The Marlins and the Twins are playing a doubleheader on Tuesday. In the first inning of the first game, Giancarlo Stanton faced Kevin Correia with a man on, and Correia threw a first-pitch fastball at 89 miles per hour down the heart. Stanton swung and grounded into a double play, and one of the Marlins’ broadcasters remarked that it was probably Stanton’s best swing in a week, since returning from injury. Stanton finished the first game 0-for-3, dropping his average to .176. He has the worst average in the Marlins’ lineup, and the Marlins’ lineup sucks.
Let’s now go back a few months. Several months, I guess, depending on where you draw the line between “few” and “several”. After the Marlins swung the big trade with the Blue Jays, Stanton tweeted that he was pissed off. Now, I’ve been pissed off at lots of things I love and am loyal to to this day. I do, after all, still watch the Mariners. But that was a tweet of particular interest, because it helped to fan the trade-rumor flames. Already, the Marlins were probably eventually going to have to trade Stanton. Then the Marlins made Stanton upset, and who wants a surly ballplayer?
This is not an ordinary situation in which the Marlins find themselves in the present day. I mean, they’re extraordinarily terrible, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Reports keep saying the Marlins won’t trade Stanton. But it feels almost inevitable that, this coming offseason, a trade’s going down, and it’s going to be a blockbuster. Stanton’s about to start costing actual money, the Marlins aren’t going anywhere soon, and, yeah, I guess that’s all you need to know. Stanton, next year, is going to make millions. Which means Stanton, next year, is probably going to make millions on another team.
Maybe the Marlins don’t feel that way. Maybe they’re preparing the biggest contract-extension offer of all time, and maybe they are going to go about things in a different way henceforth. Baseball is unpredictable both on and off the field, and I can’t guarantee you that Stanton is going to get moved. But it definitely feels like it’s in the cards, and every other team in baseball would be right to check in to see where things stand. The Marlins will be able to hold a massive auction, and they wouldn’t be the Marlins if they didn’t.
So the question is less about whether Stanton gets traded, and more about what goes in exchange. And I guess where he might go, but for our purposes here I’m thinking less about trade destination and more about trade-return value. Stanton, right now, is one of the very most valuable assets in the league entire, not far below Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. But Stanton isn’t getting traded right now, and he’s still going to have to play some more months. Which leaves me deeply curious about how Stanton’s trade value could change on account of his 2013, if at all.
How a player performs in Year X will have an effect on his trade value immediately afterward. This much should be obvious, because the best indicator of future performance is most recent performance. I wonder if Stanton’s trade value will come with smaller error bars, on account of the team context. Let’s think about this, and let’s recall that Stanton has badly struggled through the first few weeks.
If Stanton were to have a normal 2013 season, his value would be through the roof. He’d be a 24-year-old outfielder under club control with a career wRC+ around 140. The Marlins wouldn’t be looking for one blue-chipper back; they’d be looking for two or three or four, and they’d be justified in doing so. Stanton would be a young, reasonably healthy MVP candidate. He’d be a franchise player, for any other franchise.
But what if Stanton were to have a mediocre 2013 season, or even a dreadful one? His OPS right now is barely .500, and while that won’t continue, he could badly under-perform, or he could get hurt. Though a baseball player should always be motivated to do his best on the field, you could kind of understand if Stanton put forth less than 100% as a member of this year’s Marlins. It’s possible he could have a very un-Stanton-like year, and then at the end he’d still be looking at a massive, seven-figure raise. So there’d still be plenty of trade talk.
We can’t reach any conclusions with this — this is really more of a thought exercise, a hypothetical. But in terms of his trade value down the road, I genuinely wonder how much Stanton’s 2013 performance matters. There are so many excuses, so many ways to explain away why Stanton might’ve had a down year, should that come to pass. The talent is known to be within the body, and teams would just have to believe that Stanton needs a change of scenery.
Think about how things would look. Right now the Marlins have a lower team wRC+ than Chone Figgins had a season ago. They’re already out of the race, and Stanton has to know he’s a probable goner. He could, in theory, not dedicate himself fully to the Marlins. Alternatively, he could try to do too much, putting a lot of pressure on himself since he doesn’t have any support. Stanton is entirely unprotected, and he’s not seeing very many pitches in the strike zone, because teams don’t have reason to throw him strikes. Stanton is having to make do with what he’s being given, and he isn’t being given much. Stanton can’t have a normal season if he doesn’t get hittable pitches. On no other team would Stanton be left so alone. As recently as 2012, Stanton was a six-win player, in three-quarters of a season.
There aren’t really many examples of young superstar talents getting traded after down years. There aren’t many examples of young superstar talents getting traded after good years, either, because these are the game’s most valuable players, but we might consider Justin Upton. Upton was elite in 2011, and he was average in 2012. He was dealt when he was 25, and he seemed to drive a hell of a market. There was talk of a blockbuster trade to Seattle, and Upton ultimately got dealt to Atlanta for a solid return even though it was late in the offseason and Upton had left Arizona with limited options. The Diamondbacks managed to do all right, despite Upton’s slide.
And Upton’s beating the crap out of the ball in the early going in 2013. While we can’t confirm whether or not Upton needed to change teams to tap back into his ability, he’s playing like a superstar again, after being removed from the old context. Certainly, if Stanton were to struggle, teams would consider the Upton case and see a player who could be a great player again if he were dealt and re-energized. Upton on the rebound would make it seem more likely that Stanton could rebound.
In order for the Marlins to turn Stanton into a jaw-dropping return package, they don’t necessarily need him to play like a superstar. They just need him to convince other teams that he could be a superstar in 2014 and on down the road. And Stanton’s pretty much already done that, given his big-league track record. If he has a rough go of it in 2013, well, he probably won’t see many pitches. And let’s face it: who could get up for playing for these Marlins, especially when you’re already established and when you’re already basically on your way out? Stanton could be forgiven for being a little lax and preoccupied.
Let’s call Giancarlo Stanton’s realistic trade value X. If he has a mediocre 2013, then we’re dealing with what percent of X? If he has an outright bad 2013, then we’re dealing with what percent of X? Certainly, in the latter cases, we wouldn’t be looking at 100%(X), but it seems to me it wouldn’t be far off. There are already excuses for why Stanton might not be very good this year, and so teams will be able to look at him and still see a future Hall-of-Famer. Who wouldn’t trade the moon for a young, controlled future Hall-of-Famer?
In so many ways, Giancarlo Stanton’s 2013 season stands to be fascinating. This is one of the ways.