clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Yankees pounced on Giancarlo Stanton, which they should have done all along

Rather than wait the market out for a superstar, the Yankees grabbed the superstar who fell into their lap.

T-Mobile Home Run Derby Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It’s too convenient to draw a straight line from Shohei Ohtani’s snub of the Yankees directly to their trade for Giancarlo Stanton. It’s making correlations where they don’t exist, and it’s drawing conclusions that don’t have to be drawn. Most of all, it’s lazy.

Which is why I would like to draw a straight line from Shohei Ohtani’s snub of the Yankees directly to their trade for Giancarlo Stanton.

The Yankees certainly didn’t feel that they were destined to get Ohtani, but they felt pretty good about their chances. If he wanted to be an international superstar, he was going to choose the capital of the baseball universe and play in a city with more people than Chicago and Los Angeles combined. The endorsement deals were going to be there, and the Yankees had the most money to offer before that, anyway. It just made sense.

And then Ohtani didn’t even pretend to consider the Yankees. He put them in the same discard pile as the Brewers, Marlins, and Royals.

It had to have been a teeny tiny wake-up call, a reminder that not every free agent has dreams of wearing pinstriped pajamas to bed. A lot has been made about the Yankees’ newfound austerity, and it all pointed to a free agent bonanza in 2019. Bryce Harper? Sure, why not. Manny Machado? Heck, throw him off the pile. Clayton Kershaw? Maybe Cody Bellinger has nuclear halitosis, we don’t know, and it can’t hurt to try. The Yankees were going to be one of the most active teams in one of the most compelling offseasons.

Except, what if those players didn’t want to come to New York? What if the Orioles locked up Machado in spring training and Harper wanted to play closer to Las Vegas? What if Josh Donaldson wanted some of that Cardinals Way, and what if Charlie Blackmon wanted to play out his childhood dream of going to the Braves? The Yankees would have scrimped and saved and clipped coupons for Adam Jones and Brad Brach. That wouldn’t be the likeliest scenario — we’re talking about seven consecutive coin flips coming up heads — but it’s certainly a possible scenario. Why, just look at Ohtani’s snub.

Giancarlo Stanton, then, was a superstar who wanted to be a Yankee. He was considering the Giants until he heard the Yankees were curious, and he said, hold up, lemme see where this is going. He took advantage of his no-trade clause and steered the Marlins (almost) exactly where he wanted to go. The Yankees are young, rich, and built to consume small planets, and Stanton earned that kind of team. Miami was fun, but New York is New York, and that’s apparently everything the MVP wanted in a baseball team, except for the geography.

Here’s a baseball axiom, then. Print this out and stick it on your fridge, because it’s never not going to be true:

When a young, historically unique superstar wants to play for a rich team, that rich team should accommodate him.

It’s simple, right? But it’s an axiom the Dodgers had no interest in, apparently. They were so intent on resetting the luxury tax, so committed to preparing for the 2018-2019 free agent armageddon, they were willing to wave off a reigning MVP coming off a 59-homer season. In 2021, Stanton will be 31, Corey Seager will be 27, and Cody Bellinger will be 25. That is to say, in four years, all three sluggers will still be in their primes. It would have been a lineup core that someone would have written a book about in 2099.

The Yankees saw the opening, though. And if you’re quibbling about Stanton being “historically unique,” please don’t. The best way to describe his anomalous power and preternatural baseball skills is like this: He’s just 2½ years older than Aaron Judge. We just got used to Judge’s ability to be a dinger machine, but Stanton already had 700 games and 181 career homers by the time he was Judge’s age. Players who hit 20 homers or more as a 20-year-old tend to be historically significant. Players who are halfway to 500 home runs before they’re 28 tend to be historically significant.

And when a young, historically unique superstar wants to play for a rich team, that rich team should accommodate him. Always. No exceptions. Unless the superstar lost a finger that offseason, maybe. And even then, you have to consider it.

This isn’t the first time the Yankees have acted on this maxim. Alex Rodriguez fell into their lap when the MLBPA rejected a deal that would have sent him to the Red Sox. He was available for the right mix of prospects and payroll room, so the Yankees took the laminated card out of their pocket, which read ...

When a young, historically unique superstar wants to play for a rich team, that rich team should accommodate him.

... and they made the deal. One championship, 351 home runs, and 784 tabloid headlines later, and they don’t regret it. Even when it comes to a helmet-chasing, suspension-garnering, weirdo of a centaur, who ends up wasting scores of millions at the end of his contract, the axiom still holds up. Get the young players on a direct path to Cooperstown if they want to play for your rich team. Always, always, always.

It’s possible that we’ll look back at this trade as a mistake. The Dodgers will sandwich Grunchel Clemden (29th overall pick, 2020) and his 50 homers between Seager and Bellinger in a few years, and the Yankees will count on 200 sore-kneed at-bats annually from their large once-star. Nothing is guaranteed. On the back of that laminated card, it reads, “Baseball will ruin you and everyone that you love,” which is the only other axiom you need. But the odds are better that the Yankees will follow that Rodriguez path and get at least one World Series championship out of their big boy bookends.

If you’re a betting sort who believes that baseball exists to troll us all, I’d advise a modest wager that the Yankees will play the Dodgers in that World Series. Or the Cardinals. Either way, it would be funny.

All that we know now, though, is that the Yankees got the young, historically unique superstar who wanted to play for their team. The only questions I have are these:

a) Seriously, Dodgers?

and

b) What took so long?