Trade Theory: Stanton And "The Untouchables"

“Audentes fortuna iuvat.

-“Fortune favors the bold.”

This was written before the Stanton injury. Instead of axing it completely let’s instead treat this as a hypothetical situation and discuss the merits of trading prospects for proven talent.

For the entirety of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era the Cubs have been in a value acquisition model as they attempted to return as much surplus value via contracts and trades as possible during the strict rebuilding phase of the oft talked about plan. Prospects and those value deals became primary in the language being bandied about by the Cubs front office.

Recently the message has changed as the Cubs appear willing and nearly ready to part ways with the strict rebuilding plan and begin the competition phase. It’s going to be a departure from offseasons past as the focus will be sharply on who the Cubs acquire with the mindset that those acquisitions will be able to help the Cubs on the field rather than via trade. In short, they’re likely to be buyers this offseason and that changes the value part of the equation.

The value part of the rebuilding phase has an interesting connotation that becomes difficult to translate as the Cubs transition out seller mode and become buyers. There are several reasons to build a strong farm system so lets just be clear about this; it’s incredibly unlikely that the Cubs will field a competitive team relying solely on the prospects they have in the system right now. This isn’t meant to be a sleight on guys like Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler et al. Rather, it’s a testament to the difficulty of baseball and while the Cubs do have an impressive collection of bats prospects do fail. The reason to get so many under the current CBA is to acquire rare currency and flexibility for when a unique situation arises.

The Miami Marlins are reportedly offering Giancarlo Stanton the biggest contract in team history. We don’t know how the equation changes post injury, but let’s assume Stanton retains his baseball skill and has minimal negative effects moving forward. There’s a lot that goes into this trade so instead of dealing with a hard list of offers for Stanton lets think about this in the hypothetical sense: Are there any untouchables for Giancarlo Stanton?

To answer that let’s consider Stanton the player and see if we can place a valuation on him. Stanton is the owner of prodigious power, always capable of pulling off something like this. That’s an extreme and ridiculous display of his power, but it’s one that’s becoming more commonplace and Stanton is putting together an elite season in the middle of a pitching dominated era. His slash line currently sits at .287/.395/.554 and he has 37 homeruns in 635 PAs. Here’s a list of all the guys in 2014 that have over 30 homeruns:

Rk

Player

HR

Age

1

Nelson Cruz

39

33

2

Giancarlo Stanton

37

24

3

Chris Carter

36

27

4

Jose Abreu

33

27

5

David Ortiz

32

38

6

Mike Trout

32

22

7

Jose Bautista

32

33

8

Edwin Encarnacion

30

31

9

Anthony Rizzo

30

24

10

Victor Martinez

30

35

It’s really important to take note of the age column here. Stanton, Mike Trout and Anthony Rizzo are the only three players on the list that are under 25. Let’s come back to this list a little bit later.

Stanton has a .403 wOBA, a 158 wRC+, he walks 14.8 percent of the time and he’s got a .267 ISO. He’s very good at the plate and he’s having an elite offensive season. I’m not in love with his defense; I think he has a strong arm and does a good enough job in right but he’s replacement level at best out there.

There are a few concerns with Stanton physically. He has a big, high maintenance body and he’s had leg injuries in the past. He’s not the most gifted baserunner either in terms of speed or instincts. It’s a nitpick in all honesty but it gives you a better contextual idea of what Stanton is as a player. He’s a tremendous/elite hitter with slightly below average defensive play at best and negligible impact on the basepaths.

Giancarlo Stanton’s resume, both recent and over the course of his young career, all point towards an elite player who will be entering his prime. Should he be seriously available the interest will and should be high. These types of opportunities don’t come around very often.

Consider the table I provided for you when we were discussing Stanton as a player. There are 10 names on that list with 30 homeruns at this juncture of the season. Nine of those names have a reasonable shot to reach 35 homeruns this year. The next highest homerun totals are in the 27 range. It’s very unlikely that those guys get hot enough to hit 35 homeruns so we’re looking at 3 guys who have hit at least 35 homeruns, 4 guys with a good shot at 35, two guys with an outside shot to hit 35 and two guys with a remote shot at hitting 35. Let’s wind the clock back 10 years. 20 players hit at least 35 homeruns in 2004. Power’s in decline and by extension it’s in demand.

I think a lot of times we can fall into the trap of using $/WAR to try and justify contracts and trades. This happens a lot concerning the Cubs considering that the FO was very adamant about finding bargains and values via trade and free agency. The return value was much more important during the rebuilding phase as the Cubs forced themselves to try and find value where they could. I’ve found that $/WAR has its uses but there are a few issues I have with the application of $/WAR as it pertains to Giancarlo Stanton specifically and the market in general. The first being that it doesn’t take into account opportunity value. I’ve mentioned this before, should Stanton be made available it would be extremely rare not just historically but specifically considering the current MLB climate this would be an incredibly rare opportunity to acquire a young star entering his prime. Stanton has a track record and youth is very much on his side. $/WAR can let you know how well he’s performed in the past but it doesn’t not let you know how often a Giancarlo Stanton appears on the trade market or in free agency.

The second issue we have to consider when it comes to analyzing what it would take to acquire Stanton is that marginal wins gains importance as a team comes closer to competing. This has been written about and mentioned on twitter frequently; two wins to an 86 win team mean much more than two wins to a 67 win team. Theoretically Stanton can give you 6 wins if we crudely apply fWAR here. All in all, he’s an incredibly valuable commodity whose availability would be an extremely rare event.

Does that have a price? Sure, and the Marlins might be asking for all of the toys but when it comes to Stanton I am firm in this stance: No one is untouchable.

I love Kris Bryant’s skill set and I find myself getting lost in his eyes. I’d help him pack if he was included in the deal. Javier Baez is the first prospect I saw with evaluator eyes that I felt could be something extraordinary. I’ve tracked his progress since he was drafted. I’d pay for his uber to O’Hare if he was in the package for Stanton. I’ve vehemently defended Starlin Castro on twitter and in blogs for two years now. He’s bubula (tip to Harry Pavlidis for that one) in my eyes. I’d play Landslide and send him on his way if he’s in the deal for Stanton.

It’s like that down the line. The extension matters as does his recovery from injury but acquiring a generational talent like Stanton matters too. If you have the opportunity to improve your team by gutting the farm and getting a player with Stanton’s skillset, you do it. Kris Bryant might hit 35 homeruns a year. Javier Baez might be  supernatural and stick at shortstop and hit 40 bombs. Jorge Soler might provide some of what Stanton provides. The fact remains, however. Stanton has realized a lot of his potential at 24. This isn’t an aging outfielder, this is a player who has yet to enter his prime and has established himself as an elite player. There’s significantly less risk with Stanton than there is any of the Cubs prospects including Kris Bryant. Prospects are assets and they are equity. If he’s really available I think there isn’t anyone on the Cubs as currently constructed that is out of bounds.

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  • I think Bryant should be untouchable. The kid just put up a minor league season, straight from college, unlike many others before him.

    I'm not sure Stanton is going to be better than Bryant. I would trade anyone BUT Bryant, or at least consider it, but dealing Bryant could be a death kneel.

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    In reply to givejonadollar:

    This makes me think of something. Please forgive me as I am JUST starting to explore the more in-depth aspects of sabermetrics.

    Is there an equation that assigns a value to a player like Stanton, who produces a very high WAR, and is still young and before his prime, but also the positives AND negatives to trading multiple players for him. Obviously, it would have to be player specific in each case, but also account for a team like the Cubs or the Marlins (and also the Astros and Twins, too) who have to worry about 40-man rosters and losing players to waivers because of it. Let me try to give an example:
    Last year, Miami put Jacob Turner onto waivers and the Cubs claimed him within about 1 second. Turner was a very highly touted prospect and was actually the main piece of the Anibil Sanchez trade (so there should be some value assigned to Turner there because he was a return for an all-star, which organizationally speaking means the investment in Turner is higher than a 40th round draft pick). But, because of 40-man roster rules, the Marlins were forced to place him on waivers and the Cubs were able to acquire him for relatively cheap. Now let's flip that around just for THIS explanation and imagine that the Cubs are having trouble and have too many younger players that they consider to have value, but have enough pro service time to where they need to be part of the Major League 40-man roster. The Cubs have A LOT of young players of value up and down their organization. Certain guys like Soler signed Major League contracts and were on the 40-man because of it. But, if they trade 3 high prospects or major league rookies for Stanton, they now have less of a logjam on the 40-man roster so they won't run into issues of being forced to leave someone of value unprotected. So even though they are actually giving away 3 players whose combined WAR would possibly exceed Stanton in 3 years, they are able to hang onto 1 or 2 players they otherwise would have lost for basically little to no compensation. I'm 34 and grew up watching baseball during the "Steroid Era" (although I think the leaded and unleaded coffee had a bigger impact, amphedemines I mean, than steroids by themselves in allowing older players to produce later in their careers). This wasn't something I have EVER even thought about before the Jacob Turner situation. But, there are teams that have been stockpiling talent the past few years as the age that Major League ball players produce has skewed younger and younger. I read just recently that hitters are hitting their peak at 29-30 in today's MLB, whereas when I was in my early 20's Barry Bonds was hitting .370 with 70HRs in his very late 30's and early 40's. So in a couple years, teams like the Astros and the Twins will probably run into similar problems to where they are going to have to make tough decisions on which players they leave off of the 40-man roster. Especially the Twins, who have some of their best prospects littering injury lists throughout the minors and therefore might possibly be cutting it close on the MLB readiness within the 4-5 year timeframe provided to avoid the Rule 5 Draft and the revocable and irrevocable waiver wire. So, to summarize, and I know this is all just moot anyway because Stanton is signed to a $300 million contract extension at the time of this writing, but just for examples sake:

    Stanton's value is viewed as what his production HAS been, versus what it MIGHT be in the future, based on projections of his numbers as he approaches the age of 29-30. You also factor in the rarity of aquiring a player who is 24 and his positional value.

    You then subtract Bryant's projected value in relation to his position, which would be dramatically different as a 3B versus a LF. You subtract Baez's projected value in relation to his position, which would be 2B, SS, or 3B. Which I personally think has to be both a ridiculously wide range based on his SO/HR ratio and the high range of values between his ceiling and floor. Then let's add Castro, who has 3 all-star games under his belt at the young age of 24 and was the NL hit leader at 20 years old.

    But now, you subtract the WAR of the players the Cubs project or currently have on the roster to play the positions vacated by Bryant, Baez, and Castro. Also, since they are still under the constraints of their old television contract, you have to factor in cost control and the low salaries until 2020 of the outgoing players and the payroll flexibility that will allow a team to better fill a roster at other positions versus the projected salary of Stanton's extension. But THEN, is there a value that rebuilding teams would assign to the 3 for 1 swap that gives Stanton a positive value because of the breathing room the reduction in players from the 40-man roster his acquisition would allow? It seems to be a relatively NEW phenomenon, since prospects and elite hitting prospects being rare is a product of this new "dead ball" era that we are witnessing. Also, teams are going the "full" rebuild route like the Cubs who have basically traded 10 players away in 3 years and brought in closer to 30 prospects (as well as high draft picks with tremendous upside).

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    I can see where you're going with this but we are pretty sure that a one for one trade probably won't get this done. So at what point do multiple prospects for Stanton just become too expensive?

  • fb_avatar

    Great article.

    I have to agree as long as it's not trading multiple of the big chips/tier 1 players.

    Tier 1

    Baez
    Soler
    Bryant
    Castro
    Russell

    If it's one of those guys, one tier 2 like an Almora, a tier 3 prospect, and another 1-2 lottery tickets, I can't see how we couldn't get behind it.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    This is the core of the problem. I agree that no one prospect (or player) should be untouchable. But that isn't really the issue. Miami will not ask for only one prospect in return for Stanton.

    Should we be willing to give up both Bryant AND Baez for Stanton? Or Bryant AND Russell?

    I hope we wouldn't do that. If for no other reason than that is is less likely that BOTH Baez and Bryant have career ending injuries (hit in the face by a pitch?) than is it for Stanton alone.

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    Thank you. I appreciate this article. I would trade potential for Stanton-like production in a second; especially at his age. It is axiomatic that most prospects fail to reach their ceilings. I also think it is more likely that either Alcantara or Baez will be a complete bust, than it is that either one ever hits his ceiling (add most of the other Cub prospects as well.). I agree that I wouldn't want to trade Bryant, but I would consider it - strongly. And if it took a package that included Castro, Soler, Baez, Schwarber, and more, I would do it. Peace.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    I have said it before. We do not need Stanton. We will not get him cheap in terms of prospects and salary. He will be off the charts expensive considering both. His defense is not very good and like you said he has a high maintenance body. I think Theo and team will pass on this trade.

  • Good topic for speculation, but:
    Stanton will not sign with any team other than a West Coast, and probably Southern Cal only. Then the question becomes what are you willing to give up for 2 years of Stanton ?

  • If the Cubs, who have about 15 different player needs on the major league roster, trade more than one big piece for Stanton, their idiots. Extending him could cost upwards of 300 million, which would put a damper in their ability to acquire other needs.
    Going for Stanton now is short sighted.

  • With all do respect. Trade for Stanton is a dumb move because it creates hole with no way but money to fill them. not to mention you are still going to have to pay Stanton big move on 2016.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    On the nose, Kevin.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    ^^^Bullseye!^^^

    Stanton may be a generational talent. But Baez/Bryant/Soler/Russell may also be. If it was just one of them, fine. But I suspect it would take 3 of our top 6-7 prospects plus... Then we have to turn around and offer Stanton $250MM+....

    Oh and he has never played a full MLB season.... I don't see how there's less risk in acquiring Stanton

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I was going to point out that he has only played more then 125 games twice.

  • The thing here is that you can't disregard the injury. Before the injury, you might would have a point. But now, Stanton's value has dropped. Too many questions to offer substantial talent. For me, Bryant and Soler are untouchable. I have never seen Russell, but if he is all they say he is (second coming of Barry Larkin), then why trade him? Of all those I have seen, only Baez is questionable. The long swing concerns me. If it were Baez, Olt, and McKinney...ok. I don't think that would get Stanton, though.

  • If this were basketball, maybe a trade for Stanton makes sense. I dunno, though, about totally gutting the system for one player that may or may not stay past their current contract. I think the Cubs would also have to greatly overpay to keep him off the free agent market and, as Kevin mentions above, the gutting of the system will cause the Cubs to have to go out and overpay for other guys to fill the holes that are left. I think we should give these guys some time to see what we have. It's a little risky in that maybe they flop and you lose that value, but I'd rather see that and then going to overpay a guy rather than trading away 4 all-stars to get 1 (maybe an exaggeration, but you never know).

  • I'm glad you're not in charge. Keep the kids.

  • I almost always agree with you John, but not so much this time. I agree with many that it will take more than 1 top tier prospect to get Stanton. Would those two or three players contribution add up to Stanton?

    More importantly the money side would be prohibitive in filling the weakness which is pitching.

    I believe a veteran type free-agent added would be more viable, and temporary. I also believe that a lineup of 8 slightly better, to better than average players is the key, lengthening a lineup without weak holes. You can be top heavy, and not big winners. You can look at the Blue-Jays and Detroit and see that. Baltimore on the other hand is a good example of +8.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    John didn't write this article.

  • If the Cubs "gutted the farm system" as you said, and with no player untouchable you are talking about Kris Bryant our #1 prospect who is ML ready, Jorge Soler who Miami would definitely want as he is already having success in the majors and would be a marketing coup for the Marlins with the Cuban community in Miami.They would want al leat one more of the top guys. Russell? A top 5 prospect in Baseball who is near ML ready. Baez? Another top 5 prospect who is getting his first taste of the MLB as we speak.

    So Bryant, Soler, and either Russell or Baez....that's definitely gutting the system. The Cubs would get a stud player at age 25 next year, and the Marlins would most likely win a Championship or two a couple years later. The Cubs top prospects are ML ready or near ML ready.....Anybody would trade much lesser packages for Stanton, but that's not what we are talking about here. You are paying for Stanton's past production, and nothing and nobody is a sure thing as Stanton's own injury proved this year. This is drastically overpaying for his production at a young age...How is a young player hitting 35 HR's with below average defense any more valuable to a team than an older player doing the same? You are only assured Stanton for the length of the contract that he is signed for, and what you believe his production will be for that duration. That is his value, plain and simple. So you would have to either have zero faith in what Bryant, Soler, and Russell/Baez will become as the Cubs Front Office, or be so deathly afraid of the risk of waiting another 12-24 months for their adjustment and maturation to becoming big leaguers that you massively overpay to avoid that risk. I personally believe that the value of Bryant, Soler, and Russell/Baez with 6-7 years of team cost control will far outweigh Stanton alone in terms of not only production on the field but also the financial flexibility it allows the Cubs in terms of constructing a championship roster.

  • When we consider who the Cubs should give up to get Stanton, we also have to consider what they could have gotten with the MONEY they pay Stanton. Cash isn't an issue - yet - but Stanton will cost much more than Bryant, Baez, Soler, etc... for the next few years, anyway.

    So, it's not just Bryant for Stanton. It's Bryant AND the loss of the funds needed to sign Lester (or equivalent) for Stanton. No thanks.

  • Gut the system to get Stanton? Should we not first gut the FO and hire Hendry back.

  • What if the bold move is to pass on that "generational" talent and to allow your accumulated prospects the chance to bust while all playing on the same team?

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