Giancarlo Stanton isn’t only in the midst of a Most Valuable Player-type season. He is turning in one of the most valuable seasons in baseball history, one worth more than $100 million.
Only a handful of players are capable of nine-figure singles seasons, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with ability. In Stanton’s case, it is relative to his $325 million contract, the largest in American sports history, and how he not only rescued the Miami Marlins from caving under the weight of it but put them in a perfect position to profit off it.
Consider this: When the Marlins looked at dumping Stanton in the recent past, the reaction from teams was either a snortle, a straight-up no thanks or an enormous discount, something to the effect of 30 percent of the remaining 10 years and $295 million on Stanton’s deal in some combination of cash or bad contracts taken back. In other words, pay down about $90 million.
Now look at Stanton. With nearly a month left in the season, he has hit 52 home runs. He is striking out less than ever. He has stayed healthy all season. In valuing a player’s contract, it’s worth asking: If he were a free agent this offseason, what would he get on the open market? A 28-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, coming off a potential 60-homer season? Ten years at $295 million, odd as it may seem, sounds like a bargain. Especially with the prices Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are primed to fetch after the 2018 season.
So right there, Stanton’s 2017 has made the Marlins at least $90 million – a tangible, real $90 million, and not some theoretical Wins Above Replacement-based dollar value. What takes Stanton into nine figures is that theoretical value, because if he is traded this offseason – and the Marlins, in need of a rebuild, really do need to take advantage of this unique opportunity to rid Stanton’s contract – not only will the acquiring team take on the full financial responsibility but it will be expected to send substantive prospect capital back to the Marlins. Maybe not one of the best prospects in baseball, but the Marlins have every right to go for top 50- or 100-type players – guys whose future values are projected in the eight-figure range.
One of those and a couple more a tier below, and this season is worth well over $100 million. If Stanton’s trade market heats up – at least a half-dozen teams can afford him, and if Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter, the new Marlins owners, agree to take back a bad deal for a better prospect haul despite the team’s fiscal woes, the pool of potential teams expands significantly – then that number could jump to $125 million, maybe more.
The idea of slotting …
1. Giancarlo Stanton into the 2- or 3- or 4-hole excites every team, and understandably so. Watching Stanton turn the game into his own personal playtoy since the All-Star break has been pure joy.
Stanton pre-break: .277/.360/.572 with 26 home runs, 58 RBIs, 39 walks and 88 strikeouts in 325 at-bats. (Which is all really good, it should be noted.)
Stanton post-break: .306/.415/.815 with 26 home runs, 53 RBIs, 30 walks and 49 strikeouts in 173 at-bats.
Which … wow. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton is homering once every 6.7 at-bats over the last six weeks. And with that, not only has he salvaged the value of an investment-gone-awful for the Marlins, he has likewise inserted himself into the actual National League MVP race, perhaps as the favorite at this point. Because the crowd for NL MVP is full of people who belong and lacking any clear favorite. There are cases to be made for a dozen or so players, some of which will be fair and are causing the current confusion. For example, how can anyone say …
2. Anthony Rendon shouldn’t be the MVP? He is hitting .300/.401/.533, one of just eight players this season to put up a 3/4/5 line. Seven are in the NL – Jose Altuve is the eighth, another reason he’s leading AL MVP straw polling – so that does nullify his case some. Thing is, none of those seven flash the glove Rendon does, and that’s part of the case in his favor, which is amusing seeing as his manager with the Washington Nationals, Dusty Baker, isn’t exactly the sort to regard the sabermetric case as convincing.
Surely Baker would tout Rendon’s defense at third base, though, and he’d applaud the fashion in which Rendon runs the bases, well above average, and it’s both of those things, along with his bat, that have him leading the NL in FanGraphs’ version of WAR. His 6.3 wins are just ahead of Stanton’s 6.0, and for those who take WAR as gospel – this is the portion of the proceedings where it is probably good to note I am not a parishioner at the church of WAR – the case for Rendon is strong.
Thing about WAR is, on Baseball-Reference.com, a site every bit as wonderful and respectable as FanGraphs …
Scherzer’s case is perfectly reasonable – even though, like Rendon, he’s on a Washington Nationals team with Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez, all of whom theoretically could grab a share of the MVP vote, too, imperiling their chances of convincing some of the more old-school voters who like a clear-cut favorite from a team.
Never has Scherzer been better than this season, when he’s striking out a career high (12.1 per nine innings), staying remarkably stingy with baserunners (only 5.4 hits and 2.2 walks per nine) and placing himself in an excellent position to win the NL Cy Young, as Clayton Kershaw has four fewer starts and 25 fewer innings than Scherzer and nobody else is within a quarter-run of his 2.19 ERA.
MVP, though? Generally for a pitcher to win it takes a league full of just-OK choices, and as …
4. Paul Goldschmidt illustrates, the NL is replete with too many excellent seasons. The 29-year-old finished the first half as the NL MVP favorite, and all his Arizona Diamondbacks have done recently is rip off 10 consecutive victories to more or less sew up home-field advantage in the wild-card game.
Goldschmidt is the Diamondbacks’ heartbeat, and that he’s turning in a particularly Goldschmidtian season – .314/.424/.597, not far off his career line of .301/.402/.536 over nearly 4,000 plate appearances – and getting recognized as an MVP candidate only because of his team’s success is frustrating but not surprising.
Voters have taken quantum leaps in recent years, but there remains a winning-team bias. With a case like Mike Trout last year, where he was obviously the best player in the AL, exceptions have been made, and that’s progress worthy of a huzzah. It will be interesting to see where …
5. Joey Votto winds up in the actual balloting this year, because even with the gaudy numbers logged by Stanton and Rendon and Goldschmidt this season, the two metrics that are as good as any at measuring offensive production – weighted runs created (wRC+) and weighted on-base average (wOBA) – both say Votto has been the best offensive player in the NL this season. Votto’s .312 batting average is nice, and his .589 slugging percentage is great, but it’s his on-base percentage that, as always, separates him.
Votto’s OBP is going to get him into the Hall of Fame. For now, it warrants a much higher finish than he’s likelier to get. Only nine NL players get on base even 40 percent of the time. Votto does 44.8 percent. It’s due to a walk rate of nearly 20 percent, meaning one of every five times he steps to the plate, he draws a free pass. Compare that to his strikeout rate of 11.7 percent. It’s truly unheard of in 2017 to walk that much more than strike out. Joey Votto is the closest thing modern baseball has to Tony Gwynn – only he has 34 home runs this season, too.
Want to know who else in history has finished a year with 30-plus home runs, a walk rate over 19 percent and a strikeout rate under 12 percent? Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield and Brian Giles. That’s eight Hall of Famers, one borderline Hall of Famer and Brian Giles, whose career ended before the masses could marvel at his plate discipline.
Don’t mistake this as a case arguing for Votto as MVP, even if there’s a really good one to be made. It’s more that holding him accountable for the sins of his Cincinnati Reds teammates is inherently unfair, seeing as plenty are propping up …
6. Cody Bellinger on account of his teammates’ excellence. Bellinger is officially this year’s Narrative Candidate, though that narrative is showing signs of cracking this week, as his Los Angeles Dodgers have lost six of seven games.
(A quick aside on those currently Chicken Littling their way through traffic on the 5 freeway: Chill. Seriously, chill. For three-quarters of a season, the Dodgers played like literally the best team in baseball history. They aren’t just allowed a bad week. They were far overdue for one. They lost literally the best pitcher in baseball and got better. They sent down their 25-year-old center fielder who two years ago as a rookie was an All-Star and looked just fine. If this week stretches into a month, fine, panic. It won’t. And when October comes along and the Dodgers are running roughshod through anyone who gets in their way, look back, remember the utter silliness of this and thank good ol’ Mr. Passan for this much-needed slap of reality.)
Anyway, Cody Bellinger has been great, his 36 home runs are cool, he’s not just going to be a star but is one already. He’s not even the best player on his own team this season, though – and a decent argument can be made that he’s not among the three best, not with …
7. Justin Turner and Corey Seager and even Chris Taylor, whose versatility and baserunning have fortified the Dodgers and whose .306/.375/.533 line has been the surprise of the 2017 season. The Dodgers acquired the 27-year-old Taylor in June 2016 for pitcher Zach Lee, whom the Seattle Mariners dumped less than six months later. In the meantime, the Dodgers have Taylor for another five years. For those who wonder how great teams are built, this is how. With a guy like Taylor in a trade, one like Turner picked up off the scrap heap and kept in free agency, one like Seager developed from the draft and on.
Turner is having a Rendon-like season. His bat is better, his glove not quite as good but, according to scouts and fellow third basemen, underappreciated by defensive metrics. And Seager might be the most underappreciated player in the game, which is something seeing as he’s a 23-year-old star who plays in Los Angeles. Power-hitting shortstops are the ultimate desire of every team, and that Seager hits with pop, plays the position with aplomb and knows how to work a plate appearance puts him at the top of that larger-than-usual heap in baseball today.
Ultimately, all three are likelier than not to end up downballot, with Bellinger stealing Dodgers votes and the rest scrounging for what they can. It’s like the conversation with the Colorado Rockies, whether …
8. Charlie Blackmon or Nolan Arenado deserves more support. Their cases aren’t exactly similar, but each will suffer from the same malady that afflicts every Rockie on the MVP ballot: Coors Field bias.
Rarely is it more warranted with a player than Blackmon. The vast majority of his case comes from his bat, and he swings two very different bats.
Blackmon home: .391/.468/.785, 15 doubles, 13 triples, 20 home runs, 45 RBIs, 34 walks, 44 strikeouts
Blackmon road: .292/.340/.469, 13 doubles, 1 triple, 12 home runs, 39 RBIs, 18 walks, 70 strikeouts
Yes, if you’re asking, Charlie Blackmon’s slugging percentage at home is almost as high as his on-base-plus-slugging on the road. And when it comes to his candidacy, it’s awfully difficult to get past that. As much as one shouldn’t be penalized for playing games where he does, this isn’t that. It’s dinging Blackmon for what he does in an environment that, even with the humidor, remains supercharged. As a team, the Rockies hit .296/.359/.498 at Coors and .248/.312/.385 on the road.
Arenado’s dip of about 160 OPS points is far more tolerable than Blackmon’s of nearly 450 points, and add in Arenado’s incredible glove at third base, and he may wind up being the better choice as far as Rockies MVP candidates go. With Rendon and Turner and …
9. Kris Bryant, he’ll be far from the only third baseman to appear on ballots, too. Bryant certainly isn’t going to run away with voting this year like he did in 2016, when he fell one first-place vote short of a unanimous win.
Still, it’s worth pointing out that Bryant is actually having a better offensive season in 2017 than he did as a unanimous MVP in 2016. His power is down slightly, but his OBP has jumped 22 points, thanks to an increased walk rate and fewer strikeouts. Because of the Cubs’ struggles and the emergence of other top-flight players in the NL, Bryant’s season hasn’t just flown under the radar. He is baseball’s Northrup Grumman B-2 Spirit.
And following the hoopla that surrounded the Cubs last year, a little bit of down time isn’t the worst thing. The Cubs finally are starting to play like the Cubs should, and even with their weaknesses, they’re capable of giving the Nationals and the Dodgers fits in a short series. At this point, the plaudits, the acclaim, the accolades for doing what they did don’t matter anymore. They were nice, but they can go instead to someone like …
10. Giancarlo Stanton while the Marlins debate his future and Stanton, owner of a full no-trade clause, dictates his future. It is full of first-world problems. Does he win the NL MVP? Does he stay in a city he loves and that loves him with a team that won’t be good for quite a while? Does he opt out of the deal three years down the road and try to cash in again?
Earlier, there was an allusion to other players who can make $100 million in a season. Those players: free agents to be. It has to be a high-end sort of guy, one who parlays an expected $100 million-plus deal into something in the $200 million range with an incredible walk year. It can happen. If Harper or Machado stay healthy all of next season and put up career-best numbers, that’s an easy $100 million season — maybe more.
Because Stanton is locked into his contract, the money he made was not for himself but the Marlins. And they’ve got every reason to be thankful for him. His contract could have been a permanent handcuff, something that weighed them down for the next decade. Giancarlo Stanton handed the Marlins the key, and soon enough, it will be time for them to let him go free.
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