Monday, December 11, 2017

Stanton, Yankees Make a Pigeon Out of Jeter

By Jeff Kallman

The first thing that comes to mind with the Yankees dealing for Giancarlo Stanton is: Nationals fans can relax. Bryce Harper isn't going to be in Yankee pinstripes next year or for the foreseeable future. Dealing for Stanton means the Yankees have likely priced themselves out of next year's free agency market.

Stanton spurned opportunities to go to his native West Coast when he rejected a deal to the Giants. Those who've reported on Stanton's thinking have said he wants to go to a provable contender, but with the Giants not looking much like one anymore that took care of that.

Stanton also turned down a deal with the Cardinals, who look like ... a 50/50 proposition at best for 2018 at this writing. Again, new Marlins owner Derek Jeter had the framework of a deal in place, but Stanton exercised his no-trade rights and vetoed that one, too. Somebody didn't do his homework, and it probably wasn't Stanton.

The Yankees, who got to within a game of the World Series this year, look more like a contender now. You don't need me to tell you that every tongue in New York is wagging over the idea of Stanton in the middle of that Baby Bombers' lineup, maybe even offering even more lineup protection for Aaron Judge. Comparisons to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, if not Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, should not be a big shock.

The Yankee return package is said to be led by all-star second baseman Starlin Castro. The Marlins earlier this month swapped Dee Gordon to the Mariners, where the intention is to move him to center field.

Gordon brought Miami a haul of prospects that doesn't look impressive enough to remove entirely the thought of that deal being a salary dump. Pitcher Nick Niedert is thought to be the most impressive of the haul, and he projects at best as a solid number three or four starter. We're not exactly talking an all-star for an all-star just yet.

"Prospects will also be sent Miami's way," says Sports Illustrated's Jon Taylor, "but it's unlikely that New York will give up any of its top minor leaguers, since it's taking on Stanton's contract. Adding Stanton — who projects to hit maybe even better with Yankee Stadium as his home park than he did in 2017, which was overwhelming enough to earn him a Most Valuable Player award — puts the Yankees on the hook for a $130 million 2018 payroll. That's almost the least of their problems, as Taylor observes:

"That doesn't leave much room for the Yankees to fill out the rest of the roster — including a starting pitcher, a third baseman, and whatever else Cashman can heist from the rest of the league — while staying under the luxury tax threshold, set to be $197 million for 2018. As repeat offenders, it would be a financial windfall if the Yankees could avoid that tax next year, as they're currently paying 50% of every dollar they spend past the limit but would reset that figure if they don't surpass it."

It gets better. Stanton's contract, for which it transpires the Yankees are on the hook for $265 million of what's left, just about takes the Bombers out of the 2018 free agency market. Which is going to include such delicious names as Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw (if he exercises his opt-out clause), Charlie Blackmon, and — what do you know — one-time Yankee Andrew Miller. Not to mention Zach Britton, Cody Allen, and Marwin Gonzalez.

Nats fans may drool over the unlikelihood of Harper not going to New York, as has long enough been feared looking ahead to his first free agency. Even if the Yankees manage to come in under the luxury tax, Stanton and Judge in the outfield means they're not even going to think about Harper. But they may not fall in love with the thought that, with the Yankees possibly out of that picture, the Dodgers or the Cubs, to name two, might be salivating over the thought of Harper wearing their silks.

Jeter didn't ask for Stanton's no-trade clause; it was another legacy from former owner Jeffrey Loria, but it probably wasn't a smart idea to build trade frameworks before knowing whether Stanton would approve of them. And it's one thing to want to cut payroll, but it's something else again to seem clueless about the team you're going to have left when you do.

Don't fire up the conspiracy theory spit just yet, either. This isn't Arnold Johnson, on the hook to then Yankee co-owner Del Webb deep enough, thus willingly letting the Yankees use his Kansas City Athletics as a finishing school in the 1950s. This is an earnest but clumsy Derek Jeter who's in so far over his head as a major league owner that even Johnson could have pried Stanton loose with the minimal extra effort.

"[A] team in one of America's largest media markets shouldn't have to sell off its best assets for pennies on the dollar or punt on fielding even a nominally competitive squad," Taylor writes, referencing Stanton and Gordon alike. "This is a terribly sad day for baseball in Miami, and a shameful moment for MLB, which never should have allowed Jeter and Bruce Sherman to buy the team."

Because, say what you will about the not so dearly departed Loria, at least he let the Fish swim among the sharks and even win a World Series, once in awhile. And suddenly the idea of former players — even those bound for the Hall of Fame — becoming owners is no more attractive than it was when then-Braves owner Ted Turner thought he could manage the team.

Taylor notes correctly that nobody put a gun to Jeter's head to force him to unload Stanton despite Stanton using his no-trade clause to turn the Marlins' leverage into mashed potatoes. It may not be very long before that turns to plain mush.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman isn't without his own flaws, of course, and remember that he may just have yanked the Yankees out of next year's free agency superstore. But this is one time Cashman should get all the credit on earth for spotting a prize pigeon, biding his time appropriately, then dropping the bread crumbs that counted in front of him.

How do you think Jeter looks with that little oil slick around his neck?

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