The Giants are the favorites for Giancarlo Stanton. That’s the opinion of the source who talked to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. It’s the opinion of the oddsmakers at Bovada, who have the Giants as overwhelming favorites, giving them 2/5 odds to get Stanton, with the second-place Cardinals taking 5/2 odds, and the third-place Red Sox at 15/1.
These are exciting times. And I’m reminded of a quote from one of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, Jurassic Park.
Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
It’s possible that the Giants are favorites to acquire Giancarlo Stanton. Should they be interested, though? I’ve read opinions from emailers and tweeters, commenters and talking heads. I’ve read the columns, and then I’ve read the other columns. I’ve stared at Stanton’s Baseball-Reference page while furrowing my brow thoughtfully. I’ve come to my conclusion.
Here, take Jeff Sullivan’s assertion that the Giants need more than Giancarlo Stanton. It’s empirically sound! No one thinks that pasting Stanton over Hunter Pence is going to turn a 98-loss team into a 98-win team. Here’s what happens in the projections if that happens:
Congratulations, Giants: you’re better! The trade moves them up to eighth place, just ahead of the Rockies. The Giants start to look like a legitimate wild-card contender, and, as we’ve known for a while, wild-card contenders are World Series contenders. But, eighth place. Five teams make the playoffs. One of them gets eliminated almost immediately. The Giants would still be behind the Diamondbacks. They’d still be well behind the Dodgers.
Stanton might make the Giants the eighth-best team in the National League, and it’s worth noting that these projections are already factoring in improved production from Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, along with almost everyone else. These same projections correctly identified every single division winner by this time last year, just so you know.
They also projected the Giants to be better than the Astros. So there’s wiggle room, I guess.
Regardless, I’m sure that few of us will argue with the central point, which is that Stanton would need to be complemented by an improvement in center field and at third base. There would be need to be some unexpected support from unlikely sources. It’s too dramatic to hope that the Giants find/manufacture their own Chris Taylor, but what about a reboot of Andres Torres? Seems unlikely, but the Giants had good luck with unlikely before last year’s goblin season.
I’m skeptical that Stanton would lead to another postseason appearance, mostly. And that’s before you get to the matter of his contract, which is HUGE. If the Giants get him, they might have something like $144 million committed to the 2020 payroll, and that doesn’t include Madison Bumgarner, who would be a free agent. It’s possible for the Giants to build a good roster around that. But, [high, sustained whistling sound], that seems like a hurdle that would be impossible to overcome without either a $250 million payroll or a farm system that’s the envy of the league.
Neither of those things are likely to happen for the ol’ San Francisco Giants.
At the same time, I’m intoxicated with dingers. And I’ve been fascinated with Stanton since he was a prospect. This fascination was not dimmed by math or science. Dan Szymborski took a look at what his ZiPS projections were like for the different teams interested in Stanton, and the results are a lot of fun.
Stanton’s projected WAR suggests that he’d be an elite, MVP-caliber player for about four or five years. After that, he would move to really, really good. In the last two years of his deal, he would decline to “pretty okay.” And that’s with the assumption that he’ll miss 30 to 50 games every year.
You don’t need to be told that while you’re looking in front of you for the future, it’s actually creeping up behind you with a sharpened toothbrush handle. One injury could ruin everything. That decade of great production might be replaced with a decade of what-ifs and strained payrolls.
Or Stanton doesn’t have to miss 30 to 50 games every year, and he can blow past those productions.
Mostly what’s getting me excited is the idea of watching Stanton play baseball for my favorite team. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting wrapped up in talk of payrolls, roster flexibility, and payroll commitments, but that’s because of the fallacy that suggests that the only reason to watch baseball is because there might be a championship at the end of the rainbow. That’s never true.
So I’m worried about the 2020 payroll, right? It’s logical, but here’s what the Giants are going to spend the money on instead of Stanton in that scenario: veteran players who will decline with age. It doesn’t matter if they’re homegrown favorites like Brandon Crawford or external free agents like Jeff Samardzija. They players signed in 2020 are likely to decline with age and eventually hurt the team’s ability to sign better players in 2023.
The players the Giants might sign in 2023 are likely to decline and hurt the team’s chances to sign better players in 2026. You can see where this is going. The problem with continually rooting for future payroll flexibility instead of current superstars is that there’s never a sweet spot where spending on free agents is an inherently wise investment. Maybe the Giants will need that cherry on top of the sundae in 2020. Maybe they’ll have nothing but melted ice cream on their toes and a very ugly dog licking it up.
What you have to ask, then, is if there’s something about this player that’s different. Is this just a guy, an All-Star who comes around every so often, or is there something unique about him? You know the answer to that. It comes free with a list of players with 250 home runs before they’re 28.
- Alex Rodriguez
- Jimmie Foxx
- Eddie Mathews
- Ken Griffey, Jr.
- Albert Pujols
- Mickey Mantle
- Mel Ott
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Frank Robinson
- Juan Gonzalez
- Hank Aaron
- Andruw Jones
There are cautionary tales. Pujols had five more excellent seasons after turning 28. Gonzalez had four. Griffey had three. Jones had just two. There’s a missing number in the set, people.
But for the most part, you don’t even bother looking up what Mickey Mantle’s stats were like when presented with a list like that. Because he’s Mickey Freaking Mantle, and Yankees fans were blessed to watch him. That goes for Mathews, Foxx, and Robinson. It absolutely goes for Aaron.
It’s a chance for the Giants and their fans to have a front seat for one of the greatest careers in baseball history. It might explode in a fiery ball, and when the 2022 roster features Bobson Dugnutt and 17 other replacement players, you’ll regret the foolishness of dummies like me in the past. But imagine an Orioles fan not wanting to trade for Frank Robinson because they were thinking, “I don’t know. They might not be able to re-sign Merv Rettenmund if they push their payroll like that.”
The odds are that the Giants will spend their money on the Merv Rettenmunds of baseball if they ignore the chance to get this Frank Robinson. That’s not to slight the former; the Orioles won three pennants and a World Series with Rettenmund’s help. Championship teams are built with complementary parts, from Charlie Morton to Cody Ross. Those players make money, too. If the Giants have Stanton, they might not get the go-ahead to trade for the next Marco Scutaro, for example. That’s a concern.
But I’m not going to worry about that specific set of circumstances, those carefully concocted scenarios, when there’s a very neat, clean line to draw between Giancarlo Stanton on the Giants and the likelihood that we would be really, really happy that we got to watch Giancarlo Stanton on the Giants. It doesn’t take a plot twist. It takes an absence of plot twists.
The Giants contending in 2020 takes plot twists. Veterans staying healthy. Prospects developing. Trades working out.
Stanton making us glad that he’s here and hitting dingers doesn’t take plot twists. It takes him doing the same danged stuff he’s been doing since he got into the league.
So, yes, I’m in favor of the Giants getting Stanton, future payroll be damned. I’ll accept the risks of the 2025 payroll because I know two things:
- Stanton is a very special, unique baseball player. This is a statistical fact. He is not just a player with a bunch of very good seasons strung together, like Barry Zito.
- When the Giants had the actual Barry Zito, it turns out that they could still build championship teams around him.
This isn’t Zito. This is either Hank Aaron or Ken Griffey, Jr. in his prime, and I’m willing to close my eyes and hope for the first one because the potential rewards are so tremendous, they make it easy to overlook the risks.