Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 10, 2017

Stanton Deal Is The Yankees Being The Yankees

Early in 2004, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks was desperately trying to unload the bloated contract of shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Three years earlier Hicks had lured A-Rod away from the Seattle Mariners with a 10-year, $252 million deal, by far the richest in baseball history at that time. But showering so much money on one player left the Rangers unable to afford the supporting players that a team sport demands, no matter the skills of the superstar who is the face of the franchise.

Hicks thought he had a deal with the Boston Red Sox to ship Rodriguez to Fenway Park in exchange for Manny Ramirez and a 19-year old pitching prospect by the name of Jon Lester (what ever became of him, anyway?). But the Players Association blocked the trade because it included Rodriguez taking a voluntary pay cut. Into the breach stepped the New York Yankees, who assumed the bulk of A-Rod’s contract. Few around the Great Game saw the Yankees’ move coming, because Derek Jeter was ensconced at short. But Rodriguez agreed to move to third base, and the deal was done.

Five years later first baseman Mark Teixeira, already a two-time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, was testing the waters of free agency for the first time. A Maryland native, Teixeira was aggressively pursued by both the Orioles and Nationals, as well as the Red Sox and Angels. Then out of the blue Teixeira agreed to an 8-year contract with the Yankees. Once again, few baseball observers had expected New York to be a contender for the slick fielding slugger’s services. After all, the Yankees had already opened the Steinbrenner family checkbook twice that offseason to bolster the team’s starting rotation, signing right-hander A.J. Burnett and left-hander C.C. Sabathia for a combined total of nearly a quarter billion dollars.

Now another hot stove season is upon us. The Yankees are coming off a far better than expected 2017. What was expected to be a rebuilding year instead turned into a 91-win season, the team’s best in five years, and a trip to the ALCS where New York came within one game of advancing to the World Series. In the Bronx the offseason began with the surprise dismissal of manager Joe Girardi. With a solid core of young position players in place and Hal Steinbrenner’s stated determination to get under next year’s salary cap to escape the luxury tax, expectations were that the Yankees would focus on searching for a new skipper and looking for a starting pitcher or two.

But just like in 2004, another major league franchise was desperately trying to free itself of an absurdly rich contract. This time it was the new ownership of the Miami Marlins, led by none other than Jeter. While billionaire Bruce Sherman is the controlling owner of the group that recently purchased the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria for $1.2 billion, he has vested day-to-day management of the franchise in the former Yankee turned CEO.

Despite the lofty sales price, what Sherman, Jeter, and their partners bought from Loria is a franchise that is awash in debt and regularly finishes last in the National League in attendance. Before the new owners can even think about making the Marlins competitive, they must right the financial ship. Sherman is out trying to find additional investors, while for his part Jeter is busy slashing costs, in both the front office and on the roster.

Cutting payroll is seldom a path to popularity, and to say Jeter’s start as a baseball executive has been rocky is being kind. It only became bumpier when he made clear that the Marlins were looking to trade the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, Giancarlo Stanton. But Jeter really no choice. Three years ago, Loria awarded Stanton the richest contract in sports history, a $325 million boondoggle that runs through 2027, when the slugging outfielder will be 38 years old. While the salary cap hit is based on the annual average of the contract, its terms are heavily backloaded. This year Stanton made $14.5 million. That jumps to $25 million next season, and his pay check will be no less than that for the balance of the deal. In three of the outyears his annual pay will climb to $32 million. Moving Stanton had to be priority number one for the new owners of the cash-strapped Marlins.

The dilemma for Jeter was that the contract includes a full no-trade clause, meaning Stanton possessed absolute veto power over any deal. While we’ll never know the details in terms of the players or prospects going to Miami, or just how much of the $295 million remaining on Stanton’s contract either club was willing to absorb, we do know that within the past several days both the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants came to terms with the Marlins on trade packages for Stanton. But he refused to waive his no-trade clause for either deal, leaving Jeter and the Marlins in a bind.

Then on Thursday came word that the slugger had given Miami a list of four teams that he would approve. They were the four playoff finalists from last season, the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros and Yankees. As soon as that list became public, anyone familiar with recent history should have known how this story would end.

Now New York has agreed to send Miami second baseman Starlin Castro and two low-level prospects in exchange for Stanton, with the Yankees paying all but $30 million of the slugger’s megadeal. It will be a surprise if Castro, who is owed $23 million over the next two seasons, ever plays an inning in a Marlins uniform, with rumors already flying that Miami is looking to flip him and his salary to another team. Forced to yield to his unhappy player, Jeter and the Marlins will likely end up with little more than financial relief in exchange for the National League’s MVP.

In the Bronx fans are elated at the thought of Stanton and his 59 home runs joining Aaron Judge and his AL leading 52. No team has had two players hit 50 or more homers in a season since Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle did it for the Yankees in 1961. Add catcher Gary Sanchez and shortstop Didi Gregorius to the mix and the Yankees have four hitters who may well follow each other to the plate next season who in 2017 combined for 169 home runs, more than the total output of Boston (168), Atlanta (165), Pittsburgh (151) or San Francisco (128).

Yet even for the Yankees there are costs to this deal. Steinbrenner’s determination to get under the salary cap was the reason for including Castro in the package, and GM Brian Cashman may still look to move third baseman Chase Headley and his $13 million cap hit. Or if he can find a taker for even part of the money, he will certainly part ways with Jacoby Ellsbury, who is still owed more than $21 million for each of the next four years. That’s a lot of dough for the guy who is now the Yankees fifth outfielder, behind Judge, Stanton, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks. Without some further shedding of existing contracts or Steinbrenner abandoning his cap edict, Cashman is out of the running for any top-tier starting pitchers on the free agent market.

Then there are the outyears of Stanton’s deal. He can opt-out after 2020, but unless he finds himself utterly miserable in pinstripes, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he would do so. Those same Yankee fans who are rapturous about next season are likely to be less enthused when their team is paying $86 million to a past-his-prime Stanton over the contract’s final three years.

But those concerns are for another day. There are no guarantees in the Great Game, but at least on paper it looks like Murderer’s Row has been reborn in New York, with a lineup that justifies the old Bronx Bombers nickname. Whether or not the Yankees claim their 28th title next season, they should be tremendous fun to watch. Just remember to bring a glove if you’re sitting in the bleachers.

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