I want to preface this by saying that I think there is no way the Miami Marlins will be trading Giancarlo Stanton this winter. However, Marlins assistant GM Dan Jennings said this weekend that the team would at least listen if any team wanted to talk about Stanton. When it comes to trading Stanton, aside from the elephant in the room of him being the franchise's only marketable player and star right now, there's a key point that no one seems to be considering. That point is precedent, and the fact that there is none when considering trading a player as young, talented, and cost-controlled as Stanton.
When talent is traded, it usually falls into two categories. The first category is the young, unproven prospect that is dealt as part of a package for a veteran. Plenty of players that have gone on to become superstars have fallen into this category, like Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez, and Michael Bourn to just same a few. The second category is the other side of the coin: the established superstar that is getting expensive approaching free agency. In this category, you have your players like Matt Holliday, Miguel Cabrera, and Nick Swisher…you know, the typical names you see in trade talks every year.
Stanton's case is vastly different from either of those groups. He spent the entire 2012 season as a 22-year old, a comparable age to many of the prospects included in several prospect for veteran trades we've seen throughout the years. But yet, Stanton isn't a wild card like so many prospects. Since being called up to the majors in 2010, Stanton is tenth among all outfielders in baseball with a 13.1 fWAR. His 93 homers are fifth among all outfielders. His .282 ISO is second to just Jose Bautista among all outfielders. And Stanton has done all of that in just 1498 plate appearances, 51st among all outfielders over the last three seasons and less than much less productive players like Bobby Abreu, Garrett Jones, Jason Kubel, Raul Ibanez, Delmon Young, Carlos Lee, and (of course) Jeff Francouer. In summary, Stanton has been one of the best outfielders in baseball over the past three seasons, and just turned 23 in November. He's a tantalizing player for any franchise, let alone the Marlins, who have been gashed on the PR front this year.
Now that we've established just how great of a player Stanton is, how does one determine the value of that player? Well, despite his three productive seasons in the majors, the Marlins successfully delayed his arbitration clock, meaning that Stanton won't be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season, and will still be paid cheaply this coming season. With four years of control left, include one at a bargain basemen pre-arbitration rate, the Marlins have no real need to trade Stanton quite yet if they're just looking at salary. He's not going to start getting expensive until next winter, and even then, he won't be making an exorbitant amount of money given his production.
But looking at players who were as productive as Stanton at his age, you see a common trend: none of them were traded. Since 1900, there were 43 players to collect at least 10 fWAR through their age 22 season. The only one to change teams through that time period was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was dealt by the Philadelphia A's to the Cleveland Naps after just ten career games, which doesn't fit Stanton's situation at all.
If you extend the age guidelines to age 25, you obviously get a lot more players in the sample. A bunch of players that accrued at least 20 fWAR through age 25 switched teams, but the circumstances are once again al different compared to the situation with Stanton. Take a look.
Alex Rodriguez. Hit free agency after turning 25. Actually comparable to Stanton, who turns 27 in the winter he'll be a free agent. Signed a ten-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers
Shoeless Joe Jackson. Already mentioned, but was also traded by the Indians/Naps during his age 25 season to the White Sox. Not really relevant to today's baseball economy considering that it happened nearly 100 years ago.
Babe Ruth. Sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees because Harry Frazee was cheap. Also not really relevant in today's game.
Roberto Alomar. Traded as a 22-year old from the Padres to the Blue Jays along with Joe Carter for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. Had amassed 11.1 fWAR in his three-year career in San Diego prior to the trade. Still had three years of arbitration left at the time of the trade.
Willie Randolph. Traded by the Pirates to the Yankees after just 30 games in his age 20 season with Pittsburgh as part of a package for Doc Medich. Falls into the category of a prospect being dealt as opposed to an established major leaguer.
Joe Cronin. Sold by the Pirates to Kansas City of the American Association after just 50 games through his age 21 season. Not relevant to today's game.
Hanley Ramirez. Traded by the Red Sox to the Marlins as part of the Josh Beckett trade after just two games with the Red Sox. Falls into the same category as Randolph.
Miguel Cabrera. This is probably the best comparison for a Stanton trade, and of course, it involves the Marlins. The Marlins traded a 24-year old Cabrera (along with Dontrelle Willis) with two years of arbitration control left to the Tigers for a package of six players, including a pair of top ten prospects in Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.
Comparing Cabrera and Stanton's abilities isn't exactly cut and dry. Through their age 22 seasons, Stanton had the higher wOBA, wRC+, fWAR, ISO, and was a vastly superior defender. But Cabrera struck out much less than Stanton, and hit for a higher average. The difference between the two at this point in their careers is slim, but comparable, which is the point of all this.
Now, consider what kind of return the Marlins got for Cabrera when he was traded with two fewer years of control than Stanton. While Maybin and Miller did nothing for the Marlins long-term, they were both top ten prospects coming into the 2007 season, and both were top ten draft picks (as if that's relevant). While the other four players in the trade essentially amounted to filler, this trade gives the Marlins a basic framework of what to ask for in a return for Stanton: a pair of top ten prospects, and probably more considering the two extra years of control that Stanton has with respect to Cabrera.
Can any team even put together an offer that the Marlins would consider worth it? The Cardinals probably could with a package built around Oscar Tavares and Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, or Trevor Rosenthal. The Orioles could with Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, but there's no chance in hell Baltimore would even discuss either of those players, who could play huge roles on their 2013 team. The Mariners could be a fit with Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, and Mike Zunino, but I'm not sure if Franklin, Hultzen or Zunino is a strong enough secondary piece. The Rangers could definitely build a package around Jurickson Profar, but Martin Perez's stock has taken a huge hit this year, and Mike Olt isn't good enough to use as the co-headliner.
This is the difficulty in trading a player like Stanton that the Marlins face. Nearly every team in the league would love to have someone like Stanton on their team, but the cost of acquiring him would be exorbitant. This isn't Justin Upton, a young superstar who is under contract for the next three years, but is making nearly $40 million over those three years. This isn't Wil Myers, an elite prospect that hasn't had one major league plate appearance yet and could flame out. This is Giancarlo Stanton: a superstar who is one of the best outfielders in baseball at age 23, and will make peanuts in 2013, and will be paid below market value in 2014-2016. Trading Stanton would be unprecedented in the grand scheme of baseball, and would create a framework for future deals of a player of his age and caliber. There's a reason that teams often times sign players like Stanton to contract extensions instead of trading them: because it doesn't make any sense to trade them, and no one has ever challenged that mindset.