This is the most jaw-dropping story of the offseason: After months of speculation that the Miami Marlins would trade Giancarlo Stanton, the team wound up signing him to the richest contract in sports history, $325 million for 13 years. They will announce the deal Wednesday.
The Marlins are playing in a new ballpark and need a signing like this to prove their relevance. They know more about splitting up a team than holding it together. At least, that’s the Marlins’ reputation.
But is that a fair statement to make?
They have that reputation and here’s why: In 2011, the Marlins signed shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Mark Buehrle to contracts worth more than $100 million and told them they’d be in Miami for the duration. Then, less than a year later, the Marlins traded the two, along with pitcher Josh Johnson, infielder Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck, to the Toronto Blue Jays, getting rid of $146 million in contracts and picking up seven players that made virtually nothing.
The trade made the Marlins a punchline around baseball. Not only were Marlins fans angry, Stanton was irate as well. He vowed never to sign with the Marlins.
From a public relations standpoint, the trade was a disaster. From a baseball standpoint, it was brilliant. The seven no-name players the Marlins received from Toronto have either been building blocks or were used to trade for other building blocks.
Adeiny Hechavarria is becoming one of the National League’s best shortstops. Henderson Alvarez is an All-Star in the rotation. Shortstop Yunel Escobar was traded to Tampa Bay for Derek Dietrich, a top-notch prospect at second base, while outfielder Jake Marisnick was sent to Houston for pitcher Jarred Cosart, a staple in the rotation.
Jeff Mathis is a solid backup catcher. Anthony DeSciafini will compete for a rotation spot in 2015. Justin Nicolino was the Marlins’ minor league Pitcher of the Year this year.
Stanton’s contract has an opt-out clause midway through, so in a sense, the contract is a wait-and-see. The Marlins have enough talent to contend next year, so they don’t have to worry yet about keeping players around Stanton.
As the right fielder, Stanton, 25, will be part of the best young outfield in baseball, which includes Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. Jose Fernandez, who had a 2.19 ERA in 28 starts in 2013, but was out last year with Tommy John surgery, will lead the rotation.
The Marlins had 77 wins last season, a 15-win improvement over the year before. With Fernandez and Stanton back, it’s feasible they could add 10 more wins and turn themselves into contenders.
Of course, there’s always a chance this contract won’t work out. Contracts this big rarely do because small-market teams don’t have the money to build a supporting cast.
Look at the Minnesota Twins. They signed MVP and American League batting champ Joe Mauer to a $184 million contract, but have had trouble paying for a supporting cast.
Remember when the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols for $240 million? It was $50 million more than his previous team, the St. Louis Cardinals, were offering. The Cardinals thought it was wiser to let Pujols go and spread their wealth to other players, even though Pujols had been there 11 seasons and was the modern-day Stan Musial. Their postseason appearances since show that was the right decision.
The Marlins were near a wild card berth on Sept. 11 when Stanton suffered a broken jaw when he was hit by a pitch. They could have made the wild card race interesting if that hadn’t happened.
The Marlins have a strong rotation, power arms and a new attitude that goes with keeping Stanton around. And they might not be done. Free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval could be on their radar.
Either way, Marlins ownership has to build trust with the fans. This time, though, it feels like the Marlins aren’t going to let them down.