The Marlins aren't interested in trading Stanton. They want to build a team around their prized slugger, and as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported in mid-August, the front office is gearing up to make a multi-year contract offer this offseason. Even if the Marlins can't lock Stanton up beyond 2016, when he's first eligible for free agency, the team thinks it can be a legitimate playoff contender in the meantime, and it's clear the front office prefers rolling the dice down the road while keeping Stanton on for now.
This comes in the wake of CBS Sports' Jon Heyman's report that those within the Marlins organization are "less than optimistic" about the team's prospects of extending Stanton to a long-term deal "anytime soon." Perhaps just as importantly, Heyman reported Stanton's interest in playing for a perennial winner, and the Marlins' small-market status doesn't do them any favors there.
Will he go?
It's not a laughable notion that the Marlins could contend over the next two seasons with Stanton on the roster. Aside from having their slugging outfielder, who is perhaps the league's best hitter, and Jose Fernandez, the best starter east of Los Angeles, the Marlins roster will feature players like Christian Yelich, a reliable leadoff hitter with good defensive metrics this season, and Marcell Ozuna, whose 74 RBI ranks 11th in the National League.
That's not including a revitalized Casey McGehee, a presumably healthy Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a rotation that'll have Henderson Alvarez (10-6, 2.88 ERA) and Tom Koehler (3.79 ERA, 126 strikeouts).
That said, all that still might not be enough to move past the high-spending Dodgers and the stacked Nationals, both of whom could be even better by the time 2016 rolls around. The Marlins would likely have to do quite a bit of wheeling and dealing to put together a roster that could realistically contend for the pennant, and that's something they might not have the resources for.
Looking beyond 2016, there's quite a mix of opinions regarding the Marlins' ability to re-sign Stanton. It comes down to whether owner Jeffrey Loria will approve of a deal worth upwards of $200 million, and that's a stretch at best. According to CBS Sports, only the Astros' 2014 payroll trails Miami's, and there's a sizable gap between the Rays' 28th-ranked $57.9 million payroll and the Marlins' $36.3 million one. (That means Stanton's salary starting in 2017 would almost certainly be more than half of Miami's 2014 payroll.)
So while the Marlins reportedly aren't ruling out an extension, it would be a huge deviation from their spending track record.
The alternative, of course, is shopping Stanton around this offseason. Teams don't often have the option of selling an affordable superstar under team control, but that's the case here. Stanton is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons, giving the Marlins a unique opportunity they might never have again. Combine that with Stanton's best season of his career, and you've got one of the most valuable players in the league. If the Marlins stand pat this offseason, they risk receiving nothing for a player who could be gone by the time the rest of the team develops into a legitimate contender.
Let's look at where Stanton could go if the team chooses the option of selling.
Only a select few teams can even enter the conversation for Stanton because acquiring him will take such a big package of talent. The list becomes even more exclusive given the Marlins' stated interest in receiving big league-ready players.
That in itself could prevent any type of trade altogether because the cost of receiving big league talent that is a fair exchange for Stanton would likely exceed the Marlins' minuscule budget. Prospects would obviously set Miami back a bit, but that might be the best option given the team's payroll.
Stanton has been linked to the Dodgers, having grown up in Panorama City, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. The Dodgers would also likely have the funds to keep Stanton around once he hits free agency, and their roster is loaded.
But there's one big reason the Dodgers likely wouldn't trade for Stanton: Instead of giving up an enormous amount of talent for him, the team can simply wait for two years and sign Stanton in 2016. That's assuming the Marlins aren't able to re-sign their outfielder, but the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reported back in January that Stanton, who spends his offseason in Los Angeles, is drawn to the lifestyle and has developed camaraderie with outfielder Matt Kemp.
So, while the Dodgers are a logical destination, Los Angeles might be better suited waiting until the 2016 offseason.
Boston has also been an oft-mentioned destination for Stanton. Fans and management alike probably salivate thinking of the Marlins outfielder's limitless power placed inside the hitter-friendly Fenway Park.
It certainly would be an excellent fit for both sides. The Sox badly need Stanton's power, as they rank 24th and 28th in the majors in homers and slugging percentage, respectively. Meanwhile, Stanton would be going to a team with the money to contend every year, and he'd be in one of the best hitting environments in baseball.
On paper, the Red Sox have enough outfielders already. But many of those players have big question marks: Allen Craig and Shane Victorino are injury risks, Rusney Castillo has never seen a pitch in the majors, and young players like Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are still unproven. The Sox will also have vacancies at first base and designated hitter when Mike Napoli hits free agency in 2016 and David Ortiz retires within a few years.
In terms of sheer prospect firepower, nobody matches up to the Cubs, whose arsenal (and possible surplus) of young infielders makes them a conceivable suitor for Stanton. As previously acknowledged, the Marlins are interested in proven talent, but the Cubs have such an exceptional collection of young prospects that the right package could be too good to pass up.
Plus, whether the Marlins front office likes it or not, the reality is that it's quite easy to label a team as a "contender" with half the league within striking distance of the second wild-card spot in July. It's clear to just about everyone that the Marlins will need to make drastic changes to actually contend—you know, for the World Series. The bottom line being, it might be a good idea in the long term for the Marlins to invest in prospects.
Many of the Cubs' top young players are also extremely developed, with many debuting in the majors this year even before the September roster expansions. Javier Baez and Co. aren't too far off from playing regularly in the majors, and Triple-A slugger Kris Bryant isn't far behind.
The deal could be mutually beneficial for the Cubs, who might be interested in speeding up their rebuilding process by grabbing proven talent themselves. With another good pitcher or two (plus Stanton), the Cubs could be serious contenders within a couple of seasons.
Other teams could enter the mix for Stanton. The Cardinals have the payroll, farm system and big league talent to make a serious offer for Stanton and extend him beyond 2016. The Mets have Matt Harvey and elite pitching prospects like Noah Syndergaard. The list goes on, but it's difficult to imagine any team other than the Dodgers or Red Sox trading for Stanton. The Yankees and Phillies, who round out the top four spenders in 2014 along with LA and Boston, have payrolls backlogged with massive veteran salaries, and other big-market teams like the Tigers and Giants have depleted farm systems. If you asked me to put money on where Stanton goes if he's traded, I'd bet big on the Dodgers or Red Sox and sleep comfortably.