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Giancarlo Stanton and the deal the Marlins had to make

If Giancarlo Stanton was open to an extension, the Marlins had to meet his demands because of their own weird history.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the jokes about Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria being an amorphous mass of pulsing greed and blackened id -- and I have a lot of them! -- I'll bet even he wants to go back in time and give his predecessor, Wayne Huizenga, a firm kick in the buttocks. The Marlins have been a weird, inexplicable franchise since their inception, but nothing was more cynical than the post-1997 selloff. Nothing made less sense. The Marlins spent to win before '97, and they actually did it. They won the World Series in front of 67,000 screaming fans. Then they embarked upon the most oafish, artless rebuilding plan in recent baseball history for no good reason. They've been paying for it ever since. They paid about $320 million for it this fall.

The 1997 season was the kind that should have made Miami a baseball town, or something close to it. Take the Arizona Diamondbacks, their expansion cousins. The Diamondbacks last season were a collapsed ball of talent that was so dense, no talent could escape. They almost lost 100 games. Yet they still drew more than two million fans, just like they have in every season after their World Series win. The Marlins could have been relevant for years if they kept the good vibes going. Instead, Huizenga was ... I think the word is spiteful. That fire sale was acidic and nasty, as if he expected three million fans after his previous spending spree, and the liquidation thrown back in the faces of the cheapskates who didn't show.

I'm sure that Stanton wasn't thinking about 1997 or 2003 when he signed the deal. That's what the ownership was thinking about, though.

The post-2003 selloff was gross, and the post-2012 selloff was a PR disaster, even if it might have made a modicum of baseball sense, but that '97 decision was the biggest mess of all. The newborn franchise was still wobbling around on shaky little fawn legs, trying to become a large-market powerhouse, even if it had the disadvantage of playing in a dilapidated football stadium. Huizenga took the fawn out where the ulna bone met the humerus and danced on the body. Then he went back to thinking about how DVDs were going to be around for 50 years.

Also, my autocorrect keeps changing "Huizenga" to "Wheezing." I think I'll keep one of them in.

Long rant short: I've always wondered how much that post-'97 stunt cost the Marlins, how much it affected the franchise value, and how much it depressed revenue for the next two decades. Is there a way to put a price tag on the legacy of fire sales? How much did they cost the Marlins in financial terms?

Superstar outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins now have a deal in place for a record $325 million over a record 13 years, sources connected to the team say.

That much. It cost them at least that much.

It was the move the Marlins had to make. I just wasn't sure if Giancarlo Stanton was eager enough to go along with it.

I'm sure that Stanton wasn't thinking about 1997 or 2003 when he signed the deal. That's what the ownership was thinking about, though. How do we erase this legacy of shame? How do we earn trust again? The Marlins are sitting on one of the top-10 markets in baseball, but they've done so much to moon their prospective fans.

No, if there's a selloff Stanton was thinking of, it was the one after the 2012 season. When an athlete takes to Twitter in an emotional state, deleted tweets follow. That's the pattern. Stream-of-consciousness tweets beget quietly whitewashed timelines. Except, this baby is still living strong on the Internet, years after it was twote in anger:

That's Stanton after the 2012 fire sale. Marlins ownership raised expectations. Marlins players lowered them a fair amount. Marlins ownership took the lowered expectations and ran them through the garbage disposal. If Stanton were an at-will employee like most of us, he would have polished his resume before Mark Buehrle's plane landed in Toronto. He was stuck, though, because of the yoke of the CBA. Which means he had time to fester, or at least build up a thick callous to the idea of hometown discounts. That led to one of my favorite recent quotes:

The question was whether the events of this season had altered his top-down view of the organization. He'd raised his eyes, thinking.

"Five months," he said, "doesn't change five years."

There would be no hometown discounts. There would be a hometown tax. There would be hometown service fees. There would be hometown shipping and handling. There would be hometown finder's fees, restocking fees, and insane charges for taking a bag of chips out of the hotel fridge.

The Marlins had to offer the insane extension because of 1997. Stanton had to demand it because of 2012. The 2003 fire sale fits snugly on both sides. If the Marlins were going to start acting like a normal team in one of America's biggest markets, they couldn't let the face of the franchise walk off like everyone expected him to. Dave Cameron had the first inkling that a Stanton contract might get over $300 million. It sounds crazy now. It will sound crazy in the future, too. That's so, so, so much money.

If you're going to pay that money, though, you pay it to a player of potentially historic significance. Stanton isn't Alfonso Soriano, Justin Morneau, or Carlos Gonzalez, players who dazzled when younger, but weren't ever necessarily on a Hall of Fame path. Stanton is an anomaly, a freak. He turned 25 a week ago. Let's take a look at the players who hit more home runs than Stanton before they were 25.


There are cautionary tales up there. Conigliaro was hurt in a freak beaning. Horner couldn't stay healthy after his late 20s. Trosky suffered horrible migraines that wrecked his career. Canseco lost a finger that fell off during a poker game. Even though that was decades later, it still seemed important to note.

But those are the outliers. Most of the players would have been so danged worth it. Imagine a team getting a decade of Frank Robinson after this contract. They would have giggled with delight. Same with Pujols. Same with Mantle, Aaron, Bench, Ott, DiMaggio, Foxx, and, yes, even A-Rod. Stantons don't come around every 10 or 20 years. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. If the Marlins needed to make a show of trust, they were damned fortunate to have a player like Stanton with whom to do it.

Still, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the Marlins approached him after 2011, after signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. We are the new Marlins, they might have said. Come join us on our journey to the heart of baseball! Sign this 10-year extension with multiple team options!

He was 22, then. He was clearly a rising star, but how many players with 1,000 plate appearances turn down $150 or $180 million? That would have been Ryan Braun money, except Stanton didn't have the same track record as the then-MVP. It would have been nearly impossible for Stanton to turn that down. The new Marlins could have remained the new Marlins, except they would have locked up their young star for the next decade.

They didn't. And they dumped the other players. That meant they had to pay as much for Stanton as they probably would have for the spending spree plus an earlier Stanton extension. The legacy of fire sales meant they needed a big splash to rebuild trust; the timing of the last fire sale meant that big splash cost a lot more.

All we know from here: Stanton is a great player, a young, freakish talent. He will be on the Marlins until he waives his no-trade clause, opts out of his contract, or is getting gray and listening to Steely Dan in his mid-30s. Considering the alternatives -- Stanton starring for the Red Sox, Yankees, or Dodgers for the next decade -- this was the move the Marlins had to make, even if they were the ones who boxed themselves into a corner over the past two ownership groups.