When the New York Yankees were eliminated in Game 7 of the American League Championship series, it was quite clear the team didn’t necessarily need any major changes.
There was youth up and down the roster — whether that be in the lineup, starting rotation, bullpen or stashed away in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Trenton, Tampa, Charleston or Staten Island. The logical addition was Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani: not only is he considered the Babe Ruth of his homeland but the 23-year-old pitcher and outfielder figured to upgrade an already strong starting rotation while also serving as the Yankees’ primary designated hitter.
So when Ohtani surprisingly spurned the Bronx — and the entire East Coast, for that matter — many questioned where the front office would look next.
Despite the Yankees becoming a feel-good baseball story throughout the 2017 season due to properly rebuilding their farm system while also shedding a majority of their big contracts, Brian Cashman made a move that would have made the late George Steinbrenner proud.
He traded for the reigning National League Most Valuable Player: Giancarlo Stanton.
While this move screams mid-2000s pinstripes — similar to when they added reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez before the 2004 season — it’s not the “Evil Empire” of bygone days. It was just last week when it seemed as though Stanton was either St. Louis or San Francisco-bound,but when the outfielder exercised his blanket no-trade clause, refused a deal to neither the Cardinals nor the Giants, and selected the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros as his preferred destinations, it was only right that Cashman made the call to former Yankee great and current Miami Marlins principal owner Derek Jeter.
But when the deal was struck in the early hours of December 9, it wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk.
Would you rather pay Stanton 10 years and nearly $300 million at age 28? Especially when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be available next winter? Sure, Stanton’s current contract will be a bargain compared to what that talented young duo would sign. But Harper’s swagger and violent left-handed swing would’ve played perfectly in the comfy confines of Yankee Stadium while Machado’s terrific defensive ability and balanced offensive skills would’ve been worth the payday. It could be compellingly argued that both would’ve been better fits in pinstripes.
At a time when the Yankees have generally avoided long-term deals that hardly work, possibly paying Stanton $25 million when he’s 39 could give fans PTSD about the days of Jason Giambi and Jacoby Ellsbury more than dreams of him crushing home runs over the Green Monster.
And that’s not all. Whether it’s due to freak accidents or not, Stanton falls into the injury prone category. He’s dealt with issues involving his face, knee, hamstring and wrist, amongst others, and has missed 310 games in his eight-year career. Over that same span, he’s hit above .265 just three times and has averaged 142 strikeouts per year.
There are obvious negatives about this deal. Stanton is far from the perfect fit.
But all things considered, there is no way Cashman and the rest of the front office could pass up on this opportunity.
When new ownership of the Marlins decided moving Stanton’s contract was their number one priority, a prospect package worthy of being relinquished for an MVP was out of the question. But even though names like Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial and Albert Abreu were off the table, cult favorites in Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams were expected to have their talents shipped to South Beach.
Castro was a nice player for the Yankees in his two years in pinstripes but the 27-year-old never had a future in New York. Second base is now open for top prospect Gleyber Torres to become the latest Baby Bomber to shine under the bright lights in the Bronx. Guzman is the most valuable player joining the Marlins — he was the Yankees’ ninth-rated prospect overall according to MLB Pipeline — but he was widely considered the sixth-best pitching prospect in the system.
The Yankees aren’t hurting for marketing ideas but this story also writes itself in terms of promotion. Stanton and Aaron Judge were compared to one another all season long. Their body types, size and skillset mirror one another. Whether they go with Bash Bros Part Two, M&M Boys 2.0 or, most likely, something a lot more creative, it’ll be popular amongst younger fans, an audience all of Major League Baseball is trying to target.
But lost in this entire saga is simply what Stanton brings on the field. His .281 batting average, 1.007 OPS, 59 home runs and 132 RBI will be added to a lineup that is already considered one of the deepest and most powerful in all of baseball. While the duo of Stanton and Judge will steal most of the headlines, players like Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks will largely fly under the radar — something that can be of their advantage.
In an ideal world, Stanton walks away in three years when his opt out clause kicks in: the Yankees won’t have to worry about a long-term commitment, and if Stanton helps them win one or multiple pennant(s), the return on investment will have been worth it.
Either way, expectations for the Yankees were already high heading into 2018. Many believe they’ll be one of the favorites to win number 28 next season — in the second year of a rebuild, no less. The addition of Stanton will only add fuel to that fire.
This trade clearly wasn’t one the Yankees had to make.
It became one they just couldn’t pass up.
Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.