The Pirates are 24th in baseball in runs scored. The combined OPS of their right fielder is last in the National League. Giancarlo Stanton is one of baseball’s best right fielders.
Even if you didn’t read the headline, you see where I am going with this.
ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield put the situation more simply in his first line: “The Pittsburgh Pirates need Giancarlo Stanton.” Check out Schoenfield’s story, as he makes some good points about why such a trade makes sense for both the Pirates and the Miami Marlins. There is no indication that the Pirates are interested, or that the Marlins have budged from their no-trade January attitude, but Stanton’s name should be out there.
Look at our midseason list of the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects. As Tim notes, “You could take the 11-15 prospects, and a lot of teams would take those players as their 6-10 prospects. A lot of teams would also take any of the 6-10 guys in their top five.” Baseball America‘s Jim Callis seems to agree, as he lamented the fact that he could not fit Stetson Allie or Dilson Herrera onto his post-draft Top 10. In March, BA ranked the Pirates’ farm system 7th in baseball, and other than a disappointing start for Alen Hanson and Luis Heredia starting the season late, the top of the system has sparkled.
The Pirates could easily have eight or nine prospects in BA’s Top 100 to start next year, including draftees Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows. As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes, the Kansas City Royals featured nine Top 100 prospects before the 2011 season, and Sports Illustrated called the Royals’ farm “the most formidable player development machine in memory.” A longtime scout told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan that the Pirates have baseballs best group of prospects, ”And I’m not sure it’s close.”
What do the Pirates have to trade?
In short, there are precious few teams that could trade for Stanton without wiping out the farm system. Franchises like the Cardinals, Rangers, Twins, Rays come to mind. But just how much dollar value do the Pirates’ top prospects have? Below are the Pirates Prospects updated trade values for the top 100 prospects, plus Victor Wang’s values on Grade B and C prospects, and I’ll add in my feelings some of the Pirates’ prospects for easy comparison.
|Top 10 hitting prospects||$42.2M|
|Top 11-25 hitters (Polanco)||$33.36|
|Top 26-50 hitters||$18.12|
|Top 51-75 hitters (Hanson)||$10.43|
|Top 76-100 hitters (Bell)||$10.43|
|Top 10 pitching prospects||$26.7|
|Top 11-25 pitchers (Taillon, Cole)||$18.89|
|Top 26-50 pitchers||$14.7|
|Top 51-75 pitchers||$7.93|
|Top 76-100 pitchers (Heredia, Kingham)||$7.93|
|Grade B pitchers||$7.3|
|Grade B hitters (Herrera)||$5.5|
|Grade C pitchers 22 or younger||$2.1|
|Grade C pitchers 23 or older (McPherson)||$1.5|
|Grade C hitters 22 or younger (Allie)||$0.7|
|Grade C hitters 23 or older (Sanchez)||$0.5|
Schoenfield writes that a package of pitcher Jameson Taillon (Ranked 11-25), outfielder Gregory Polanco (Ranked 11-25), catcher Tony Sanchez (Grade C, 25 years old) and “a decent C-grade lefty” would be enough to acquire Stanton. Let’s call that C-grade lefty 25-year-old Andy Oliver, a starter with Major League experience that could contribute to the Marlins right away.
Using the above chart, the Pirates’ package would be worth $54.25 million in surplus value (or $59.25 million if you think Sanchez’s Triple-A season has bumped him up to a B).
How much is Stanton worth?
The potential and value of 23-year-old California native Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton is difficult to figure for two main reasons: he is already unusually great for his age and nagging injuries may give teams pause.
Take a look at the 10 players with the most home runs before the age-23 season:
- Mel Ott, 115 (1926-1931)
- Eddie Mathews, 112 (1952-1954)
- Alex Rodriguez, 106 (1994-1998)
- Tony Conigliaro, 104 (1964-1967)
- Frank Robinson, 98 (1956-1968)
- Giancarlo Stanton, 93 (2010-2012)
- Bob Horner, 91 (1978-1980)
- Ted Williams, 91 (1939-1941)
- Ken Griffey, Jr., 87 (1989-1992)
- Johnny Bench, 87 (1967-1970)
And guess what? After Bench comes Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline. Of those 12 guys not named Stanton, eight are in the Baseball Hall of Fame and two (Rodriguez, Griffey) have the numbers to be inducted when the time comes. Stanton’s career numbers are a .270 average, .350 on-base percentage, .550 slugging percentage. It adds up to a .900 OPS, which is sixth-best among all Major League outfielders since 2010.
The comparable players are all legends and All-Stars, but the main question is if Stanton can play 150 games per season. He missed 38 games last year, including a month for right knee surgery. He is just now coming off a hamstring strain that kept him on the disabled list for 36 games. Any team that acquires Stanton should prepare to have him for about 120 games each year with any more treated as a bonus.
So to estimate Stanton’s value, we will have to ballpark it (the kind of ballpark Stanton mashes home runs out of). Based on Wins Above Replacement numbers from Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, here is what Stanton has done so far in his career:
- 2010 — 2.5 WAR
- 2011 — 4.2 WAR
- 2012 — 5.6 WAR
- 2013 (projected) — 2.7 WAR
There are two competing ideas: one is that Stanton was a five-win player at age 22 and should only get better from there, the other is that earning 5.6 WAR is very difficult and not necessarily a starting point to improve from, especially given that Stanton is already building up injuries. Taking both ideas into account and considering the aging curve for good hitters, plus Dave Cameron’s expectations for the cost of a win on the free agent market, I came up with the following projection for Stanton.
- 2013 (rest of season): 2.2 WAR
- 2014 — 4.6 WAR — Arbitration Year 1: $10.1 million
- 2015 — 4.8 WAR — Arbitration Year 2: $16.7 million
- 2016 — 5.1 WAR — Arbitration Year 3: $24.8 million
- 2017 — 5.0 WAR — Free agency value: $30 million
- 2018 — 4.8 WAR — Free agency value: $30 million
Stanton projects to provide between $35 million and $52 million in surplus value over the rest of this season and his three upcoming arbitration seasons. My projection pretty much splits the difference at $43 million in surplus value.
It appears an offer of Taillon/Polanco/Sanchez/Oliver, using the data we have, would be enough for the trade to be even on both the Pirates’ and Marlins’ sides. Remember that trades don’t happen in a two-team vacuum, though, especially blockbusters like this. If word spreads that Stanton is on the market, expect general managers to fill the voice mail of Marlins GM Michael Hill inquiring about what it would take. Should Hill expect a bump up from the Pirates, perhaps Huntington could replace Oliver with a better pitcher like Phil Irwin or one of the two talented 18-year-old Latin outfield prospects (Harold Ramirez/Elvis Escobar) in Jamestown.
Where are the Pirates’ holes?
So we have gone through the numbers, and a trade seems to make sense in terms of value for both teams. Now let’s dig in to the nitty gritty.
On Sunday, I asked Pirates general manager Neal Huntington if he is looking outside the 25-man roster to improve the team’s production in right field. He doesn’t say much, but this is Huntington’s response:
“As we start to head into the trade deadline, we’re looking at a number of different fronts that we could include the club. What’s available at the trade market and what our goals are may not align. The acquisition cost may be too significant. Again, we’ve got a club that there’s no glaring hole. There’s certainly areas we can upgrade. We’ve got some time to determine what’s available, at what cost and what’s the biggest impact on this club.”
We may disagree about Huntington’s claim “that there’s no glaring hole.” The fact that the Pirates are 14th in shortstop OPS (of 15 NL teams) and 15th in right field OPS appear to be pretty glaring. Manager Clint Hurdle is attempting to improve the production at shortstop by starting Jordy Mercer over the punchless Clint Barmes seven of the last eight days.
10 reasons the Pirates should trade for Giancarlo Stanton
1. Travis Snider has been hitting right-handers okay, but little else.
The Pirates’ current right fielder owns a decent .730 career OPS against right-handed pitchers but a .645 OPS against left-handed pitchers. That trend has held this season, and the only noticeable difference between Snider’s production in past years and in 2013 is that fewer of his fly balls are leaving the ballpark. Regression will help Snider’s offense improve a bit, but he is not projected to be much more than a below-average offensive right fielder. Snider is only 25, but his skill set currently reflects a quality fourth outfielder with pop as a pinch-hitter and decent fielding ability than an everyday corner player.
Stanton does not appear to have any need for a platoon partner by any stretch. He mashes all pitchers, even if his numbers are a tick higher against lefties.
2. There is no heir apparent in right field until Polanco.
Of the outfielders in the Top 20, Polanco just moved to Double-A, Meadows graduated high school recently, Josh Bell is still 20 years old in Low-A with Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez is 18 in short-season ball. Andrew Lambo is flashing some early power in Triple-A, but needs to show a lot of production to be considered a true Major League option after four full seasons in Double-A.
One week ago, the Pirates’ only outfield prospect in the high minors was Andrew Lambo. Jerry Sands is hitting below .200 in Indianapolis. Jose Tabata’s OPS was a solid-but-unspectacular .744 before his injury, and that is around his career high. Alex Presley’s career OPS is .725 and he is 27. Unless Huntington finds a right field upgrade outside the organization, he is waiting for Godot or Polanco.
3. The Pirates’ system has plenty of elite prospects to “replace” Taillon, Polanco and Sanchez.
By the same token, even though Pittsburgh does not have a Major League-ready outfielder on the farm, there are plenty of players that can cushion the fall of trading three strong prospects. Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and Luis Heredia are all viable Top 100 right-handed pitchers with great height and fastball velocity in the mid- to upper-90s, not to mention Gerrit Cole could still be in Triple-A were it not for the myriad injuries to Pirates starters.
Meadows, Bell and Barnes were mentioned above, all drafted in the first two rounds and would be Top 10 prospects in most systems. If Sanchez left, the Pirates’ best catching prospects are all age 20 or younger. But McGuire (No. 9) is ranked higher than Sanchez, and Wyatt Mathisen (No. 15) and Jin-De Jhang (just outside of the top 20) have impressive tools to move up in the rankings. With Russell Martin entrenched in Pittsburgh through next season, the Pirates should be set at the Major League level until 2015, even though that notion is just an aggressive slide or collision at home from being wiped away.
Simply put, if Taillon and Polanco, the Pirates could still have a six or seven Top 100 prospects to start next season. That’s pretty formidable. Yes, Taillon has been one of baseball’s most highly-regarded pitching prospects the last two years, and he will be tough to lose, but pitching prospects are not as valuable as great hitters can be (just see the value chart from Part 1). Yes, Gregory Polanco has the potential to be a Giancarlo Stanton-level power hitter from the left side. But Giancarlo Stanton already is Giancarlo Stanton. The move would be, in its nature, high risk and high reward.
4. The window is opening for the Pirates.
My last look at Pittsburgh’s playoff odds had the team at about a 60 percent chance to reach the postseason, up a little bit in recent weeks. At their highest, the 2012 Pirates had about 60 percent playoff odds right after the trade deadline. In 2011, Pittsburgh’s contention was largely smoke and mirrors and it never got much above 5 percent odds. This season, the strong performance of young hitters and veteran pitchers like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Jason Grilli have made the Bucs a contender.
The Major League debut of top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole opened the Pirates’ “window” for contention. From now through the 2016 season (four chances at the playoffs), the Pirates own the rights to the entire group of Cole, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Mark Melancon and Jeff Locke. As it just so happens, the Pirates would have control of Stanton through 2016 if they acquired him.
Of course many of those players will still be under Pittsburgh control past 2016, but those seven players could be the foundation until the next “cavalry” of players like Bell, Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Heredia, Dilson Herrera, Kingham, McGuire, Meadows, Stetson Allie and Barnes could meaningfully contribute.
5. Giancarlo Stanton’s power can play anywhere.
When I wrote last year that the Pirates should not trade for Justin Upton, I noted Upton owned a .924 OPS at Chase Field and a .744 OPS at all other ballparks. Even with an astronomical start to 2013, Upton’s OPS has returned to a more earthly .818 on the season.
Stanton’s success is not built around a friendly ballpark. Quite the opposite, as his career home OPS is .892 and career road OPS is .907, and Marlins park appears to play neutral but reduce home runs for right-handed hitters. While Stanton pulls most of his home runs, he pulls them deep. He is already known for his tape-measure shots, and even playing at PNC Park would have only reduced his home runs last year from 37 to about 33.
And while it may be a little “pie in the sky,” if the Pirates acquire a power pull hitter like Stanton, nothing would stop the team from bringing in the left-field fences for the 2014 season. Even if it would eliminate the distinctive “North Shore Notch,” Stanton’s production would benefit.
6. With no lineup protection in Miami, no one in baseball has been pitched around more than Stanton.
At Baseball Prospectus, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller have focused on Giancarlo Stanton quite a bit. Several players have shown up on the Marlins’ lineup card under Stanton’s name, most recently Marcell Ozuna, a 22-year-old with pretty good gap power but not much else. There has not been much protection for Stanton, which could be the reason he is seeing the fewest pitches in the strike zone of any Major League hitter. Put Stanton in the Pirates lineup, where Walker and McCutchen can reach base in front of him and veteran hitters like Garrett Jones and Martin provide punch behind him, and the slugger will have to be pitched to.
While we’re at it, let’s project out a possible 2013 lineup with Stanton included:
- LF Starling Marte
- 2B Neil Walker
- CF Andrew McCutchen
- RF Giancarlo Stanton
- 1B Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez
- C Russell Martin
- 3B Pedro Alvarez
- SS Jordy Mercer
7. Stanton is an excellent extension candidate.
The Pirates are projected to spend about $70 million on their Major League roster this season and may only have to commit about $70 million next year in current contracts, arbitration players and options. (Stanton is playing for just $537,000 this year, his final pre-arbitration season). They will likely only pay about $9 million to their draft class of 2013, and a pool of about $2.5 million to spend on international players this year. As a franchise expects to earn about $180 million in revenue this year, the Pirates could have plenty of money to spend. Starting with the 2015 season, only Andrew McCutchen ($10 million) and Jose Tabata ($4 million) have guaranteed contracts. There are no albatrosses limiting future contracts.
In comes the chance to trade for Stanton and extend him. There aren’t many better extension candidates in the game. Though he missed about one month last year and a month last year with right leg injuries, he may already be baseball’s premier power hitter at 23 years old. Stanton is currently only under team control through his age-26 season, when he would become a free agent. Good hitters don’t tend to go south until after age 30 and have their best seasons between age 25 and age 28.
If a team acquires Stanton, it would be wise to ensure his prime age-27 and age-28 seasons are with that team as the Marlins are not looking to extend him. One would assume Stanton would not want to sign an extension with the Marlins anyway, as he said he was “pissed off” following the team’s trade of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson.
A good ballpark figure for a Stanton extension would be five years, $110 million. To get to that figure, I used my projections and figured Stanton could earn about $30 million in each of his first two free agent seasons, which looks high, but salary figures inflate every season and every MLB team is about to earn more than $50 million each year in National TV money.
Stanton signed a $475,000 signing bonus out of high school and has earned about $1.4 million in Major League salary. He is far from poor, but may be more open to a guaranteed nine-figure contract than a player that received a giant draft bonus. Any team that acquires Stanton would be wise to bring him and Wasserman Media Group to the table after the season.
8. Imagine an outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Stanton.
Let’s go beyond numbers for a moment and think about what the Pirates’ outfield could be for the next five-and-a-half seasons with an extension for Stanton. Left fielder Starling Marte is developing into a leadoff man with gap power, while opposing hitters fear his defensive range and runners fear his slingshot arm. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is a two-time All-Star and one-time MVP candidate who can spray the ball to all fields, put the ball over the fence and man his outfield territory. Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of baseball’s best all-around right-handed hitters and has the power to crush baseballs 500 feet out of stadiums.
All baseball dynasties have an elite core of players. The ’90s Braves had Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. The ’70s Reds featured the hitting Machine of Rose, Perez, Morgan and Bench. The Giants’ winning of two World Series was built around a run-prevention machine of Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner being caught by Posey. Elite players create elite teams. Though the Pirates’ potential outfield may not be Hall-of-Fame caliber, it would be elite.
9. The Marlins could use Taillon, Polanco and Sanchez pretty quickly.
Miami native Tony Sanchez would likely step in right away as the Marlins’ everyday catcher over struggling young Rob Brantly. Taillon and Polanco would appear at Marlins Park sooner rather than later. Ozuna, 22 years old, was called up to start in the outfield having played just 10 games above High-A. Jose Fernandez, 20 years old, did not even make an appearance past High-A, but the Marlins have placed him in the rotation to great success.
If Stanton is traded after the team’s offseason fire sale, Miami fans would be justifiably angry at losing one of the only exciting aspects of their baseball team. Attendance at Marlins Park is once again the lowest in baseball, down almost 10,000 fans from the stadium’s debut season last year. If Stanton goes, the Marlins organization will want to immediately show off their new players to keep fans interested. In essence, Taillon, Polanco and Sanchez would provide more immediate value to the Marlins than they would to the Pirates, a system in which they may still be a year away from making the Majors.
10. It’s time to put up.
As it turned out, Huntington was right to be cautious at the trade deadline the last two years. The Pirates would have missed the 2012 playoffs even if they had acquired Hunter Pence and Anibal Sanchez instead of Travis Snider and Wandy Rodriguez. And no one or even two players could have prevented the nose-dive the Bucs took in 2011.
But it’s a new season and a new deadline. Pirates fans, rightly or wrongly, are expecting Huntington to bring in an impact player. Trouble is, there may not be such talent available at the deadline beyond the Phillies’ Cliff Lee. After Lee, you get into the second tier of possible acquisitions like Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, Astros starter Bud Norris, or right fielders like Alex Rios of the White Sox or Marlon Byrd of the Mets.
Either Byrd or Rios would be a fine upgrade in right field, and the Pirates should inquire about a veteran reliever, but none of these players is Giancarlo Stanton. Huntington and Marlins GM Michael Hill showed last year they can swing a deal when Gaby Sanchez came to Pittsburgh in exchange for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, minor league pitcher Kyle Kaminska and a draft pick. Now they have a chance to go next level with a trade that would shift the balance in the National League in the Pirates’ direction.
Giving up two elite prospects in Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco is difficult to reckon for any singular player. Trading for Giancarlo Stanton, though, would immediately shift the Pirates from still-building to going-for-broke. The opportunity to acquire a slugger of Stanton’s current status and legendary potential is exceedingly rare. One scout told John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus, ”I’d give up my whole farm system for him because you’re talking about a guy who is heading to the Hall of Fame.”
Just watch the guy hit:
In this 2013 season alone, Stanton could provide a huge boost. The Pirates are currently expected to win 87 games, the perfect place to make an upgrade at a position of need like right field. Even if Stanton added just two more wins for the rest of season, the marginal value of the wins is huge. Bringing in Stanton could leap the Pittsburgh’s playoff odds from 55 percent to 85 percent. Of course, he would be around after the 2013 playoffs too.
The Pirates arrive at the 2013 trade season with the most elite young talent in decades. The front office has the opportunity to turn PNC Park into the home of an exciting, contending baseball team. Pirates games would become must-watch, not just for Stanton but because the team would be a no-doubt winner.
Now is Huntington’s chance use a couple of chips, make a giant wager that could change the future of baseball in Pittsburgh. Make the bet, Neal.