Miami Marlins fans are not even allowed to cheer Giancarlo Stanton’s historic home run chase without the overarching gray cloud and nuisance of speculation about whether he’s long for this team.
It’s insane when you think about it.
Stanton should be as untouchable as any pro athlete in this market. He is the best power hitter in the sport. He is in his prime. He is locked up with a long-term contract. He has a shot at becoming baseball’s all-time steroids-free, no-asterisk-needed single season home run champion (more on that later).
This and the pending ownership change from dastardly Jeffrey Loria to the group fronted by Derek Jeter are reasons enough (not to mention hosting the All-Star Game) to make this feel like a triumph of a season for the franchise even as the mid-pack Marlins fritter to a 14th consecutive year out of the playoffs.
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Anybody But Loria owning the Fish is parade-worthy in South Florida and Stanton’e epic season is, too, and yet the kill-joy clatter about trading Stanton won’t stop. It’s like your neighbor’s yap-barking dog that just never shuts up.
The latest yapping was courtesy a Yahoo.com sportswriter, Jeff Passan, who proposed that, “Every day that goes by with Giancarlo Stanton in a Miami Marlins uniform is a wasted opportunity for a franchise begging to be run properly.”
Well, um, nope! Try this instead:
Every day that goes by with Stanton in a Marlins uniform, and the assurance he’ll remain in one, is a gilded opportunity for this franchise to finally commit to its fans and its future.
Trading Stanton now or this winter would be exactly the classic salary-dump for which Loria became infamous — the reason he’s leaving town as the most vilified team owner we have had, a chorus of good-riddance in his wake.
Keeping Stanton, committing to him even as his salary kicks into the stratosphere, would be astoundingly and refreshingly anti-Loria — and therefore is the Litmus test the new owners inherit.
Stanton has 10 years and $295 million left on a 13-year, $325 million contract. It was brilliantly constructed by Loria, with Stanton relatively cheap the first few years before the back-loaded deal would make him pricey, indeed.
Loria got to act like the big-spending owner, likely knowing full well he’d be an ex-owner and counting his profits before Stanton became a $30 million-a-year man. And if Loria did remain, he could always then trade Stanton, whose no-trade clause surely would be waived to go to a contending team with a legitimate owner.
The new owners struck an early positive note with the news this week that club president David Samson, an unpopular Loria henchman, would not be retained when the agreed-upon sale becomes final.
That was good. Even better would be the public commitment to keeping Stanton a career-long Marlin.
The new owners can afford to. From a public-relations vantage, they really cannot afford not to.
Businessman Bruce Sherman heads the group that is spending $1.2 billion for this franchise. Jeter, who’ll run the baseball operation, comes from a Yankees background that makes him very familiar with the idea of spending big for superstars.
The new-owner, new-era Marlins need to solidify Stanton as the focal point and face of the franchise and construct a winner around him so that he wants to stay.
There is much to work with. The rationale for trading Stanton (beyond fiscal frugality) is the bounty of prospects you’d get in return, but this is not a team that needs a ground-up reboot. This team has a solid young lineup, one that is third in NL in hitting and second in fielding.
You can restock cupboards in the farm system with great drafting and judicious trades; you don’t need to trade away the one player most fans come to the park to see.
The just-under-.500 Marlins actually have been reasonably respectable considering the tragic loss of ace Jose Fernandez. The Fish have had two consistent, reliable starters this year in Dan Straily and Jose Ureña. Spending to bring in a No. 1 starter in free agency should be high on the new owners’ to-do list, right up there with committing to Stanton.
I believe there is a fan base here, alienated and dormant, that is waiting to rise and commit when it sees commitment in return.
To earn that, the new owners must be everything Loria was not. They must have a plan and know his to execute it. They must spend, big and smart. And that starts with building around your one essential player.
Appreciate what you have in Stanton, Miami, and hope the Jeter group does as well.
This man just broke the 21-year-old club record for most homers in a season. His 10-homer margin over second place would be the biggest in the NL since 1989. He’d be out front in the league MVP race if voters would remind themselves it’s an individual award.
And history is in his reach, entering the weekend on mathematical pace to hit 60 home runs.
Roger Maris with 61 and Babe Ruth with 60 are the only untainted men to have reached that plateau. The three others who have done it a combined six times — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — are disgraced pharmaceutical agents whose accomplishments are illegitimate and an enduring embarrassment to the game.
No wonder Stanton says his goal is to hit 61 homers this year. It would make him the true king.
This is not a player you trade away.