Giancarlo Stanton said he spent a few sleepless nights at his mother’s home in the Los Angeles area last week while weighing the biggest decision of his life.
Whereas most people wouldn’t hesitate to agree immediately to a 13-year, $325 million contract, lifetime financial security wasn’t something Stanton was too worried about. One of baseball’s brightest young stars with the kind of power few have, Stanton, 25, knew he could get big money anywhere in two years when he would become a free agent.
This deal with the Marlins, the team that drafted and groomed him, was contingent on trust.
Could he believe in the team and ownership that few in baseball could? After all, the Marlins promised others before him that they were serious about winning too before trading them away. Now, those same players were telling Stanton that if he provided some financial flexibility the first three years of his deal (during which he is set to make only $30 million), they would add some pieces to a talented, young roster.
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“They had the contract there and I put it aside and said, ‘Listen, what are we going to do to make this better?’” Stanton said he told Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill and general manager Dan Jennings, who spent a week in California with him and his agent, Joel Wolfe. “Yeah, I’m financially good for the rest of my life — great. But I’m not trying to come here, get my butt kicked for 10 years and go home to a lavish lifestyle. That’s not fun for me.”
It wasn’t until the Marlins finally agreed to an opt-out clause in 2020 — something Stanton called his fail-safe plan — that the National League runner-up in the MVP race finally felt confident enough to say yes to the Marlins.
That was last week.
On Wednesday morning, a couple of days after a battery of medical exams, Stanton signed the richest contract in North American sports history during a news conference at Marlins Park. Accompanied by manager Mike Redmond, several teammates and the Marlins’ front office, Stanton, dressed in a sharp blue suit, smiled for the cameras as he tied his future to the Marlins. Owner Jeffrey Loria called it “a landmark agreement.”
If things go right — or as Stanton says he sees it — it could turn out to be the most important day in Marlins history.
Last in the National League in attendance (21,386 average per game) last season, the Marlins were prepared to let Stanton go in two years for nothing if they couldn’t re-sign him. Nobody in baseball would have been surprised.
Now, Stanton has guaranteed them at least six years of his future — in his prime no less — for a chance to change the way a sour South Florida fan base base looks at the organization.
“Honestly, I love living here. I love the people. I love the environment,” Stanton said. “I’ve said it from the beginning — winning or losing, my personal preference is living here. I like it better than L.A., where I grew up. I’m very comfortable here. I enjoy all aspects of it. This is a place I want to make a stamp and bring something that Miami hasn’t seen before.
“I wanted [the opt-out clause] for my own protection and what I believe personally in a sense is a push for everyone to make this keep going forward.”
The Marlins have said they expect to spend roughly $60 million on payroll this season. Stanton is helping the Marlins out by charging them just $6.5 million, half of what he would have earned in arbitration, for this coming season. Hill said Wednesday the team should have enough money to add a first or second baseman and another starting pitcher.
Stanton’s contract will escalate from this point forward. But the Marlins said they would be able to cover the cost of it — and other players on the roster — by drawing better attendance and eventually getting more money from a new local TV contract. The Marlins aren’t set to sign a new one until 2020, but will negotiate before then. Keeping Stanton, one of just nine players in baseball history to have at least 150 home runs and a .900 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) before his 25th birthday, helps on all fronts.
“There’s no question that in the next two years we will be back to where we were in 2012 [in attendance], and then we expect it to grow from there,” Marlins president David Samson said.
“Now we have stability and sustainability, which is something this franchise has not had in the past. It’s time for some good days in a row. It’s just a natural feeling for Giancarlo to be the face of this franchise.”
Stanton, who missed the final 17 games of the 2014 season after being struck in the face by a pitch on Sept.11, said that close call had “zero” to do with him seeking immediate financial stability and a long-term deal from the Marlins. He believes the team’s core can win, and said the Marlins’ success in 2014 — going from 62 wins to 77 — helped convince him of that.
“The last time I saw this place full was opening night ,” Stanton said. “I don’t want to come to an empty stadium. I want to change that.
“Like I said before, you can’t change the past with a couple good months. But this season was a good building block. It was a fun year and we didn’t even come close to the wild card. There’s more fun to come. We need to make it happen.”
Samson said Stanton asked him during negotiations whether the club would be willing to move the fences in at Marlins Park. They won’t do it in 2015, but could in 2016 after they study it further, Samson said.
At the time of his injury, Stanton led the NL in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.555), OPS (.950), total bases (299), extra-base hits (99), RBI (105), walks (94), at-bats per home run (14.5) and was on pace to become the first player to lead the league in homers, RBI and slugging percentage since Dante Bichette in 1995.
Stanton said it’s up to him to keep performing and to live up to the contract. Asked if he would be embarrassed knowing he earns nearly $70,000 a day under this contract, he laughed.
“Embarrassed? No,” he said. “I know I have a lot of expectations I have to live up to, which I’m willing to do. This isn’t like having a winning lottery ticket and ‘peace out.’ You win the lottery and go away, retire. This is the start of new work and a new job for this city.”
Redmond, who took a plane from his home in Seattle to be at Wednesday’s news conference, said he was at the airport there when someone recognized him and told him Stanton’s deal with the Marlins had been finalized. That’s when Redmond said it hit him just how big a deal this was for the Marlins.
“I think people understand the impact this guy has not just in our organization, but all of baseball,” Redmond said. “It’s a day to celebrate.”
Players with 150 HRs, .900 OPS before age 25
Giancarlo Stanton , 2014
Albert Pujols, 2004
Alex Rodriguez, 2000
Ken Griffey Jr., 1994
Frank Robinson, 1960
Mickey Mantle, 1956
Eddie Mathews, 1956
Mel Ott, 1933
Jimmie Foxx, 1932
OPS: On-base plus slugging percentage.