Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Giancarlo Stanton deal would give fans reason to believe

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is congratulated by his teammates after hit three-run home run in the first inning of a Major League Baseball game against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, at Marlins Park in Miami.
Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is congratulated by his teammates after hit three-run home run in the first inning of a Major League Baseball game against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, at Marlins Park in Miami. El Nuevo Herald

The Miami Marlins, of all teams. Jeffrey Loria, of all sports owners.

That is what strikes you first when hearing that Giancarlo Stanton reportedly is about to sign the richest contract in the history not only of baseball, but of North American team sports.

It isn’t that some team is offering him that.

It’s that this team is.

The Marlins, who are routinely among Major League Baseball’s bottom-dwellers in player payroll.

The Marlins, who have led the league in cost-cutting, fan-angering “fire sales.”

The Marlins, whose penurious business operation has made Loria perhaps the most unpopular owner in South Florida sports history.

This is astounding. Not less.

It calls to mind (just in time for the holidays) Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in which Ebenezer Scrooge sees the light and transforms himself from a miser of cold heart to a man of admirable generosity. Scrooge, in the modern reenactment, is played by Loria. And convincingly, as hard as that is (still) for the mind to wrap around.

Trickling into the weekend were reports that Stanton and the Marlins had agreed to a deal worth $325 million over 13 years.

If it happens, Marlins fans have found their reason to be hopeful, to believe, to buy in, to no longer picture Loria with devil’s horns.

You would expect the news of such a mega-deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had been seen as the frontrunner to land Stanton, who is from L.A. You would expect that news from other big-spending teams such as the Yankees or the Red Sox. But from the Marlins?

There are asterisks to this reported contract, of course. There is an “opt-out” clause that would allow Stanton to leave after five seasons. There is a no-trade clause that would allow him to veto trades to certain teams.

Still, it’s all good.

A month ago, you doubted Miami could re-sign Stanton. You imagined the team would cut its losses and try to trade him now or soon.

Now, if the reported deal is signed, fans are assured of having their top hitter at least five more seasons — the heart of his prime — and likely beyond.

(I would mention here the imperative now for the Marlins to also lock up young ace pitcher Jose Fernandez long-term, but let’s not get greedy. Let’s take it one budding superstar at a time …)

Stanton’s value to the Marlins can hardly be overstated. What LeBron James was to the Heat the past four years, Stanton is to the Marlins. If that’s hyperbole, it isn’t by much.

The Marlins had rights to Stanton for the next two seasons, with the option to keep him or trade him. His salary would have been (relatively) modest the next two years. Instead, they got aggressive. They moved to go long-term now, understanding that Stanton would naturally have interest in his mega-bucks beginning now, not after two more years.

It was this past Sept.11 when Stanton’s season was ended early by a fastball to the face, leaving him gushing blood near home plate. The ball hits him an inch or two differently and perhaps it’s a career-ending injury.

You think about that, right?

Maybe it made Stanton think a little bit more about financial security.

Maybe it made the Marlins think a little bit harder about the prize they had, and how lucky they are to have him, and how much they wanted to keep him.

This has been a huge few days for sports in South Florida.

The Dolphins beat the Bills here Thursday night to restore playoff hopes.

The Hurricanes host Florida State on Saturday night.

Sunday, Homestead-Miami Speedway host NASCAR’s champion-crowning season finale.

Those are all big, noisy, national events.

But if this Stanton news is real, it will be the highlight of the weekend for Miami sports.

It will be what we’ll be cheering the longest.

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