David Schoenfeld lit a fire under Pirate fans this morning with his post on ESPN's SweetSpot blog entitled, "Pirates need to make big pitch for Stanton." The Stanton in question is, of course, the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton. You can probably guess Schoenfeld's logic from here, but let's lay it out. The Pirates need offense, Giancarlo Stanton is one of the best power hitters in baseball, the Marlins are perpetually willing to trade good players for prospects, and the Pirates have plenty of prospects. This does, in fact, seem like a line of thought worth pursuing, even if it's only as a thought exercise.
In fact, let's think of this as a thought exercise. There is no direct evidence that the Marlins plan on trading Stanton at this point in time, even though it seems like a safe bet that they'd be willing to listen to the right offer. Stanton, like Justin Upton last year, is very young and insanely talented and would be under team control through 2017. That means that if the Pirates think they can acquire Stanton, they should consider doing so even if the price seems outrageous. Schoenfeld put the price of Stanton at Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon, Tony Sanchez, and a "decent C-grade lefty," which I'll define as Joely Rodriguez, I guess, because there really aren't any other guys that fit the bill for the Pirates (Andy Oliver isn't really a propsect at this point and Zack Dodson isn't really all that good). Rodriguez is probably more of a C+ guy, if we're being honest, but then, we're talking about Giancarlo Stanton.
That is a king's ransom, obviously. Polanco and Taillon are both in the top 20-25 prospects in all of baseball right now. Tony Sanchez is having a great season at the plate with Indianapolis this year. Strong defensive catcher with even a smidge of offensive upside are useful players, as Pirate fans are learning from Russell Martin this year. Rodriguez is having a breakout year for West Virginia, with a 2.85 K/BB ratio at the age of 21 and lefties are pretty scarce in the Pirates' system. And still, you have to consider this. Stanton won't turn 24 until November and he just hit his 100th career home run. As a 21 year old, he 34 home runs in 150 games. As a 22 year old, he hit 37 homers and sluggled .608 in 123 games. He draws walks in about 10% of his plate appearances. That puts his career OPS at .900 despite striking out a ton and only having a .270 career batting average. Stanton is, essentially, a right-handed version of everything you hoped Pedro Alvarez would be in 2008. Taillon and Polanco are great prospects that every team in baseball would kill for, but they're still just prospects. Stanton has successfully graduated from that status.
I'm still wary of this trade, as proposed by Schoenfeld, though, and here's why: I'm not sure it's future-facing enough for a small-market team like the Pirates. Gregory Polanco only has 20 plate appearances for Altoona, but he looks like a really special player. Last spring, no one had any idea who he was. Now, he's a Top 25 prospect that can hit for both average and power with very good patience for a young Dominican player. He's fast, he's a great defensive outfielder, he's the proverbial five-tool prospect right now. As a 21-year old prospect right now, he's basically a better-rounded version of what Starling Marte was as a 22-year old prospect. The sky really is the limit here.
Let's re-frame the trade this way: what if the Pirates were only going to get Stanton for the rest of 2013 and 2014. Would you trade Jameson Taillon, Tony Sanchez, and Joely Rodriguez for that? Certainly Stanton would be a huge upgrade on what the Pirates have in right field now, but that's a pretty steep price to pay for 200-230 games of Stanton. This is hypothetical based on Polanco's development of course, but if Polanco meets his potential that's what this trade boils down to. Remember that picking up Stanton doesn't come without risk, either; this year he's dealt with shoulder and hamstring injuries and last year he lost time to knee and oblique injuries.
This hasn't even considered what losing Sanchez and Taillon would mean to the future of the Pirates. By 2015, it's almost certain that Wandy Rodriguez, AJ Burnett, and Russell Martin will no longer be Pirates. Taillon and Sanchez aren't necessarily locks to be future All-Stars, but at this point it seems pretty likely to think that they'll be contributors in some form to the Pirates by then. Pedro Alvarez is far from the player Pirate fans hoped for three years ago, but where would this 2013 team be with Brandon Inge at third base every day instead of Alvarez? So who catches for the Pirates after Martin if not Tony Sanchez? The journey to get to Martin was pretty ugly; who wants to repeat that process again? What does the rotation look like without Taillon? Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and then what? The Pirates have prospects for both battery terminals, but besides Taillon, Sanchez, and Nick Kingham, they're all awfully low in the minors. For the short term, they would almost certainly have to fill these holes with external options. External options do not come cheaply. In 2015, Andrew McCutchen will be making $10 million, Stanton will be in his second year of arbitration, and Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker will be into their arbitration process, as well. Where does the money for free agent regulars or starting pitchers come from at this point?
All of this seems really negative, but that's not the point. The point is that this trade is only obviously hugely beneficial for the Pirates in the short-term, and that means that it has to be pretty carefully considered. That doesn't mean it should be ignored.There is obvious long-term value in having Stanton (who could be a generational-type power hitter) in a Pirates' uniform through 2017. This 2013 Pirate team is a good team now, while future theoretical Pirate teams are not guaranteed to be. Still, if the main certain benefit from this trade comes in the immediate future, then it's also worth considering that whatever it is that Stanton brings to the Pirates is dimished vs. the field of trade candidates (Josh Willingham and company) over a 60 or 70 game sample.
The bottom line here is that I think it's really hard to come to an easy verdict on this kind of question. The Pirates have stockpiled quite a bit of talent and much of it is concentrated in starting pitching and outfielders. They will probably make a trade involving some of that talent at some point in the near future. How could they possibly get a better player in return than Giancarlo Stanton? And yet, if the Pirates are going to unload a gigantic concentration of talent for a young and proven player, what are they accomplishing by acquiring someone that duplicates the strengths of their minor league system?
Of course, all of this is just a thought exercise for now. The Marlins are still holding fast to the idea that they're not trading Stanton. The Pirates have given no indication that they think the time is now to pull a franchise-remodeling trade. In our hypothetical universe where this trade would be discussed, though, I'm happy that I'm not the person that would have to pull the trigger on it. Even with all of the space I've used discussing the trade in this post, I'm still not completely sure what side I'd come down on.
When Dave Schoenfield is negotiating his next contract, he's going to put on his list of accomplishments, "Got an entire fan base to spend a week discussing the merits of a hypothetical trade I made up."
I've been posting this elsewhere on the blogosphere, so I'll go ahead and dump it here, too:
To anyone saying "Don't sell the farm," you have to consider the stunning failure rate of what “The farm” produces. Let’s look at some blockbuster player-for-prospect deals and how they turned out:
Jason Bay landed four prospects. And say what you will about the performance of the people we got in return, but LaRoche and Morris were both highly regarded, while Moss was a C-grade prospect and Hansen was a former top prospect with a chance to rebound. And yet, you kinda have to say the Red Sox and Dodgers won that trade, don’t you?
How about the trade that the ESPN article linked to in this blog post mentioned, where the Tigers sent Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera? Maybin was BA’s #8 prospect in baseball. He’s now 26 and is a 4th OF for the Padres with a career .248/.311/.370 line. Miller was BA’s #10 prospect in baseball. He’s 28, in Boston as a reliever, and has a career 5.37 ERA, 1.67 WHIP. Was 6 prospects – including two of the top 10 in baseball – for 2 MLB players (Dontrelle Willis also went to Detroit) a bad deal for the Tigers? Did the Marlins get more value out of Maybin and Miller than Detroit has gotten out of Cabrera? Kinda hard to make that case, don’t you think?
Remember when the Indians traded Cliff Lee and got Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp? Carrasco was Philly’s best prospect, number 41 in baseball per BA. He has a career 5.18 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and had Tommy John surgery. Marson was another top-50-in-baseball prospect. He’s a backup catcher now. Knapp was a top-100 prospect and is out of baseball now. Donald is in AAA for the Reds and was a utility player in Cleveland. It’s kinda hard to say that the Phillies paid too much for Cliff Lee in retrospect, isn’t it?
Remember when those same Indians traded CC Sabathia to the Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Michael Brantley and Rob Bryson? LaPorta was ranked 23rd in baseball by BA, 14th by MLB, and was drawing comparisons to Ryan Braun. He ended up being a quad-A player with a career .238/.301/.393 batting line. He’s in AAA now. Jackson was the Brewers’ #10 prospect. He has a career 5.81 ERA, 1.56 WHIP. Rob Bryson was the Brewers’ #11 prospect. He’s in AA now at 25 years old. Brantley is a semi-successful fourth OF for the Indians, but can you really say he provides more value than Sabathia provided to the Brewers? They won the NL Central largely because of Sabathia that year.
The Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays for Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor. D’Arnaud was and remains a top prospect. We’ll see how he turns out. Drabek was ranked #25 by Baseball America. He’s now had two Tommy John surgeries, and at 25 hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues. His AAA line has a 7.44 ERA and 2.02 WHIP. Michael Taylor was ranked #29 by BA. He has had 81 MLB plate appearances…in Oakland, scattered over 3 seasons, for a .135/.210/.189 line. He stopped hitting after he made the jump to AAA.
There are, of course, deals where the team getting prospects wins the trade, and wins big. The Nady trade for us comes to mind. Bartolo Colon for Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee comes to mind. But those deals are MUCH rarer than the case where the team that’s getting the player wins the trade.
Do you know why it takes multiple top prospects to land elite MLB players? Because the vast majority of prospects, no matter how highly regarded, flame out. Pirates fans should know this too well. Remember Chad Hermansen? Scouts said he could walk on water. Kris Benson? At one time, he had as much national hype as Stephen Strasburg.
When you’re a rebuilding team, it’s wise to stockpile prospects. That’s not because they’ll all pan out, it’s because most of them WON’T pan out, and you need to gather as many players with potential as possible to catch the few that do. But when you can compete for the World Series, that focus shifts. You start trading “maybe” for “definitely.” The Pirates are at that stage right now. They have the third-best record in baseball. If they carry that into the trade deadline and they can upgrade RF from Travis Snider to Giancarlo Stanton, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO IT. He’s one of the best hitters in the game. They’ll have him for three years after this one. And while Taillon and Polanco both have a chance to be very good players for a long time (Sanchez, I’m not as sure about), Stanton is definitely a great player right now and barring something horrible happening will be for years. If he continues on his current pace, he’s a future Hall of Famer. Maybe Taillon will be the next Roger Clemens, and maybe Polanco will be better than Stanton. Then again, maybe Taillon will be the next Kris Benson and Polanco will be the next Chad Hermansen.
We are the only contending team in baseball with a fanbase that wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to trade top prospects for Stanton. Everywhere else, fans of teams are constructing elaborate packages of “what it would take for us to get this guy.” 21 years of losing has conditioned Pirates fans to always think about the future. Always think about “In a couple years, when some prospects pan out, we’ll contend for the World Series.” The Pirates are 43-30. The future is right now. The prospects HAVE panned out. It won’t take a couple years. RIGHT NOW is the time to contend for the World Series. And the beauty of Stanton in particular is that he’ll also help us contend for the entire duration of this McCutchen/Alvarez/Walker/Marte offensive and Burnett/Rodriguez/Cole pitching core. He’ll be there for the whole time that the window is open. Trading prospects to get him isn’t mortgaging the future at this point, it’s competing for the present AND the future. And you know what else? When his contract is about to run out, if we’re not contending, we can trade him to acquire prospects.
agreed all around. there are a load of Dunston-esque rentals (Willingham, Soriano, etc) that could be had at the deadline that wont cost near that. of course it'd be nice if Tabata comes back strong (with cybernetic hamstrings)
Great analysis as always, Pat. I agree with fasicad though, I want the Pirates to be perennial contenders and I think trading away Tallion and Polanco puts that in jeopardy.
While I would love to have a generational talent like Stanton on the Pirates, I would like to think that there is a slightly lower graded player out there who could help the team at less organizational cost. Is Nelson Cruz or Hunter Pence as good as Stanton? No, but could you get one of them for, say, Josh Bell, Nick Kingham and Andy Oliver?
@NateRose I get your point, Nate, which is why I can spend so much time pointing out why this trade might be dangerous for the Pirates and still end up on, "Yeah, Stanton is awesome, I still might pull the trigger." All I'm saying is that when you ship this much talent off to another team, you really have to consider all the scenarios. It's true that lots of recent "prospects for talent" trades work out in favor of the talent, but not all of them do. The Braves' trade for Mark Teixeira was awful. The Angels would surely love to have Jean Segura back right now instead of those 13 starts they got from Greinke.
I'm not opposed to trading good prospects for help, particularly very talented long-term help like Stanton can provide. I'm mostly just nervous about trying to find that help at the one position in the field that I'm relatively certain that the Pirates can man long term. Obviously it's rare when a team might be willing to part with a guy like Stanton, which makes this potential scenario unique. I'm just pointing out that the Pirates have to be measured in everything they do and take all scenarios into consideration.
All that said, who wouldn't love to see Stanton launch a ball off of whatever they're calling the Steakhouse in left field now, and to do it in a Pirate uniform?
@NateRose I agree that there are a LOT of good points in your post, and Thanks for the time put in. And I would agree with you 100%, if Stanton looked like he can stay healthy and give the Bucs a full season for the next 3 years. But I really don't see that happening; hasn't yet.
@NateRose All good points, but you don't have to be afraid to sell the farm to be against this particular trade. As I said below, I would only want to mortgage that much of the farm system if it gave the team a good chance to win the World Series. I'm not even sure trading for Stanton would make the Pirates the favorites to win the NL Central.
@cytopathic_effect Same here. I think the only reason for trading so many top prospects from the system is if it'll give you a very good chance at winning the championship. In this case we're talking about getting just one player in return. So the question is, are the Pirates one player away from the World Series? As much as I like this year's team, I think that's a definite no.
@whygavs @NateRose This would be a disastor of a deal. Sure, you close a hole in RF for a couple of years with a guy with tremendous ceiling. But,yyou create at least 3 holes in the year 2015. What is the point ? To scare the Cards in 2013 ? Because Stanton is NOT going to put this team over the top as constructed right now.
@Eephus @NateRose That's the beauty of Stanton over, say, Rios or Willingham, though. Those players are gone after this season. Stanton is around for another three years. Even if he doesn't put the Pirates over the top in the NL Central this year (And, really, overtaking the Cardinals is looking like an impossible task for us AND the Reds) we've got three more seasons with one of the best hitters in baseball and a nice core. Stanton will be here for the entire duration that our window is open if we go get him. An outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Stanton would keep us in the World Series picture for a while.
(Side note: Really? Rios? He has a career .325 OBP and isn't getting any younger. He's barely an upgrade over what the Snider/Tabata platoon was producing before Tabata got hurt. I'd rather give up top prospects for Stanton than give up mid-level prospects for Alex freakin' Rios.)
@NateRose @Eephus True that. The three years of control is quite important and it's important not to get wrapped up in thinking about a one-year window. But (without looking up contracts) any combination of Burnett, Wandy, and Liriano could be gone in the next year or two. And possibly Pedro and Garrett Jones, I think? I just think the return on no individual is guaranteed, and to get to the promised land the Pirates are going to need multiple people that are not currently on the major league roster. I'm not a general manager, with good reason, but in the Pirates' current situation I wouldn't make a multiple people for one person trade.