MLB

Stray Bullets: Giancarlo Stanton

“Stray Bullets” is a recurring series of blogs I’ll be doing, choosing to list off a few bullet points on a breaking topic instead of writing an organized feature. Today’s subject is the reigning NL MVP and now New York Yankee, Giancarlo Stanton.

  • This all hasn’t really set in for me yet. It’s pretty impossible to process. The Yankees’ plan for years was to mostly ignore free agency and avoid big contracts, get under the luxury tax threshold, then go all in on Bryce Harper or Manny Machado after the 2018 season. It was an extremely public blueprint that just about every Yankee fan bought into. But when the best slugger in baseball chooses you as one of his only desired destinations and then his asking price hits rock bottom, sometimes you have to make a move. And that’s exactly what Brian Cashman did.
  • Make no mistake about it: this was highway robbery by the Yankees. A power-hitting rightfielder was probably the last thing the Yankees needed to acquire, but Cashman knows better than to pass up an offer as opportunistic as this one.
  • The prospects that the Yankees are giving up for Giancarlo are…um…far from their best. Jorge Guzman has a big arm and immediately becomes one of Miami’s top prospects. But he was also the second best prospect the Yankees received in their Brian McCann trade, and Guzman is only the fourth best…right-handed pitcher in the Yankees system. As for the other kid, Jose Devers, I’ve never heard of him and I spend more time actively following the Yankees than most people my age spend actually working at their jobs. Even with the Marlins’ barren farm and their total lack of leverage in this situation, I’m stunned that this is all they pulled in prospects.
  • Losing Starlin Castro isn’t ideal, considering he’s somehow only 27 with a pretty solid contract. But he’s also a free swinger who I’m pretty sure doesn’t know that you can reach base after taking four balls. His profile doesn’t fit in at all with a lineup that’s filled with righties and bound to strike out a ton, especially considering mega-prospect Gleyber Torres was bound to take his job at some point during this season anyway. I’m sure most fans would’ve rather seen Gleyber supplant Chase Headley instead of Starlin, but I’m not so sure I subscribe to that. Headley’s potential is severely limited and he’s not exactly a Gold Glover, but Starlin would occasionally blow games with his play at second and he’s a remarkably inconsistent hitter. For someone who’s bound to bat 8th or 9th in this lineup, I’ll take the switch-hitting third baseman.
  • Now let’s discuss the main reason why people tune into baseball…the financials! Real talk, I’m not gonna go all Darren Rovell here, but it’s important to consider the money since the Yankees have such a specific financial plan that Stanton’s league-leading contract surely complicates. As expected, the Yankees are taking on the bulk of Giancarlo’s massive deal: $265mil of the $295mil that he’s owed through 2028. That $30mil that the Marlins are chipping in might seem like chump change compared to what the Yankees are paying, but it’s actually crucial. The Yankees are on the hook for $25mil towards Giancarlo for 2018, but he actually only costs $22mil towards the luxury tax threshold since it accounts for average annual value and that $30mil is spaced out over ten seasons. (The Yankees don’t get that money from the Marlins if Giancarlo opts out after 2020, but that’s unlikely and for the sake of this exercise we’re gonna assume that he won’t.) Even though A-Rod and other big contracts finally came off the Yankees’ books, they still have a big payroll and their pursuit to get under that threshold is gonna be extremely down-to-the-wire. An extra $3mil goes a looooong way. (First-grade explanation of the luxury tax to those confused: while baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, a team is penalized if their payroll exceeds a certain amount. The penalty exponentially increases for repeat offenders, so for a year-after-year big spender like the Dodgers, they end up paying more in the luxury tax than they pay to Clayton Kershaw. But getting under the threshold for just one season completely resets the scale for a team, which is why the Yankees badly want to achieve that before the impending free agency bonanza of next offseason.)
  • What this means for the rest of this offseason: money is gonna be pretty tight in the Bronx. Unless he takes a huge hometown discount, Todd Frazier is as good as gone now. While it’ll suck to see the Toddfather go, starting pitching has always been the biggest need for this offseason, and that’s still the case. I don’t think our rotation is in dire need of an upgrade like a ton of fans are suggesting, since a healthy Severino/Gray/Tanaka/Montgomery is a really solid Top 4. Still, we could definitely use some more depth and a veteran arm to eat up the innings that our young arms won’t be allowed to pitch. CC Sabathia is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need, but following his resurgent season he’ll probably field a few short-term offers from contenders. Although I think it’s foolish to assume that CC will pitch like he did in the playoffs over the course of an entire season, here’s to hoping the fat man comes back for one more chance at his second ring. I also wouldn’t rule out Cashman flashing his creative genius some more, especially since some increased financial flexibility would be huge towards bringing back CC and maybe another piece. Jacoby Ellsbury is the obvious name who needs to get the fuck off the roster, especially since he is now a $21mil pinch runner and the SIXTH outfielder with Stanton in town. No team in their right mind wants any part of Ellsbury and his contract, but if the Yankees promised to eat most of the deal and throw in a top prospect like Clint Frazier, I think a rebuilding team with pitchers to offer could pounce on that. (I hate the notion that Frazier is an expendable player now. Yeah he’s an imperfect prospect and probably wouldn’t crack the Opening Day roster, but he could make things happen way sooner than most people expect. Injuries also happen, and regression from Aaron Hicks or a complete breakdown at the plate for Brett Gardner are both entirely possible.)
  • What this means for next offseason and beyond: the Bryce Harper in pinstripes dream is pretty much dead. With Stanton around, I just don’t see any way that Hal Steinbrenner would approve bringing in another rightfielder for something in the ballpark of $35mil per year. The Yankees’ master plan was to spend big on an absolute superstar to turn a great roster into the best roster in baseball. I’m not saying they’ve already achieved that, but let’s be clear…Stanton is that absolute superstar. Any perception of him as a one-dimensional player who just hits bombs is total crap. Yes, his ability to hit 50+ homers year after year is what’s most impressive about him, but last year he also raised his walk rate while his strikeout rate dropped dramatically. (Compared to the other great power hitters in baseball, he really doesn’t strikeout that) To put it simply, he’s one of the ten best players in baseball, and he immediately becomes the best player on his new team. Does this mean the Yankees will just sit out on next year’s free agency party? Of course not, but I think it means the Yankees are no longer the clear favorite to land Manny Machado. While Harper was always the goal for 2018, I think Machado became the more realistic target for the Yankees this year with Aaron Judge’s emergence. He is a vacuum at third base, and that just so happens to project as the Yankees’ biggest need going into next offseason (unless they shift Gleyber or actually give fellow Top 100 prospect Miguel Andujar his fair chance). And even though Machado should still sign for something absurd like 10yr/$300mil, the crazy thing is that would make him a significantly cheaper option than Harper. But with Stanton and his contract in the fold for the next decade, I wouldn’t be shocked if a big-market team looking to make a splash makes Machado an offer the Yankees choose not to match. Josh Donaldson is in that free agent class too, and he’d make a pretty ok consolation prize.
  • I’m not too concerned about Giancarlo’s health moving forward. His injury history isn’t pretty, with this past season being the first in his career with over 150 games played. He’s had a few short DL stints because of hamstring problems, but it’s not like he has chronic knee or back issues. I mean, his most serious injury came when he got drilled in the face with a fastball.
  • I am mildly concerned that this is how he eats Kit-Kats though.
  • Among players who hit at least 18 homers last season, within the Top 10 in average longball distance are…Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. There will be innings this season where pitchers have to face all three of them. I can’t stop laughing at this.
  • I’ve seen some hypothetical lineups for the Yankees next season, and in just about all of them Stanton is slated at DH with Judge at RF. Um…I’m pretty sure that won’t be the case. Look, Judge had a good year in the field. But I’m pretty sure most fans think he’s way better with his glove than he actually is, especially with plays like his ALCS Game 7 home run robbery fresh in mind. He was never projected to be anything more than a competent fielder, and his play was downright sloppy at times during last season. Giancarlo isn’t perfect in the field himself, but he’s been solid out there for a few seasons and has way less ground to cover now that Yankee Stadium is home. I think it will mostly be a rotation, but I also think it’s safe to call Stanton our rightfielder. And no, this is not a “Jeter didn’t move to third for A-Rod” situation. I love Aaron Judge, but he is not Derek Jeter.
  • Let’s talk some more about Mr. Jeter. No doubt it’s super fishy that one of his first moves as Marlins co-owner is selling the franchise player to his former team for a minimal return. But c’mon, this is not Derek Jeter doing the Yankees a solid out of loyalty. The Marlins are in crippling debt thanks to their scumbag ex-owner Jeffrey Loria, and with Giancarlo in line for a huge pay bump this year, they simply couldn’t afford to keep him around. Jeter had to trade him, and the Yankees were the only one of Stanton’s approved destinations that stepped up to take on the majority of his contract. Still, I am not about to blindly defend Jeter’s approach to this whole situation…he fucked it up. How the first step in this process wasn’t finding out where Giancarlo would approve a trade is beyond me. Jeter came up with frameworks for trades with both the Cardinals and Giants, and considering how badly both teams wanted him, it’s safe to assume they would’ve taken on the entire contract while giving the Marlins a few good prospects and/or young pros. The only thing is…Giancarlo didn’t want to play in St. Louis or San Francisco. All leverage went out the window for the Marlins once those trades broke down and everyone figured out that Stanton only wanted to play for one of four teams. The Cubs and Astros didn’t express real interest, and Giancarlo’s hometown Dodgers apparently weren’t psyched to pay him that much without offloading a few of their bad contracts. That left the Yankees as the only real option. Even with all of that factored in, it’s insane that Jeter couldn’t negotiate a better haul from one of the most loaded farm systems in baseball.
  • All day I’ve seen non-Yankee fans dreading the return of the Evil Empire and saying shit like “RIP likable Yankees.” I get that the Yankees are just a naturally hated franchise, but I don’t really get how this move drastically shifts public opinion on them overnight. Yeah, it’s probably annoying to fans of small-market teams to watch Giancarlo go to New York just because they can afford him, but the Yankees have been openly prepping for a gigantic move for years now. They just improvised and made it happen sooner than everyone expected. Giancarlo is also insanely popular, which is especially impressive considering he’s spent his whole career with what’s probably the least popular franchise. His contract makes him stand out compared to his new teammates, but he’s just like a lot of them in the sense that he’s a Yankee because of a shrewd move by Brian Cashman. Pretty much the entire Yankees’ core is a homegrown talent, an affordable free agent signing, or the product of a trade. The Yankees haven’t handed out a contract north of $100mil to a free agent since they gave deals to Ellsbury and Tanaka in 2014. Hell, even the Mets have paid a player like that since then. And don’t even begin to compare this to the trade for A-Rod in 2004. Yes, they both resulted in the Yankees taking on the biggest contract in the league, but in that first deal the Yankees traded a stud and one of the most beloved players in New York in Alfonso Soriano. Even with Stanton on the roster, this isn’t close to a reincarnated version of the mid-2000s Yankees, let alone their 2009 team. They aren’t trying to buy their way into the World Series just because they have the deepest pockets. This is them putting the cherry on top of their plan to rebuild the team from the base up. If you just despise the existence of the Yankees, then you can go right ahead and hate on this team. They’re gonna be really fucking good for a long time. And douchey Yankee fans are going to be especially douchey. But say what you want…you don’t hate this team because they’re the best team that money can buy. You hate us ‘cause you ain’t us.
  • THE. BRONX. BOMBERS. ARE. BACK.

Follow PJ on Twitter @Real_Peej

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MLB

Carlos Beltran Is Not A Hall Of Famer

Carlos Beltran just retired the way that probably every MLB player dreams it up. After 20 seasons that were mostly all healthy and productive, Beltran walked away on top after finally grabbing that elusive ring with the Astros. Almost the second after Beltran definitely published the announcement himself on The Players’ Tribune, the pro-Hall of Fame thinkpieces were everywhere and they might as well have included a line that suggested reading with Jergens and Kleenex. This is hardly surprising, given that Beltran is one of the more respected players ever and the Twitter climate where every good athlete gets his/her chance to be the G.O.A.T. But allow me to break up this circle-jerk by blasting whatever music makes baseball writers go soft (probably any rap), because the doors of Cooperstown aren’t just opened to all nice and sometimes great players.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is the hardest one for players to get into and it isn’t particularly close. People have been professionally playing this game for like 150 years and only 220 former MLB players are in Cooperstown. That is CRAZY exclusive when you stop to think about. It’s well known throughout the baseball world that the Hall wants voters to loosen up a bit to better represent the modern era of the game, especially with so many statistical leaders probably shunned for life because of steroids (I’ll tackle that beast of a debate another time). But count me out for this cause. I love how fucking hard it is to get in. It’s reserved for the best of the best (and Bud Selig). Give me the Baseball Hall any day of the week over the Basketball Hall, where Tracy McGrady was elected on the first ballot and Mitch Richmond (!!!) got in. I’m still unsure if I’m on board with Tim Raines getting in on his tenth and final year on the ballot, and that’s a dude who won a batting title and is fifth all time in steals. Even though I’m a total dickhead when determining who would get my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote, my qualifications are actually pretty simple: the player had to have been among the elite of the elite during any point in his career, and he had to have a solid streak of sustained greatness. I’m not sure Carlos Beltran meets either of those requirements.

Before I get overly negative here, it needs to be acknowledged that Beltran’s career totals are wildly impressive. Among the 60 players with more than Beltran’s 2725 hits, only 17 of them hit more than his 435 homers. Of those 17, only FOUR of them surpassed Beltran’s 312 steals (Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, A-Rod, and Andre Dawson). PEDs aside, those are three of the best players ever and Dawson is a Hall of Famer in his own right. In summation, Beltran was really good at being the total package, better at it than a ton of guys already in the Hall.

Still, the closest to the top of any statistical leaderboard you’ll find Beltran is in games played. He didn’t have a particular tool that he showed off at a legendary level. He never had 200 hits in a season. He topped 40 homers in a season just once with 41 in 2006. He batted .300 or better in only three seasons, topping out at .307 in 2003. He never had a season with an OBP of even .390. He was really good defensively in the first half of his career, but in his second half he should have been a full-time DH. I don’t hold falling off a defensive cliff once he got older against him, but even at his peak he wasn’t in that top tier of contemporary centerfielders like Jim Edmonds or Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones. And while he had a strong arm, there were never “oh shit don’t run on Beltran” moments for baserunners like there were for soon-to-be Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero.

And when we get into the hardware, Beltran’s argument gets worse. WAY worse. 9 All-Star appearances and 3 Gold Gloves looks really nice, but given today’s propensity for mindless fan voting and defensive stupidity, it’s like having 9 Schrute bucks and 3 Stanley nickels. Winning Rookie of the Year in 1999 is a legit bullet point on the resume and for some reason Hall voters love that shit. But this is the same award that was also won by Kaz Sasaki, Eric Hinske, Angel Berroa, and Bobby Crosby in the five years following Beltran’s win. While the MVP and Cy Young voting processes are definitely imperfect (you don’t need to remind me that Rick Porcello won a Cy Young), they’re still probably the best barometer for measuring if a player was elite and how he stacked up against the best players of his time. Beltran had two Top 10 MVP finishes, coming in fourth in 2006 and ninth in 2003. Compared to the vast majority of players in the Hall, that is…not good. At all. He never received a first place MVP vote. Francisco Lindor, who just turned 24 a few days ago, has already put together pretty much the exact same MVP campaigns. Being the key player on a championship team can rightfully provide a huge boost to candidates with borderline statistical cases, like it did for Barry Larkin (for what it’s worth, Larkin also won the 1995 NL MVP). And while Beltran finally got his ring, let’s be real, he was a glorified hitting instructor on these Astros.

To be fair, Beltran probably would’ve finished in the Top 5 of the MVP voting in 2004 had he played the entire year in one league. He split the season between the Royals and Astros, a season where he finished just two homers shy of becoming the fifth member of the super exclusive 40-40 club. 2004 is the highlight of Beltran’s career, specifically his postseason performance that year with the Astros. He was unconscious at the plate for pretty much all 12 playoff games (first 3:30 of the video). His 8 moonshots are tied for the most ever in a single postseason, and unlike the two guys he’s tied with who each played in a seven-game World Series (Bonds and Nelson Cruz), Beltran’s Astros that year were knocked out in the NLCS. While it’s definitely good to share a record and have a specific moment in time for voters to reference, we’re talking about a postseason run where his team didn’t even reach the World Series as the pinnacle of his career. This is probably dumb, but I deeply consider what team’s logo a player could justifiably wear on the cap of his Hall of Fame plaque. In the case of, say, Mike Piazza, you can make worthy arguments for both the Dodgers and the Mets. But for Beltran, can you make any case whatsoever? He peaked as an Astro and won a World Series there, but he only played in Houston for 1.5 years. He was his most consistent as a Royal, but those teams were AWFUL and never reached the postseason. He played more games for the Mets than any other team and accumulated his most WAR there, but his most enduring memory in New York is undoubtedly striking out looking with the bases loaded in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. The correct answer is Beltran would probably go in with a blank cap, but that’s lame as shit and also speaks volumes to his legacy on each team.

I want to compare Beltran’s case with that of another relevant Hall of Fame candidate, Roy Halladay. The uncomfortable and oft-unmentioned reality behind Halladay’s case is that he was probably an on-the-fence candidate too before his plane crash, but now he is receiving the shoo-in treatment. Still, even had Halladay not suddenly and tragically passed away, he absolutely would have had my hypothetical vote. The major limitation in Halladay’s argument is that his tenure as a full-time starting pitcher essentially lasted only 11 years from 2002-2012, so roughly half the length of Beltran’s career. Still, he was truly one of the elite starters during that entire time frame, including multiple stints as the best starter in baseball. He has the single-season numbers and the hardware to back that claim up. Halladay lead his league in wins twice, innings pitched four times, strikeout/walk ratio five times, and complete games seven times. And for each of the seven seasons where Halladay made 30+ starts between 2003 and 2011, he finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting in EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Oh, and he happened to win the award in 2003 and 2010, throw a perfect game, and become the second pitcher ever to throw a postseason no-hitter. His career totals might not stack up to most starters in the Hall, but Halladay was dominant for a long time. If Beltran ever was, then it definitely wasn’t for long.

Even though this blog has been whatever the opposite of a puff piece is called, I’m pretty confident that Beltran will eventually get into the Hall of Fame. Like I mentioned earlier, baseball writers love him and they’re going to give a boost to anyone from the past 20 years who was never mentioned in the same sentence as steroids. (Especially with every 60-year-old’s favorite childhood player Joe Morgan just sending Hall voters an old-man-yells-at-the-sky note to reaffirm that PED suspects should be kept out.) Another argument from writers that you should prepare for to back Beltran’s candidacy is “X outfielder has a lower career WAR than Beltran and he is already inducted.” I fucking HATE this logic. So just because there’s some guy with unspectacular numbers who played before both World Wars and the advent of minority players enshrined in Cooperstown, we should double down and let in another undeserving guy who was slightly better?

And despite how you probably think I feel about Beltran at this point, I’d be psyched for him if he gets in. I’ll always have a subjectively high opinion of him for following up his bad first two years with the Yankees with an out-of-nowhere and somewhat deserving All Star season at 39 years old. For all of the unbridled rage and frustration I felt when I saw Brian McCann celebrating the Astros’ title, I felt the polar opposite for Beltran. How could you not be filled with happiness for this guy at this moment?

carlos-beltran-crying

But before the baseball world prematurely solidifies its lasting take on Beltran, may I recommend that image as Beltran’s legacy instead? Because Hall of Fame plaques are made of bronze, and that shit lasts a LONG time.

 

Follow PJ on Twitter @Real_Peej