The Marlins started the month of May five games behind the Nationals. Then Miami went 3-17 over their first 20 games that month, giving them the worst record in baseball. They were caught in limbo, between Jeffrey Loria and Derek Jeter, the old era and the new era, and they were really, really bad.
If this scenario had continued, the new owners would have come in in after spending $1.2 billion, looked around, and realized the team was an unwatchable mess. There would be a way to get rid of a financial obligation that was the rough equivalent of one-fifth of the final sale price, no questions asked. Pull a lever, and poof, a quarter-billion commitment was off the books. The details were kind of important, but don’t underestimate the enormity of what the new Marlins owners could do to improve their ledgers immediately.
When the Marlins had that 3-17 stretch, Giancarlo Stanton was doing ... fine. He was hitting .256 with a .331 on-base percentage. He had hit 11 home runs over his first 40 games, which was ... fine. His $300 million contract looked like a mistake, though, a gamble based on the upward trajectory of his career, his youth, and the historical comparisons that were easy to wring out when he was 24 years old.
If new owners came in, stripped the club for parts, and started over with their own vision, I’m not going to suggest that Marlins fans would be thrilled to see a third dismantling, but it would have been understandable, at least, with the added benefit of Loria being gone.
However, things have changed. Oh, how things have changed.
You know about Stanton, and how he tore off The Kurgan’s head with his bare hands to absorb his power. He’s the story of Major League Baseball right now, which has to make absolutely everyone at New York headquarters giddy. It was just last year that I wrote about how Stanton was the perfect face of MLB, but the rules of the game made it impossible for one player to matter all that much because it’s not like someone could hit a homer every game. He’s out to prove that assumption wrong, and bless him for it.
If you want to follow Stanton’s chase to 62 because that’s the real record, go for it, even if you’re both wrong. Stanton’s renaissance goes beyond his absurd pace, though. It turns out that the Marlins actually win baseball games when Stanton hits a billion home runs.
Over their last 88 games, more than a half-season, the Marlins have been the Nationals, more or less. They’ve outplayed every team in the AL. They would lead the second wild card by 7½ games if the season started on May 20. They turned their season around, and now they have baseball’s biggest story, too. Those two things are very closely linked.
And now, instead of wondering how much the Marlins would need to include if they wanted to trade Stanton and clean up the ledgers for the new guys, it’s time to wonder just how close this Marlins team is to being a perennial contender.
Start with Stanton, who is still owed $295 million over the next 10 years ... unless he’s owed $77 million over the next three years, when he opts out. If you think that’s silly, imagine him doing this for three more years. He would get more than $218 million on the open market. Regardless, all that we know is that Stanton is around for the Marlins for a decade if both sides want it, and it turns out that he’s really, really, really good.
Move to his outfield counterparts, Christian Yelich (under contract through 2022) and Marcell Ozuna (Under contract through 2019). Yelich is one of the more underrated players in baseball, and Ozuna is one of the more underrated stories of 2017. While the focus is on Stanton, and rightfully so, Ozuna has shown gains in his power, patience, and average, and even the defensive stats like him again this year.
Yelich is 25, Ozuna is 26, and Stanton is 27. This is the closest we’ve come to Bell-Moseby-Barfield since the original, except it’s not even sacrilegious to suggest that none of those Blue Jays were as good as Stanton. This could be the best outfield of three generations. (I see you Red Sox fans. Get your own article.)
Now consider that J.T. Realmuto has quietly become one of the best two-way catchers in the game, and he’s just 26 and under contract through 2020.
That’s half of the lineup taken care of, and when you average out the salaries, it looks like a very reasonably priced start to a team, just with Stanton picking up most of the tabs at the club. This gets us to the biggest point of all. While we’ve heard over and over again about how the new Marlins owners might want to shed Stanton’s contract and start fresh, the reality of the team’s payroll situation isn’t dire or grim.
Here’s the total of all the Marlins’ guaranteed contracts over the next five years:
2018 - $95M
2019 - $84M
2020 - $74M
2021 - $60M
2022 - $30M
Compared to other teams, that’s actually pretty substantial. It doesn’t include the money they’ll pay to players like Realmuto in arbitration, or the options they’ll likely pick up for Yelich. But look at those commitments through the eyes of new owners, hungry to build positive vibes in Miami.
Look at those commitments of those new owners watching the Marlins over the last three months and thinking, goodness, this team is already outstanding.
The Marlins are 4½ games behind the second wild card, so they’re not likely to shock the world this year. And they still have a lot of work to do — their pitching, specifically, features some high-priced flops — before they can be preseason favorites. That work will probably require money, as the Marlins aren’t swimming in tradable prospects, and money might not be something the new owners will want to part with right away. Which is why the Stanton rumors exist in the first place.
But the Marlins are suddenly winning, and that changes everything. Jeter and company will want to build trust, and the best way to do that is by keeping one of baseball’s greatest gifts around, even if he’s expensive, and using his dingers to win more baseball games than the other teams. These last three months have been a proof of concept for the Marlins, then. Keeping Stanton would be the best way to win. Winning would be the best way to make money. Making money and having fun doing it is the reason all of these millionaires and billionaires are involved in the first place.
Stanton and the resurgent Marlins are showing them exactly how that’s possible, and they’re doing it at the perfect time.