Let's Have Some Fun: Would the Cubs Ever Consider a Trade for Giancarlo Stanton?

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Let’s Have Some Fun: Would the Cubs Ever Consider a Trade for Giancarlo Stanton?

Chicago Cubs

Before we take even one step in the general direction of this rabbit hole, let’s clear one thing up right away: this isn’t a rumor floating around. Not yet, anyway. This is an exercise in educated dot-connecting, theoretical offseason planning, and … just having some fun thinking about the Cubs and a superstar player.

With that said, there *is* a mailbag at The Athletic that discusses (1) the Yankees’ potential need/desire to trade Stanton this offseason, and (2) the fact that the Cubs were previously one of just four teams (including the Yankees) to which Stanton would have accepted a trade from the Marlins (the Astros and Dodgers were the other two).

The author, Chris Kirschner, rightly points out that Stanton doesn’t really look like a roster/positional fit for Houston or L.A., and he’s already in New York, which kind of brings this all down to the Cubs, assuming Stanton had the same preferences.

The only problem, according to Kirschner, is that while the Cubs “could use Stanton’s power … they’re not close to contending, so why would he go there?”

Well, excuuuuuuuuuse me.

For one, I think his comment about the Cubs’ timeline-to-competitiveness is probably due to his distance from intimately covering this team. I don’t really blame him for that, I just disagree with the conclusion. Why? Because even if the Cubs weren’t coming off some second-half momentum from guys likely to contribute next season, the Cubs have signaled a pretty clear willingness to spend this offseason. And perhaps more importantly, the Cubs play in an incredibly weak division, in a sport where an 87-win Phillies team is two games away from a World Series title.

To say the Cubs couldn’t contend next season is just not correct.

I also think Chicago is a pretty cool place to play and obviously somewhere Stanton was — at least, at one point — interested in. And, no, I don’t think that interest was solely about expected competitiveness at the time, because he explicitly shot down an agreed upon trade to the Cardinals, before heading to New York. And we can say a lot of bad things about the Cardinals, but no one in MLB ever thinks they’re far from contention, whatever year it is. (It’s annoying.)

So for the purposes of continuing this discussion, let’s assume Stanton would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to come the Cubs, and that the Yankees would be willing to trade him.

In that world … would the Cubs even be interested?

Does Stanton Fit the Cubs?

On the one-hand, that feels like a silly question. Giancarlo Stanton is a baseball freak with a career 140 wRC+ who’s hit 66 home runs over his last two seasons, and just made his fifth All-Star team in 2022. He’ll play next season at 33, but when he’s on the field, he’s still mighty impactful.

Most teams in baseball would love to have him. And purely as a fan, this is a no-brainer. I’d LOVE to watch Stanton in a Cubs uniform. Sometimes, it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

But we’ll dig deeper nonetheless.

This season, the Cubs were well below average in the power department across the board: .387 SLG, .152 ISO, 159 homers. They’re also about to lose one of their best power hitters, Willson Contreras, to free agency, while two of their better power-hitting prospects close to the majors, Alexander Canario and Brennen Davis, are dealing with injuries/have become huge question marks for 2023.

So, yeah, the Cubs are pretty DESPERATE for power, which Stanton has in spades.

On the flip side, in discussing available power-hitters so far, we’ve often gravitated towards lefties, which is even more of a hole the Cubs need to fill. Stanton is a righty, so it’s not exactly a perfect fit in that sense.

There’s also the fact that Stanton is pretty much a DH or bust at this point in his career. And while the Cubs do not have a sure-fire DH at the moment, that’s partly by design. They like to keep the position open to strategically rest players and play the matchups. If you get Stanton, he’ll occupy DH on most days. And even if he weren’t suited almost exclusively for DH, and you wanted to play him in the outfield, the Cubs have two pretty good corner outfielders, one of whom just won a Gold Glove award in his first All-Star season, and the other of whom just finished the first successful season of a five-year deal.

But to keep the convo going, let’s assume the Cubs were willing to dedicate the DH spot to Stanton. How does he project going forward?

Is Stanton Still Good?

This might also seem like a silly question, but I was actually completely caught off guard by Stanton’s second-half numbers when I dug in.

In the first half of the year, Stanton was his usual, productive self, slashing .237/.319/.516 (134 wRC+) with 24 homers, six doubles, and 61 RBI. He had an absurd .280 ISO and an even more absurd 95.4 MPH average exit velocity, and an EVEN MORE absurd 21.3% barrel rate — league average is 7.5%. He’s 3X the league average! That’s why he was an All-Star. He’s a freak at the plate.

But in the second half of the season, Stanton dealt with some ankle injuries and fell way off, slashing just .151/.246/.336 (68 wRC+) with a 38.1% strikeout rate as he was handed an expanding diet of fastballs at high velocities.

Now, we can explain away the slump a bit, and from different angles: For one, it was a relatively small sample size (134 PAs), and that always matters when you’re talking about a guy who has pretty much always hit a ton in his career. And for another, he still managed above-average contact rates: 93.8 MPH average exit velocity, 13.2% barrel rate, 47.1 hard%. I’ll also add that while his out-of-zone swing rate started rising at the beginning of the second-half of the season (which is bad), he did seem to get a hold of it as the year wound down.

But this? This has me concerned:

Stanton’s contact on pitches in the zone started plummeting at the end of last season, and again, that coincided with more fastballs at higher velocities. At his age, you might start to worry that he’s losing some bat speed, which can be exploited by the ever-increasing stable of power pitchers in baseball. It’s a non-zero factor, even if his expected stats at Statcast all sort of imply that he was generally a bit unlucky last season.

Also a major factor in discussing how good Stanton projects to be? His health! If he can’t play, then it doesn’t really much matter how good he would project to be, and if he gets hurt, his projections might tank even when he’s on the field. In the last four seasons combined, Stanton has played just 290 games. (Sure, that includes the 60-game pandemic season, but he managed just 23 games that year.)

What Would it Cost to Get Him?

For the sake of rounding out this discussion, let’s keep the assumptions alive: (1) If the Yankees were interested in trading Stanton, and (2) if Stanton were interested in waiving his no-trade clause for the Cubs, and if (3) the Cubs believed they could fit Stanton onto their roster/into their plans, and (4) if we thought Stanton was actually going to be good … what would it take to acquire him?

This isn’t an easy question to answer in any sort of specific sense, but broadly speaking, I think I can say with some confidence that it would *not* be costly in terms of the return. Why? Well, for one, Stanton is an aging DH coming off a poor second half which included a trip to the IL.

But more to the point … his remaining contract:

2023: $32M
2024: $32M
2025: $32M
2026: $29M ($10M paid by Marlins)
2027: $25M ($10M paid by Marlins)
2028: $25M option ($10M paid by Marlins, or $10M buyout, so it’s basically a $5M decision)

That’s a minimum of five years/$140M with full no-trade protection. I don’t think Giancarlo Stanton would get that on the open market right now (Jed Hoyer most certainly would not offer it). So this contract is a net-negative. If the Cubs were to take it all on in any trade, the prospect return would be more or less non-existent.

The complicating factor here is that I don’t think the Yankees would be opposed to retaining salary to improve the offer. Shedding salary isn’t as important as opening up their roster, I think. However, I also don’t think that’s the sort of deal the Cubs would prefer, and certainly not if it meant a substantial prospect cost. So I don’t really know if I could see this making much sense.

At the end of the day, it just feels like the Cubs could do more damage in free agency with $140 million (or more in trade with the prospects they’d give up if the Yankees ate a significant chunk of that salary). So … fun chat/concept, but I don’t see it happening.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami