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Miami Marlins

Heyman | Stanton opens up about Marlins future and chasing 60

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

MIAMI – The great Giancarlo Stanton is enjoying the home run chase, the MVP speculation and easily enduring the controversy in the debate over what’s the real home run record, which has its obvious “gray areas,” as he called them, to explain the whole Roger Maris vs. Barry Bonds thing.

But on this one other major issue, there is no gray – only black and white. Stanton talked late Friday night after he only doubled and singled, still much to the crowd’s delight (and yes, there was a bit of a crowd by Marlins standards, almost 20,000, even on Yom Kippur), as he stood at an incredible 59 home runs, just one, two and three shy of some historic marks in baseball – and, arguably, the real record of Maris.

Stanton has been one consistent mix of power, talent and excitement for the Marlins all year, culminating in a weekend where history – if not the technical single-season record – can happen. He’s clearly relishing it, as is his father, the ever present Big Mike (who’s only slightly smaller), but he also understands his time in Miami could be coming to an end.

And while he loves it here, he’s OK with it — more than OK if reports, hints and the clubhouse buzz is true that new ownership is looking to rebuild, with the team said to be losing close to $70 million this year, and also again losing on the field, after a surprisingly strong start to the second half momentarily put them in contention.

By now, veteran guys around the clubhouse are openly wondering where they may be shipped next year (St. Louis seems to be a popular guess for some), and Stanton, thanks to his record $325 million contract, which contains a full no-trade clause, is the one guy who can stay if he wants to – or direct, to a large degree, where he goes. But word has been that he’s long been tiring of the also-ran status of the Marlins, and he’s ready to go if he hears about a new Marlins three-year plan, or five, or whatever.

And that is indeed the case.

Stanton understands the home run record brings many perspectives, and he stopped just before opening up completely about his own (more on that later). But when it comes to yet another retool of the Marlins, he makes his thought as sharp and obvious as one of those drives that flies over the iconic Clevelander and onto the left field concourse.

“I don’t want to rebuild … I’ve lost for seven years,” Stanton said flat out to FanRag Sports late Friday, long after most everyone else had left.

There wasn’t much to say after that, as that pretty much summed it all up in a couple quick sentences. Stanton isn’t verbose; he knows how to sum up a situation in a sentence or two, as he did five years ago, when he encapsulated his feelings in a famous and sharply-worded tweet when the Marlins were trading veteran stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto for prospects.

He doesn’t voice his complaints very much either – though, he’s been through multiple rebuilds, that one memorable selloff and, as he put it, “seven years” of losing.

While he hasn’t said anything about where he stands before – he isn’t an easy man to get – this stance will come as no surprise to those around the team, who understand where Stanton sits. He controls his destiny due to the no-trade provision, and there’s a lot of clubhouse speculation that he’d prefer his hometown Los Angeles, or perhaps San Francisco. Perhaps the new issue with Yasiel Puig (a Miami resident, to make this a potential geographic win-win) could spark something with the Dodgers, and as far the Giants, well, they desperately seek power (and look like they could use three outfielders).

That’s all well and good. But it’s mostly up to Stanton, and he is all about winning.

As far as that goes, his luck has been the opposite of the new prospective owner Derek Jeter, so it’s hard to see him making geography the priority (though this wasn’t the time to ask). The Phillies, Cardinals and Yankees are among others connected to Stanton, and if you ask around the clubhouse, the new clubhouse guess is the Red Sox, who seem overly dependent on pitching as of late. The Cardinals have supposedly called, and the Yankees have, too – though their need seems far less acute than some of the others.

Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton connects for a solo home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Stanton and his agent Joel Wolfe of Wasserman haven’t had a chance to meet with prospective Marlins owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman yet. The Jeter-Sherman group just got approved by MLB owners this week (and has yet to close), and Stanton himself is busy, bringing positive attention to a situation that’s seemed far less so for a lot of his spectacular tenure, which has been overwhelmed most times with some freak unfortunate injuries but more often doubts and questions about a financial morass that for all of Stanton’s tenure has hung over the Marlins. While Stanton has starred, the franchise has seemed to swing back and forth from minuscule payrolls to steep losses, one reality more untenable than the next.

Though Stanton is providing many late thrills – very possibly in his last days as a Marlin — this year the main storyline has been the sale, and the expectation that an uber-famous superstar buying the team, the iconic Jeter (who incidentally never played in one losing season, and remarkably played in only one game that didn’t have an effect on the pennant race in his illustrious career, the last one of the 2008 season) will drastically cut payroll out of necessity.

It’s been a several-month struggle to form an ownership group and come up with the $1.2 billion to buy the team, and with a $90 million “preferred equity” piece courtesy of Michael Dell (what some describe as a loan) plus $400 million in debt to start things, and seemingly less-than-deep pockets (main owner Sherman isn’t listed on at least one roster of billionaires, though the claim is that he is one, and to come up with his $400 million stake, he had better be), it’s hard to imagine anything less than a scale back and retool.

There have been suggestions the payroll for a team that’s already well short in the pitching department will be cut from a franchise-high $115 million to $85 million, or less, and while that hasn’t been confirmed yet, the few non-Stanton headlines that have hit this week are reminders that a new era awaits – two separate purges have cost eight high-profile Marlins execs/consultants their jobs, including two Hall of Famers (Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, who heard about his ousting from outgoing team president David Samson but reiterated yesterday that he still hasn’t heard from Jeter himself, so he’d like to wait and see before officially saying good-bye), plus Mr. Marlin Jeff Conine, octogenarian World Series winner Jack McKeon and four high-ranking execs, in a week that should be all about Stanton and the exploits that have made him an MVP favorite, if not the MVP favorite.

Stanton isn’t the sort to make his case, but says the MVP “would be special for me personally, especially with all the ups and downs I’ve gone through.” He was presumably talking about the injuries that have curtailed his previous seasons, and all the other stuff around it that sometimes seems to overwhelm all the rest around here.

He’s 27, and all that other stuff is wearing on him again, even if it doesn’t affect him on the field one iota. He’s a consistently positive force, but he can only do so much. As fortunate as Jeter was to be drafted by the Yankees, you wonder sometimes if Stanton’s selection by the Marlins makes him star-crossed forever. 

“I’m sick of the negativity,” Stanton admitted. “Anything positive I’ve done, there’s still negativity. I’m doing this … but the owner’s doing that. I’m doing this, but the team’s doing that.”

Even the day he signed the record contract, which was a happy day for him and a proud one for ownership, Stanton recalled that “most of the questions were negative.”

Stanton signed that deal with the understanding that the Marlins were going to build around him, and outgoing owner Jeffrey Loria indeed has spent lavishly by Marlins standards, well beyond the team’s means according to people who have seen the books that show a pittance in local revenues (far less than $100 million, according to some who have seen the books). But word now is, the bill’s coming due.

The new owners, who don’t exactly appear deep-pocketed by MLB ownership standards (reports in recent weeks suggest the new group still seeks investors as they try to build up cash reserves for expected losses in coming years), didn’t sign up for that, of course. And no one expects them to absorb a $70 million loss in year one next year, which just about necessitates the rebuild everyone expects.

To that end, it could be a long and interesting winter for the Marlins. They have some stars with team-friendly deals or pre-arb/pre-free agent deals, and anyone could be in play, including even Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and/or J.T. Realmuto (Yelich and Realmuto are said to be their two most asked-about players in trade). But if they are serious about a rebuild, for financial reasons, Stanton would have to be a centerpiece.

He’s performed even beyond his contract this year – he leads the league with 130 RBI and a 7.6 WAR, too, so he satisfies both old- and new school – but the backloading of his deal makes it a bit trickier. Stanton’s made less than 10 percent of the deal so far, having been paid $30 million over its first three years, with $295 million to go. One interested team executive said that while Stanton’s currently performing up to or even above his deal, the Marlins would somehow have to make up these early-year savings in any potential trade (arguably, he’s been underpaid by close to close $60 million to this point).

Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton hits a double during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, in Miami. The Marlins defeated the Braves 6-5. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

There will be time to work all that out later, but for today, assuming there are no more firings before the season’s out, this weekend is still for Stanton, who’s delighting the fans (and his beloved and enthusiastic dad) with every at-bat. Stanton says it’s “impossible not to be” thinking about 60. He’s going to enjoy this one weekend, his very likely last weekend. He calls the chase for 60 “a fun little challenge … a fun, little obstacle.”

But, unlike with a potential rebuild, if he doesn’t make it, he’ll survive.

“If it doesn’t happen … oh well,” Stanton says with a smile, the Californian in him coming out.

Of course, he also knows about the history behind it, and the controversy over whether the 60 by Babe Ruth and 61 by Roger Maris are the true historic marks, or the even bigger numbers, primarily the 73 by Barry Bonds (briefly Stanton’s hitting coach) in the so-called steroid era, is the real number.

When asked about that controversy, Stanton began, “Me, personally …” before stopping himself. “I don’t want to stir it up again,” he said to explain that brief short stop.

Instead, he put it this way:

“With all the controversy around it, the record’s the record. I do think 61 is a very significant number. But at the same time, the record’s the record.”

Stanton, almost like Solomon, suggests an idea about that. It’s the record, he said, “unless they want to separate eras.” And if they do that, as he points out, “They’d have to separate Babe Ruth’s era, too.”

Stanton was referring to the fact that Ruth set his home run record before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and changed the game forever the better – and raised the level of the competition.

Stanton always offers thoughtful remarks when you get him, and he’s almost always been reserved and measured about all those “ups and downs” of the front office’s making. There was that one tweet after a fire sale followed the disastrous 2012 season, in which Reyes, Buehrle and Johnson were traded away. That time, Stanton memorably tweeted, “Alright, I’m pissed off. Plain & simple.”

It told the story, though three years later he was satisfied enough with the franchise direction that he signed on for 13 more years – with a six-year opt-out and the no-trade. And he told the story in two short sentences again late Friday.

Back in the winter of 2012, and more recently, too, he’s been through a lot of negativity here, as he said. And it could all be coming to an end soon. But in the meantime, this one – and possibly final – weekend of his time in Miami could be something special, to be savored by all those who have enjoyed his time here.

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