Although their latest attempt was their best yet, the Los Angeles Dodgers still haven't cracked the code for how to bring home their first World Series championship since 1988.
There's a hulking Southern California native in Miami who looks like a missing variable. All the Dodgers have to do is go get him.
His name is Giancarlo Stanton, a right fielder who spent 2017 living a double life as a slugger of 59 home runs and as a living, breathing trade rumor. The soon-to-be 28-year-old will take a break from one of these lives during the offseason, but not from the other.
According to Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, new Miami Marlins owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter want to get the club's payroll down to $90 million for 2018. That's no easy task, as it's roughly $40 million lower than their current projection.
Moving Stanton and the remainder of his 13-year, $325 million contract would go a long way toward doing the trick. But merely saying as much is the easy part.
Not too much has changed since the many parameters of a potential Stanton trade back were broken down on B/R in July. He's still owed $295 million over the next 10 years. His contract still contains an opt-out after 2020. And he still holds full no-trade rights.
|2028||38||$25M Option, $10M Buyout|
All this amounts to one of the most immovable contracts in MLB.
But thanks to none other than Stanton himself, it has become less immovable than it used to be.
Through July 4 of this year, he was sitting on an .870 OPS for the season and an .838 OPS since the start of 2016. Good numbers, to be sure—just not numbers befitting a player with the largest contract in sports history.
But then came the barrage.
In 78 games after July 5, Stanton tallied a 1.150 OPS and cranked 38 homers. This was the result of a mechanical change that allowed him to make more efficient use of his prodigious power. It may not have led to the hallowed grounds of 60 home runs, but it was nonetheless a historic season that cemented him as arguably (Aaron Judge says "hi") MLB's top slugger.
That makes the sheer size of his contract considerably less scary. Meanwhile, his no-trade clause is less a hurdle in reality than it is in theory.
Stanton has long been adamant his top priority is to play for a contender and that he has no interest in waiting for the Marlins to build one around him. As he told Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports in September: "I don't want to rebuild...I've lost for seven years."
Because MLB is a league of haves and have-nots, that narrows down the list of teams that might merit Stanton's approval. He was even willing to dish on a couple in a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel, including his hometown team.
"I grew up a Dodgers fan, if that's where they want to go," said Stanton, who went to high school not far from Dodger Stadium at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California.
Do the Dodgers need Stanton? Well, they just won 104 regular-season games and came within one win of taking home the World Series. They are also set to return almost all the key players who made it happen. So "need" is a strong word.
More to the point, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi shouldn't perceive themselves to be in a position to leave good enough alone. What's there is good enough to get to the World Series. But it's evidently not good enough to win it.
If the Dodgers are going to upgrade this winter, they must prioritize their run production over their run prevention. Whereas they were first in the National League in runs allowed, they were only sixth in runs scored. Their offense couldn't measure up to the Houston Astros' offense in the World Series.
The outfield is the ideal place to target for upgrades, as it's most in danger of an offensive regression. Joc Pederson's weaknesses were exposed in 2017. Yasiel Puig outperformed his recent offensive track record. Chris Taylor drastically outperformed his entire offensive track record. Swapping out one of them for Stanton would greatly reduce the regression risk.
More so than his bat, a bigger complication is how the Dodgers might accommodate Stanton's contract.
They are no strangers to spending, having dropped over $1.2 billion on their five most recent Opening Day payrolls. But Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported in November 2016 that the club is under an MLB mandate to cut its debt. To do so, they are expected to reduce their payroll to $200 million in 2018. As of now, they are projected for over $200 million.
Still, the Dodgers are one of the few teams with pockets deep enough for Stanton's contract. They also have some big contracts set to expire after 2018—those of Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy—that they could push on the Marlins to help offset the cost.
Failing that, Los Angeles might decide to push its payroll-cutting goal to 2019 and explore other trades with Miami.
One would be to dangle prospects from a farm system that B/R's Joel Reuter ranked at No. 9 in MLB. Another would be to base a trade around a young, controllable player who's already established. A Puig-for-Stanton swap might work. So might a Pederson-for-Stanton swap.
Because the Dodgers don't have the biggest need for Stanton, they won't be the team to beat when the sweepstakes heats up. Teams like the Giants, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies figure to be more aggressive suitors.
But the Dodgers are the team that others should be the most worried about. Because if they decide to go all-in for Stanton, their World Series code will be as good as cracked.