Why the Nationals should be interested where Stanton ends up

The hot stove has barely produced a flicker so far, and that’s in no small part due to the long, slow dance that eventually will result in transactions involving two big-name guys: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.

Both are kind of holding up the market right now, but there are signs both are moving toward making decisions about where they want to play in 2018.

Ohtani, who officially was posted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters on Friday, will sign with a major league organization by December 22. The Nationals, as explained here previously, aren’t serious contenders for Ohtani (both by their own choice and their own financial restrictions in the international market). And they aren’t among the teams trying to trade for Stanton (as far as we know).

But Stanton’s decision could have significant ramifications for the Nationals, on a couple of levels.

The Marlins slugger and newly crowned National League MVP is probably going to be traded soon, but because he has full no-trade rights, he essentially can dictate where he ends up. The teams who have most been connected to him so far this offseason: the Giants, Cardinals and Dodgers.

The Giants are seen as something of frontrunners, if such a thing is possible in these matters, and on Thursday night sent several top team officials to Los Angeles to meet with Stanton and his agent to make their pitch, according to reports. That doesn’t mean the big guy is headed to San Francisco for sure, but it does mean the Giants and Marlins have all but agreed to the players that would be involved in a trade; otherwise the Giants wouldn’t be allowed to talk to Stanton without breaking league tampering rules.

The Cardinals also have strong interest in Stanton and reportedly met with his agents Friday night, though there is less indication the outfielder shares the same interest in playing for St. Louis.

And then there are the Dodgers, who might well be Stanton’s top choice but reportedly aren’t offering as enticing a package of players to the Marlins as the Giants and Cardinals.

Here’s how it affects the Nats ...

First, it removes an opponent who has terrorized them over the years (he owns a career 1.001 OPS against them) from their division. Unless Stanton is traded to the Mets, Phillies or Braves, the Nationals no longer will be facing him 19 times a season, but now only six or seven (if he goes to another NL club) or maybe not at all (if he goes to an American League club).

Which isn’t to say Stanton might not still be a thorn in the Nationals’ side after he’s traded. He may not be in a position to do much damage against them in the regular season, but he might be in position to do it in October, when it really matters. If you’re the Nats, do you really want to have to think about the prospect of facing the already powerhouse Dodgers in a playoff series with Stanton now anchoring the middle of their lineup? The Giants and Cardinals, too, could use Stanton to help propel them back into the playoffs after missing it this year.

harper-yell-nlds-2017-side.jpgSecond, Stanton’s eventual landing spot could affect next winter’s market for Bryce Harper. The Dodgers have always loomed as one of the top threats to sign Harper as a free agent, both because of the massive amount of money they have to spend and the attractiveness of playing for an iconic franchise not far from his Las Vegas home.

But if they somehow trade for Stanton, the Dodgers seemingly would be out of the Harper sweepstakes, unless they intend to devote more than a half-billion dollars to their corner outfield positions alone.

A Stanton trade to the Giants or Cardinals, on the other hand, would leave L.A. open for Harper. San Francisco may be a second-tier possibility for the Nats slugger, but it probably ranks behind L.A., New York and Chicago on the list of potential landing spots. And St. Louis typically doesn’t wade that deep into the free agent pool.

Who knows how all this will shake out. There might well be a surprise team lurking to trade for Stanton. Or maybe he ends up staying in Miami after all this.

But if Nationals fans don’t have a whole lot to pay attention to with regards to their own roster so far this winter, they might want to pay attention to this soon-to-be-finalized drama.

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