For a while there, the notion of a Giancarlo Stanton trade happening one day was being treated as an inevitability. Such is life when a trade just seems so, you know, inevitable.
But have you noticed how much the trade buzz surrounding the Miami Marlins' 24-year-old right fielder has died down recently? That's not happening by accident.
And none of us should bank on the buzz building back up again. Teams aren't in the habit of trading MVP candidates. Stanton has become just that in 2014, and it's a story with two equally important sides.
One side has to do with Stanton himself. After missing over 80 games with injuries in 2012 and 2013, he's been able to play in all of Miami's 71 games this year. And while he did leave Wednesday's 6-1 loss against the Chicago Cubs with a wrist injury, he told MLB.com's Joe Frisaro and Maria Torres that he should be good to go Thursday.
Armed with good health for a change, what had previously been Stanton's explosive potential has become his explosive reality (via FanGraphs):
|Giancarlo Stanton's Big Leap in 2014|
|FanGraphs and ESPN.com|
*These are his averages for those seasons.
With more walks and fewer strikeouts, Stanton is working better at-bats and putting more balls in play. That's helped his average and his on-base percentage, and his power...well, his power is his power.
Stanton hit his National League-leading 20th home run Wednesday afternoon, a laser beam of a shot that traveled over 400 feet into the right-center field bleachers. His 57 RBI also lead the NL, while his .987 OPS ranks second.
Stanton was already one of the NL's best power hitters. Now he's one of the NL's best players, period.
Of course, we wouldn't be talking about him as a leading MVP candidate if he was only a great player. It helps to be a great player on a relevant team. And at 36-35, the Marlins are quite relevant in the NL East and the NL postseason picture at large.
This is the real wrench in the Stanton trade speculation gears. For while we all knew Stanton had it in him to be better, Miami becoming better wasn't really part of the plan.
You'll recall how the Marlins were coming off a hugely disappointing 2012 season that saw them jettison Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez on their way to 93 losses and a last-place finish. You'll also recall how Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson were next to go, as the club shipped them and others to Toronto in a salary-dump trade for the ages.
Then you'll surely recall Stanton's reaction.
He began by tweeting that he was "pissed off." Then he went off to MLB.com's Peter Gammons about how the Marlins had abandoned the "winning philosophy" they had preached and how former Miami players had warned it could happen.
That, clearly, was a man who wasn't thrilled with the direction the Marlins were going in. The prospect of him signing a big-money extension therefore looked highly unlikely, and that's without even considering how the team didn't seem too interested in spending big money anyway.
And then the club lost 100 games in 2013. That's what you call "not helping matters," and it could have been what sealed the deal for Stanton.
But then a funny thing happened: It didn't.
After avoiding arbitration with a $6.5 million deal—his first big MLB payday—over the winter, Stanton indicated to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro that he was coming into spring training with more of an open mind about the Marlins' future. About a month later, he was even more open-minded.
Stanton told CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman in mid-March that it was clear the club had a "good core" with a "good vibe." And while he wasn't ready to commit just yet, he basically gave the Marlins a chance to prove themselves by saying he'd "need a season" to assess things.
Thus far, they have accepted that challenge.
The 2014 Marlins have largely been the Giancarlo Stanton show, for sure, but something teased in 2013 has become a reality: He's not the only good, young player Miami has to build around.
Alongside Stanton in the lineup are 22-year-old left fielder Christian Yelich and 23-year-old center fielder Marcell Ozuna, who have both been above-average hitters in 2014 in the eyes of OPS+. So has 24-year-old second baseman Derek Dietrich, who just needs to get his defense in order.
Elsewhere, it's less of a secret that the Marlins have some good young pitching lined up.
Everyone mourned the loss of 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez when he went in for Tommy John surgery, but the 21-year-old flamethrower will be heard from again. Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, meanwhile, are fellow flamethrowers who are both pitching well in their age-24 seasons. And now along comes 23-year-old lefty Andrew Heaney to make his MLB debut Thursday night in New York.
Any argument that says the Marlins are peaking too soon will have its merits. They probably are. But one of the points of the 2012 blow-up was for the team to put its faith in young talent. That young talent has arrived, and the Marlins suddenly have a bright future.
Basically, Stanton's gotten pretty much what he asked for. He wanted to see a winner in Miami, and the team is transforming into a winner.
Granted, the Marlins might still decide to say "screw it" and trade Stanton, be it sooner or later. After all, the one downside of graduating young talent to the majors is that it creates a need for more young talent. To this end, Stanton is still an invaluable trade chip.
But let's give the Marlins credit. At least publicly, they've wanted to keep Stanton all along. After declaring him unavailable last November, general manager Dan Jennings told ESPN's Jim Bowden in January that the club had already reached out to Stanton about an extension.
That was when keeping Stanton in the mix long term looked like a luxury. That's not how it looks anymore. With him reaching his full potential and the rest of the young Marlins adding their talent to his, keeping Stanton in the mix long term is more like a necessity.
And don't think the team can't meet Stanton's price. Extending him will be expensive—Mike Trout's six-year, $144.5 million extension and Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million extension are valid guidelines—but it's not like the Marlins have any other big financial commitments on their hands.
Seriously. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Miami has $14.1 million in commitments for 2015, $8 million in commitments for 2016, and then nothing. There's plenty of room for a big contract.
What once seemed like a safe assumption is thus no longer one. Stanton has become an MVP-caliber player, the Marlins have become a team worthy of him, and there's room for him to stay there for a long while. As such, we should probably find other big trades to speculate on.
Good thing we still have David Price and Jeff Samardzija.
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