Word filtered out in the last 24 hours that Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton’s list of teams to which he would accept a trade includes the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs — but not the two teams which are actually trying to acquire him, the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.
If this is true, it’s time for the Redbirds front office to pull its trade offer from the table and begin to look elsewhere for help to make their team better for 2018. If I were the general manager of the Giants, I’d pull my offer, too.
All along, we were told Stanton’s top priority was to live on the West Coast near his California home. That’s why Giants fans and some of the Northern California media were convinced they would get the coveted slugger over St. Louis’ reportedly superior offer.
But New York City, Houston and Chicago are more than walking distance from Pacific Ocean beaches. Stanton’s criteria isn’t geography as much as it is prioritizing playing in one of the four largest markets in the United States. Regardless of the reason he doesn’t want to play here, Stanton doesn’t want to play here. That’s unlikely to change, no matter how long St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak chooses to be patient.
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Besides, with Stanton turning up his nose at St. Louis for about a month now, it seems fans have received the message that he isn’t interested in playing here. It’s not difficult to believe, should he get off to a bad start, the relationship could quickly turn sour. It’s also nearly impossible to believe Stanton wouldn’t opt out of his current contract to play in a larger market as soon as he can. While having a superstar for three years of his prime while avoiding having to pay him during his decline years has its appeal, it would be nice to know one of the parties wasn’t planning a divorce while still standing at the altar.
Instead of wasting time trying to add a player to the roster of a team for which he doesn’t want to play, Mozeliak and Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. should be investing their energy in figuring out why it seems the Cardinals have ceased to be a destination franchise for top major-league players.
While St. Louis is never going to be a large market, the club has plenty of money to put a winning club together. The Redbirds, armed with a new billion-dollar television contract and the knowledge that well more than 3 million people will walk through the gates each season, are easily in the top quarter of MLB revenue producers. So, that’s not it.
There’s speculation players don’t want to come here because of recent civil unrest in the city or the story that St. Louis is the second-deadliest major city in the country. To address the second issue first, those percentages are ridiculous because of the fact that St. Louis proper is so geographically small in a metropolitan area that sprawls over massive suburbs. When the number of crimes is divided by the number of people who actually live within the city’s limits, the number is disproportionately high. Still, Detroit is No. 1 on that list and it doesn’t seem to have trouble getting players to come there. Also in the Top 10: Atlanta, Baltimore, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Stanton’s current summer home, Miami.
To address the first issue, while we are sensitive to things that happen in St. Louis because it’s our home, this isn’t the only place that has seen racially motivated civil unrest in the past few years. Nothing that has happened in St. Louis hasn’t also happened in Baltimore, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York (Brooklyn), and multiple times in the Los Angeles area. This isn’t a St. Louis problem. It’s a national issue. Sadly, racial unrest isn’t something new in this country. That’s a much larger issue than baseball. But it isn’t the reason why players don’t want to call Busch Stadium their home field.
I’m afraid the reason players don’t want to play here isn’t about, geography, quality of life, money, fan support or even the chance to win. It seems the word is out that manager Mike Matheny is a pain in the rear to work for and guys want to avoid him like the plague.
That was the scuttlebutt last year at this time when Dexter Fowler resisted taking the highest offer from the Cardinals for as long as he could until it became obvious that he had little other choice. The Cardinals aren’t going to do anything about Matheny right now, despite two seasons in a row without a playoff appearance, a five-year downward trend in record and degrading defense, fundamentals and offensive acumen. But if Matheny is the reason players won’t come here, that’s something ownership needs to consider.
Joe Girardi lead the Yankees to the American League Championship Series but lost his job because, allegedly, he lost the clubhouse. That’s certainly an eye-opener when malaise has invaded the St. Louis dugout.
So now what? As I wrote a couple of months ago, the Cardinals don’t need to be great at every aspect of the game to compete. But they do have to be great at something. I was hopeful Stanton would be the one-man artillery barrage that would make the St. Louis offense an irresistible force. The Birds can’t really replace what Stanton offers because there aren’t any other players like him available.
So, they have two options: First, they can go out and try to find a couple of somewhat less imposing middle-of-the-order bats to try to boost the offense from a group of free agents and potential trade targets in Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu or others. Second, the Birds could decide to load up on pitching, finding a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in trade or off the free-agent pile (Yu Darvish, Chris Archer, Jake Arrieta) and add a dominating closer (Alex Colome, Wade Davis, Greg Holland) and a setup man to try to count on shutting down opposing offenses. The Cardinals could and should do all of the above.
In the meantime, I’ll sit here and dream that somehow Stanton will go to the Cubs (preventing them from signing Bryce Harper next year) and that the guy who refused to come to St. Louis will watch his former teammate Ozuna or Yelich celebrate on the field after eliminating Chicago from the playoffs.