Less than one month ago, the Miami Marlins were sellers in every conceivable sense of the word, both in terms of the organization and its players. The franchise was on the market with multiple entities vying for it. Eventually, an ownership group including Derek Jeter made the winning bid of $1.2 billion.
Also on the market were most, if not all, of the highly-paid players on the roster. Closer A.J. Ramos was traded to the New York Mets; shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays; and reliever David Phelps was traded to the Seattle Mariners.
Rumors abounded that the club was also willing to listen on players who comprised the present and future foundation: Dee Gordon, Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna, Dan Straily and even Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton.
Only those privy to the negotiations with the incoming ownership know if there was a quiet agreement that current owner Jeffrey Loria would oversee the teardown and shield Jeter, et al., from being responsible for trading Stanton and Yelich. If it happened, it would be a tactical decision to give the new owners a clean slate free of the giant Stanton contract which, if he chooses not to opt out after 2020, has $295 million guaranteed through 2027. However, considering the Marlins’ limited farm system and annual underachievement with Stanton, it made sense to at least explore the possibility and see what another team was willing to surrender for a Hall of Fame talent in his prime who is locked in contractually for the foreseeable future.
Hint: It’s a massive return.
In a team sense, there was no reason to believe that a dramatic comeback into contention was on the horizon. On the day of the trade deadline, the Marlins were 14.5 games out of first place in the National League East. They were also 10 games behind the Colorado Rockies for the second wild card spot.
In the standings and in their situation, selling parts made sense. The Marlins were riddled with injuries, having lost Edinson Volquez, Martin Prado, Bour and Wei-Yin Chen; they were too far behind in the standings to expect them to jump back into contention.
At least that’s what most observers thought.
Judging by their trades and willingness to make other trades, even the Marlins were clearly indicating that 2017 was a lost cause. That was until August began and Stanton caught fire.
Prior to the start of August, he had put together an excellent season, one that was par for the course for the superstar talent he has been since he burst onto the scene. Owning a .272/.366/.589 slash and a .955 OPS with 33 home runs, he was going to get votes for the Most Valuable Player Award at season’s end, but he was not going to win it, not with the seasons Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer are having. Because the Marlins were an also-ran and Stanton’s statistics were not far above and beyond the rest of the league, he was not going to get enough support.
But that was before August — before his new, exaggerated, closed batting stance began yielding superhuman results; before the Marlins won 17 of 25 as the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks stumbled, allowing them to climb to within reasonable striking distance – 4.5 games – of the wild card, making them a legitimate threat to get into the playoffs; and before Stanton raised his slash to .296/.389/.670, his OPS to 1.059, and hit his 50th home run. To raise his numbers to the degree he has in slightly fewer than four weeks is remarkable. Getting the Marlins into the race is astounding.
But is that enough? If not, there’s more.
Added into the equation is the looming belief among many that Barry Bonds’ record of 73 home runs — like Mark McGwire’s and Sammy Sosa’s home run totals, eclipsing Roger Maris’s 1961-1998 record of 61 — is tainted due to performance-enhancing drug use and allegations of PED use. There will be significant attention paid to Stanton’s power display because despite the record books having Bonds as the single-season home run champion, a vast contingent views Maris’s 61 home runs as the “real” record. If Stanton breaks that, it will inevitably be claimed by some that his achievement has greatervalidity than the feats of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa. It won’t change the record, but it will spark debate and boost his case for recognition even if the Marlins fade and end up out of the playoffs, below .500, or both.
The MVP argument is hotly debated and endlessly complicated, even if the rules that govern the voting are relatively simple, albeit with wide latitude granted to voters. Here are the explicit instructions from the ballot sent to members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America:
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
- Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
- Number of games played.
- General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
- Former winners are eligible.
- Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.
In short, the voter decides what he or she finds important and selects a winner based on that arbitrary, subjective process.
Contrary to prominent — bordering on oppressive — opinion pieces that seem to demand that voters base their selections on increasingly limited augmenting or eliminating factors (pitchers are not eligible; highest wins above replacement should take precedence; old-school stats need not apply), plus old-school voters who put forth the impression that they’re being contrary and ignoring reasonable, sabermetric arguments simply because they contradict their default position, there’s no right answer… because there’s no wrong answer.
Given how Stanton’s searing hot streak is single-handedly reopening the case of who has the “real” single-season home run record while dragging into contention a Marlin team that had acknowledged its situation and punted the season in July, he has leapfrogged everyone to become the frontrunner for the award independent of where the Marlins end up in the standings.
If they get into the playoffs, watch out, because if Stanton’s display of raw power and endless skills carries them that far with nothing to lose, he can turn a sudden and absurd manifestation of those individual gifts into a magical season for his team that no one – least of all the Marlins – saw coming.
By Paul Lebowitz