bounce-back candidate. The core of the 2016 Giants team which made the postseason remains intact and in addition to reliable superstar catcher Buster Posey, the Giants could see gains in particular from its rotation, whose ace Madison Bumgarner missed three months of 2017 recovering from a dirt bike accident. Starter Johnny Cueto battled blisters throughout the season while Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore were the 2nd and 3rd unluckiest pitchers in baseball by ERA-FIP differential.
The Giants are getting older, and their farm system is not very strong (and it could be further depleted if a Stanton trade comes to fruition), though these very real long-term concerns may never come into play for Stanton if he opts out of his contract in 2020. It could make it harder for the Giants to lure high-end talent in the coming years, but this may not be necessary if players like Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt regain All Star-caliber form. And if the Giants sign Shohei Ohtani, this will further solidify the franchise.
To be clear, the Cardinals are still the better team and have a better chance to make the postseason, particularly given that the NL Central is not as strong as the NL West, which includes three 2017 playoff teams. It’s just not nearly as big of a blowout as 2017 records might suggest. Slight advantage: Cardinals.
Cardinals fans loved to tout the history of the franchise, but the Giants aren’t exactly lacking in this area themselves. The Giants have won more games than any other franchise in baseball history, and they have won a record 23 National League pennants (the Cardinals have 19). The Cardinals have an edge in World Series titles, with 11, while the Giants have eight.
Of course, most of these accomplishments came before Stanton was born—since November 8, 1989 (all of these accomplishments also apply to “since 1996”, which I’m estimating as the first year Stanton had any real sense of Major League Baseball, as I’m less than a year older than him and this was my first year paying attention), the Giants have won five division titles, appeared in the postseason eight times, won four NL pennants, and won three World Series titles. The Cardinals have won ten division titles, appeared in the postseason thirteen times, won four NL pennants, and won two World Series titles. The Cardinals have an edge on appearances; the Giants have an edge on rings. Push.
If you’re keeping score, I have the score at two categories for the Cardinals, two categories for the Giants, and one which is a push. The edges held by one team are relatively small edges. These are two ultra-successful franchises with rich histories, rabid fan bases, and generally great circumstances surrounding them.
If I were picking between these two franchises, I would rather play for the Cardinals. Is this a reasonable pick? Yes—the Cardinals are a great organization. Is this a biased pick based on the fact that I grew up in St. Louis and have been a Cardinals fan my entire life? Absolutely, it is.
The Cardinals, in the last couple decades, acquired several prominent players whose personal comfort seemingly aligned with the Cardinals. Mark McGwire, a California resident for the first 33 years of his life, was convinced to sign an extension with the St. Louis Cardinals following a 1997 trade from the Oakland Athletics thanks in large part to the presence of his long-time manager Tony LaRussa. The Cardinals acquired Scott Rolen (from Indiana) and Matt Holliday (from Oklahoma) at trade deadlines as well, and were able to convince the Middle Americans to stick around on long-term extensions.
But it’s not as though the franchise is only beholden to guys from John Mellencamp songs to fill out its roster. The three biggest free agent signings the Cardinals have had in the last two off-seasons have come from metro San Diego (Mike Leake), metro Atlanta (Dexter Fowler), and the suburbs of Washington D.C. (Brett Cecil).
If Giancarlo Stanton indeed feels more comfortable living in San Francisco, there is realistically nothing that the Cardinals can do to change that. My natural Midwestern insecurity lends itself to trying to sense rejection or indictment in that sentiment, but just as I’m a lifelong Missourian whose dream would be playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and being a big fish in a somewhat large but not enormous pond, Stanton’s seems to be starring for a historic franchise on the coast where he was born and raised.
Ultimately, personal comfort is going to be what sways Giancarlo Stanton one direction or another. And only he can decide what situation will make him happiest. And if Stanton winds up in San Francisco, or Los Angeles for that matter, we shouldn’t take it personally.