With Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees Build MLB's Most Fearsome Lineup. But at What Cost?

New York general manager Brian Cashman swooped in at the dead of night. Giancarlo Stanton may, however, eliminate the Yankees from 2018's loaded free agent market.
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In the dead of a cold December night, the Yankees once again blew up the offseason. Late Friday and stretching into the early hours of Saturday, New York came to terms on a trade with the Marlins to acquire NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton for a package headlined by All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro, according to multiple reports. Details of who else is included in the deal, as well as how much money the Yankees will take on, are not available as of yet. Nor has Stanton—who has a full no-trade clause—officially approved the move, which is what derailed proposed trades earlier this month that would have sent him either to St. Louis or San Francisco. But with the big slugger reportedly willing to accept relocation to the Bronx, all the pieces are in place for the Yankees to beef up their lineup in a major way.

As is seemingly always the case with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, the deal came together suddenly and unexpectedly. The Marlins under new owner Derek Jeter had been trying to move Stanton since the season ended and had worked out the framework of separate deals with the Cardinals and Giants. Things had progressed far enough that both teams met with Stanton in his offseason home of Los Angeles to try to entice him to waive his no-trade clause. But on Friday, each franchise put out a statement that, despite their best efforts, Stanton had chosen to reject the trades. That dovetailed with reports earlier this week that the California native was angling for a deal that would send him to the Dodgers, though as Sirius XM’s Craig Mish reported, he was also open to going to the Yankees, Cubs or Astros.

If you’re sensing a trend in teams there, it’s an obvious one: the four finalists in last year’s playoffs. That should come as no surprise, given that Stanton has never known a contending team in his time in Miami, but no one in that quartet seemed capable of accommodating him given his contract, which still has 10 years and $295 million to go. Even for the big-spending Yankees and Dodgers, adding a commitment like that would compromise their ability not only to avoid the luxury tax, but also to participate in next year’s free-agent bonanza.

Ultimately, though, once Stanton turned down St. Louis and San Francisco, the conditions became right for Cashman to swoop in at the last second to take advantage of a distressed property. The two teams have reportedly been talking trade for the last couple of days, but only on Friday night did things finally come together. Again, we don’t know yet who’s in the deal besides Stanton, though Castro is reportedly the main piece headed to Florida as a way to offset the former’s 2018 salary. Prospects will also be sent Miami’s way, but it’s unlikely that New York will give up any of its top minor leaguers, since it’s taking on Stanton’s contract.

What has to be galling for the rest of the league is that this deal is going to take the shape of a salary dump when the Yankees are acquiring a 28-year-old superstar who hit .281/.376/.631 with 59 home runs last season en route to MVP honors. Ordinarily, that kind of player should bring back an entire farm system, but New York’s ability to swallow payroll like a whale gulping down krill gave the Marlins the financial out they so desperately needed after stumbling ass-backwards into this entire mess. With Stanton’s no-trade clause nuking all their leverage, Miami’s options were slim: Either accept whatever the Yankees proposed, or go into next season with Stanton’s contract still on the books and the slugger himself deeply unhappy after a winter of discontent.

The Marlins chose option A, and the Yankees will be glad for it. You don’t need me to tell you that New York adding an in-his-prime offensive juggernaut to a lineup that is already one of baseball’s best is a good thing for them and a bad thing for every pitcher in the AL East. Nor do you need me to tell you that this makes the Yankees, who came within one game of winning the pennant last year, the favorites in the division and probably for the World Series. It doesn’t matter what Castro does going forward—note: hitting the emptiest .284 you’ve ever seen in your life—nor what those prospects turn into. Stanton takes an already terrifying lineup and makes it an obstacle course that wouldn’t be out of place in a military boot camp or on a Japanese game show. He’ll team up with equally hulking rightfielder Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez to give New York the most fearsome middle of the order in the league and a trio that will break Statcast with their high-velocity home runs. Fans who sit in Yankee Stadium’s leftfield seats next year should be legally required to wear helmets and Kevlar to games to protect them from the artillery display that will be those three righty hitters all in a row.

There will be two tricks for the Yankees to figure out. The first will be slotting Stanton, who has never played anything other than rightfield in his eight-year major league career, into a lineup that already has Judge inked into that very spot. New manager Aaron Boone, who is the luckiest man alive, will have to juggle Judge and Stanton between right and designated hitter, or perhaps try one or the other in left in occasional place of Brett Gardner.

The far thornier issue is the payroll. Swapping Castro for Stanton puts the Yankees at roughly $130 million in guaranteed money in 2018; adding in expected arbitration payouts and other costs, New York should be on the hook for about $170 million before making any other moves this winter. 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.

But figuring out that arithmetic pales in comparison to what the Yankees may have sacrificed going forward, as Stanton’s contract could rule them out of pursuing Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and the other All-Stars who will hit free agency next year. That’s no guarantee, though: The plethora of patently unfair pre-arbitration players the Yankees have could make a difference, as might the $37 million or so coming off the books in the forms of Chase Headley, David Robertson and (if they decline his option) Gardner. But tacking on another $300 million-plus contract, as Harper or Machado will almost certainly require, may be a step too far even for the baseball equivalent of Goldman Sachs. The happiest people in MLB behind Cashman and Yankees fans right now may be the Dodgers and Cubs, who are your new favorites for Harper.

But who knows what the future holds. The present is one that Cashman will be thrilled with: an impact hitter for little player cost, ready to take the Yankees to that next level. He remains the best in the business at making moves, and particularly in taking advantage of financially strapped teams or baffled front offices. Stanton fell into the Yankees’ lap this offseason, to the great dismay of every other team in the game.

And then there are the Marlins. What else can you call this trade other than an abject disaster for a franchise seemingly committed to being a pointless mess for the rest of its existence? Jeter can’t be faulted for the no-trade clause that Stanton used to blow up his plans; that was the parting gift of Jeffrey Loria, steadfast in his devotion to screwing the fans of south Florida. But no one forced Jeter to work out trades before even knowing if Stanton would approve them, and no one made him offload his franchise player despite Stanton’s refusals destroying Miami’s leverage. Conspiracy theories will follow Jeter trading his best player to his old team right after taking over, but it’s not that complicated. This is just an owner completely in over his head getting worked by someone far savvier.

Pity, then, Marlins fans, who have stuck by this team through firesale after firesale only to be rewarded with yet another, and this time by an ownership group that looks poised to do less for the franchise than even Loria. By dealing Stanton, Jeter and company have showed that all they care about is the bottom line, not the product on the field. The result will be a completely awful and unwatchable team that should, to Jeter’s great joy, cost nothing. The Marlins will be burned down for the insurance money under the guise of rebuilding and getting rid of onerous debts that the owners would claim impeded winning. But 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. 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.

But while the Marlins languish, the Yankees are once again ascendant. The true power in the AL is likely still the Astros, but with Stanton in tow, who’ll bet against the Bronx Bombers? Christmas is still two weeks away, but when the rest of the AL’s general managers woke up this morning, they must have felt like Cashman had already stolen it. Now it’s on the rest of the league to find a way to catch up. Good luck.