Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract with the Miami Marlins is terrific news for him, his accountant, agent Joel Wolfe, the capitalist system, Marvin Miller's legacy and baseball fans in small markets who refuse to accept the premise that their teams are simply feeder systems for the behemoths in Boston, Los Angeles and New York.
But if you buy the proposition that the Stanton-Marlins marriage signals the beginning of a new era of commitment, vision and building toward something enduring in Miami, we have $409 million in stadium construction bonds to sell you.
Some megadeals -- like the recent $240-250 million contracts for Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera -- seem destined to look worse once time passes and the recipient's bat speed begins to deteriorate. But there's a difference between shortsighted spending and economics by smoke and mirrors. Stanton's agreement feels wrong out of the chute, in a way that transcends scouting judgments and knee-jerk arguments about "greedy" players and clueless owners.
Pick an adjective: Stunning. Mystifying. Ill-conceived. This deal checks all the boxes. And it's not because of Stanton's career trajectory or the wisdom of committing almost a third of a billion dollars to a player through his 37th birthday.
The doubt revolves more around the people writing the checks than the athlete cashing them.
You'd have to be a shameless Marlins homer (are there any?) to deny that Jeffrey Loria's ownership group is credibility-impaired. That's the result of a track record that put Loria's popularity quotient in South Florida at somewhere just above Fidel Castro's, according to a 2012 Miami Herald poll.
The ultimate trust-buster, of course, was Loria's behavior during a flurry of activity two years ago. After selling fans in South Florida on the need for a new stadium with a significant public-financing component to keep the franchise viable, the Marlins spent $191 million on free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. Then all it took was a 93-loss season for the team to change course, send Buehrle, Reyes and Josh Johnson to Toronto in a 12-player trade, and hack the payroll from $107 million to $24 million.
In hindsight, the sell-off worked out a lot better for the Marlins than it did for the Blue Jays. Miami stockpiled young talent, got lighter on its feet and is now better positioned to compete moving forward. The Marlins have a talented front-office team led by president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings, and it's understandable that they would want to keep their linchpin player in the fold. They still remember the pain associated with packing Cabrera off to Detroit in a trade for prospects Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller seven years ago.
If a team is going to set a professional sports record for handing out cash, there are worse recipients than a 25-year-old slugger with a killer work ethic and the desire to be great. And if Stanton's future flashed before his eyes when he took that Mike Fiers fastball in the face in September and prompted him to take the money now rather than pursue the big free-agent dollars later, hey, he's only human.
But it doesn't change the inherent premise: If the rampant mistrust over Loria's pocketing of revenue-sharing money and his other transgressions deprived him of the benefit of the doubt in the past, what precisely has changed now that he's moved on to his next big thing?
Through the years the list of doubters in Loria's willingness to stay the course included none other than Giancarlo Stanton, who has had his share of disagreements with the organization. When Stanton wasn't rattled by the Marlins' decision to fire hitting coach John Mallee in 2011, he was taking to Twitter to express how "pissed off" he was about the Blue Jays trade.
By buying into Loria's new "vision," Stanton has effectively forfeited his right to complain, grouse or otherwise critique the organizational direction. By taking the money, he has accepted the proposition that the Marlins can somehow pay him and summon the resources to build a winning team around him.
And why, exactly, is this the case?
Does anybody really think the Marlins, by signing Stanton to the biggest contract in sports history, can turn Marlins Park into a go-to destination or an event in the same way that American Airlines Arena became "the place to be" during LeBron James' tenure with the Miami Heat? The Marlins made the leap from 62 to 77 victories in 2014 and Stanton posted MVP-caliber numbers as the leader of a fun, energetic team, and they ranked last in the National League in attendance with 1.7 million fans.
Indeed, the Marlins have ranked last or next-to-last in the NL in attendance in 14 of the past 16 seasons. The only exceptions came in 2004, when they were fresh off a championship and drew 1.7 million, and in 2012, when they cracked 2 million in their Marlins Park debut. Miami isn't a baseball town -- or a great sports town, for that matter -- and people are no more likely to flock to Marlins Park to see a $30 million-a-year Giancarlo Stanton than they were a $480,000 Stanton or a $5.5 million Stanton.
The Marlins' TV deal reportedly pays them $16-18 million a year, and some insiders say it's closer to $13 million annually. The Dodgers, in contrast, will average $334 million a year over the life of their 25-year agreement with Time Warner Cable. Throw in a meager season-ticket base, and the Marlins' franchise has enough limitations that even the rosiest projections make anything more than an $80-90 million payroll seem like a pipe dream.
That might suffice when Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and the team's other core players are in the early, dirt-cheap phases of their careers. But as time passes and those players get more expensive, the likelihood of Stanton becoming a one-man band can only increase. The Marlins say they're intent on retaining much of their nucleus in the years to come. And we should believe this precisely why? Because Loria and team president David Samson say so?
Through the years, so many of these multiyear deals have elicited a rush of civic pride at the introductory news conference before things head south. The Colorado Rockies thought it was smart to lock up 26-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a 10-year, $157.75 million extension in November 2010. Four years, 241 missed games and a hip labrum surgery later, Tulo is potential trade bait. The Cincinnati Reds' $225 million investment in Joey Votto isn't working out so well, and Joe Mauer's eight-year, $184 million deal with the Minnesota Twins has become a financial albatross for the franchise. We could go on, but you get the picture.
At least those deals were consummated with the best intentions. All the preening and headline-grabbing by Loria and Samson during the Marlins' 2012 roster buildup invites more cynicism in their case. "They love the attention they're getting from this," said one baseball insider. And why not? It's nice to be rivaling the Dolphins and the Heat for website clicks as Thanksgiving approaches.
Check back in November of 2017 or '18 and see where things are then. Stanton's contract is probably back-loaded, and if the Marlins fail to live up to their end of the bargain, he has the ability to opt out around age 30. It's all about leverage as well as the money. Take a step beyond the smiles, and this union has all the warmth and good faith of a Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries prenuptial agreement.
Soon enough the shock value and the glow from the announcement will fade, and the Marlins' attention will shift to winning games. Maybe the team's talented young roster will produce a playoff appearance or two. But eventually, and inevitably, talk will turn to Stanton and where he'll be playing baseball in the third act of his career. That's the best-case scenario. The alternative is that he gets injured or underperforms and decides to stick around and collect every last dollar of the $325 million owed him through 2027. That day is so far off, Mo'ne Davis might be part of the Miami starting rotation by then. But all decisions have consequences, and someone -- be it Jeffrey Loria or the franchise's next owner -- will have to deal with the cleanup.
We've seen this movie before, and the ending isn't pretty. It's not a question of if, but when.