So often in the past it appeared that the St. Louis Cardinals only role in major free agent chases was to serve as the foil to the team that eventually got the player in question.
Take, for example, the David Price case where a sizable portion of baseball experts thought the left-handed starting pitcher was a shoe-in for the St. Louis rotation. Price, who is from the Nashville area was reportedly excited about the idea of pitching relatively close to home and the Redbirds could certainly have used a new ace. The money was there. It all made sense. But, in the end, Price and his agents only used the Cardinals to set the market, then the Boston Red Sox swooped in with an offer to pay more and the rest was history.
Because of things like the Price ordeal, can you blame Cardinals fans if they’re a little bit gun shy and they have started to believe the team isn’t really a factor in the bidding for National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Giancarlo Stanton other than to drive up the price in prospects for a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants or even our old nemesis from Boston? Social media platforms are full of folks who have grown weary of waiting for the Miami Marlins to decide where to deal their $300 million star and turned to posting woe is me, I knew we weren’t going to get him pronouncements on the internet.
But I don’t think the Cardinals are the ones being used this time. In fact, I think it’s the other way around.
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The Boston Globe filed a report over the weekend that stated a couple of interesting tidbits. First, the Red Sox, one of baseball’s most notorious big spenders, are lukewarm to the idea of making a big trade for a slugger under contract for 10 years despite their obvious need for a power bat. Second, the report noted that the Giants have been the most aggressive team in the bidding so far — but that the Cardinals are still hanging in there.
I’m sure the wording of that report sent many a Redbirds rooter into a tizzy. “See, the Giants are trying the hardest! The Cardinals don’t really want to get Stanton! They just want to make us think they’re trying!” But, reading between the lines, it appears to me that perhaps the Marlins are trying to leverage their offer from San Francisco to attempt to get the Cardinals — who have more attractive prospects and more financial flexibility because of the Giants’ proximity to the payroll luxury tax threshold — to up their offer.
Rumor has it that the Birds have offered multiple players in the deal including fireballing youngster Sandy Alcantara. But what if the Fish are holding out for the likes of Alex Reyes? The Giants have reportedly offered to pay a “substantial amount” of Stanton’s remaining $295 million contract. But maybe the Marlins hope they can get St. Louis to take the whole thing and give them several top prospects.
Otherwise, if San Francisco has made such a great offer, why doesn’t Miami take it? I don’t buy that San Francisco has wowed the Marlins with a fantastic offer because, as badly as the Fish need to save the more than $25 million a year Stanton earns for the next decade, they would have jumped on it already.
If St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak can successfully avoid depleting the farm system while successfully landing the fabled Big Bat that the Cardinals need, more power to him. In the meantime, this is a very dangerous game of chicken that could leave the Birds in a big hole should Miami decide to call Mozeliak’s bluff and opt for the bird in hand. I’m not saying that Mozeliak is wrong if he’s working hard to get the best deal he can pull off. But the whole reason the Cardinals are in a desperate situation to trade for top talent is their previously mentioned penchant for finishing second in the race for top players.
As I have said before, I’m sure that it’s appealing to try to get the Marlins to pay as much of Stanton’s remaining contract as possible. But Miami is in this to save money. So make it easy on their front office to make the decision by offering to take the whole contract — except for the last two years. If Stanton opts out, as I am willing to bet he’ll do when he hits the market at 31 after the next three seasons are in the record books, Miami pays nothing to the Cardinals. If he doesn’t opt out, the Redbirds get Stanton’s age 37 and 38 seasons for free in exchange for getting Miami off the hook for the first eight years of this albatross of a contract on a small budget team.