This could explain their interest in Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton, who uses his many muscles to hit many home runs, is still under contract with the Miami Marlins for a whopping $295 million over the next 10 years. But new Marlins owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter aren't hiding their desire to cut payroll, so any team with the capacity and desire to bring the 28-year-old right fielder aboard is welcome to do so.
According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the Cardinals are already among the most aggressive suitors:
To an extent, the Cardinals need Stanton the least. Their offense boasted six above-average hitters in 2017. That's twice the amount the Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies had.
The catch is St. Louis' offense was mediocre anyway, as it finished seventh in the National League in runs and eighth in home runs and OPS. Although the depth was there, it lacked a superstar to tie it together.
As president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters in October: "For us, we have a talented team, but when you look at our club, no one stood out as an All-Star, that threat. I think for all of us up here, it's trying to find what that might look like."
With Stanton, it would look pretty darn good.
This is a guy who owns a .914 career OPS and 267 home runs through eight major league seasons. He's coming off an MVP-caliber year highlighted by career bests in home runs (59), OPS (1.007) and wins above replacement (7.6, per Baseball Reference). Such numbers qualify him as a dandy upgrade for a right field slot that was a relative weakness in St. Louis, as the team got just a .764 OPS from the spot.
Of course, there are significant hurdles between the Cardinals and Stanton.
The Southern California native has a no-trade clause that he may or may not—Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald and Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston offered conflicting reports—use to block a trade to St. Louis. He also has an opt-out after 2020, which could cut a potential 10-year partnership down to a mere three-year pact.
In the meantime, the Marlins are playing hard to get.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Jeter told reporters this week that it hasn't even been determined that Stanton will be moved. That could have something to do with their asking price, which ESPN's Buster Olney has heard is enormous:
Because Stanton is a franchise cornerstone who's coming off an epic season, Sherman and Jeter can't be blamed for putting an exorbitant asking price on his head. But even after the season he just had, it's uncertain whether he'll offer much value on top of what he's already set to earn.
I ran Stanton through the same valuation method that I ran the winter's top free agents through and found he projects to be worth about $260 million through 2027, $35 million less than he's owed. It might sound low, but it's reasonable in light of his history of injuries and performance fluctuations.
Between this and the fact that power isn't exactly a rare skill in today's MLB, the Marlins should have to eat some of Stanton's contract to land the prospects they crave.
That would make life easier for all his suitors, but perhaps the Cardinals in particular.
Shaving a few million dollars off his long-term cost would obviously make it easier to fit him into the club's payroll. St. Louis is projected for $126 million for 2018 after opening 2017 near $150 million, and it will gain additional wiggle room when Adam Wainwright's $19.5 million salary comes off the books after the upcoming season.
The Cardinals also have a strong farm system to draw from. B/R's Joel Reuter ranked it No. 11 in MLB in September, with talents such as right-handers Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty, catcher Carson Kelly and outfielder Tyler O'Neill leading the way.
The Giants (No. 26 system) and Red Sox (No. 23 system) can't match the Cardinals in this arena. The Phillies are a good match in terms of both prospects (No. 7 system) and payroll space (seriously, though) but aren't the kind of winner Stanton is apparently desperate to play for.
Long story short: There's a deal to be made between Miami and St. Louis.
A Stanton blockbuster wouldn't cure all the Cardinals' problems. They would still need to fill at least one vacant spot (Lance Lynn's) in their starting rotation, and perhaps two if the deal costs them Reyes. They would also still require fixes for a bullpen that was weak in 2017 and now looks like a real fixer-upper.
What a deal for Stanton would do, however, is elevate their offense to among the best in the National League. That alone would position them to build on last year's 83-win campaign.
As a bonus, it would also turn up the heat on the Cubs.
Chicago looked destined for long-term rule over the NL Central when it won 103 games and the World Series in 2016, but 2017 pulled the rug out from under that assumption. It was a struggle for the Cubs to win even 92 games, and it wasn't until late September that they pulled away from the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
Further complicating matters is the Cubs will likely lose a good chunk of their team to free agency, including 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and ace closer Wade Davis. With $132 million already on their books for 2018, they don't have limitless funds with which to patch these holes. Nor do they have a deep farm system to pull from, as theirs has been steadily fished out in recent seasons.
So if St. Louis does land Stanton, the Cubs might not be able to respond with a similarly seismic move. Maybe that won't doom them to second-fiddle status, but it would doom them to a more level playing field.
With Stanton in their midst, that could prove to be merely the first in a series of victories for the Cardinals.
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