Normally, baseball's offseason hot stove really gets heated up at the Winter Meetings. But that was not how it played out this year. Just before the 2017 Winter Meetings were set to begin in Orlando, Fla., the rug was pulled out from under them when the two stories dominating the offseason both came to their conclusions Dec. 8 and Dec. 9.
In the days leading up to the winter meetings, slugger Giancarlo Stanton's huge contract was still on the Miami Marlins' books -- all $295 million of it. New owner and front man for the team Derek Jeter had talked of wanting to knock its payroll down from the $130 million range to a much more market-manageable figure of around $80 million.
In the early part of the week, both the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals were granted an audience with Stanton's representatives to plead their case to have Stanton waive his full no-trade protection. Both teams had basically agreed upon the players they would send to South Florida and the amount of money they would pick up of the $295 million.
That charade was allowed to go on only for a couple days, and then in rapid-fire succession the Marlins saved $13 million a year for the next three years by trading second baseman Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners, and then Stanton said he was not going to San Francisco or St. Louis and would only accept trades to four teams: the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and the team he really wanted to play for, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Within hours, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman entered with both feet in the Giancarlo Stanton Sweepstakes. None of the other three teams made so much as a move toward serious engagement with the Marlins, and by the morning of Dec. 9, Stanton was added to the first lineup card Aaron Boone will sign in late March 2018.
On the face of it, the Yankees have probably ushered in a seven-to-10-year period in which they'll have a great chance to get back to the head of the class. With a nod to former Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, the Evil Empire is back.
A couple observations on this move. First, this is what happens when underfinanced ownerships are allowed into the game. And make no mistake about it, the Marlins ownership -- still searching for another $250 million in investment -- are undercapitalized. Jeter did accomplish his goal in two rapid-fire moves of getting his payroll adjusted by knocking roughly $42 million-$44 million off the books. He may not stop there, as teams are going to be attempting to trade for outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Don Mattingly may still be the skipper of the Marlins, but his job description sure did change in a hurry under Jeter.
The return to the Marlins beyond second baseman Starlin Castro was unclear, but there's a reason why this deal was able to come together so quickly. One of the key poaches from the Yankees organization by Jeter was their longtime director of player development Gary Denbo, who is now the Marlins' vice president of player development and scouting.
While none of the Yankees' top prospects were included in this trade, Denbo was probably able to cherry-pick three-four nuggets, who in time may make this deal much more palatable from the Marlins' side.
The other big story ended Dec. 8, when young Japanese pitcher Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who will send the maximum $20 million posting fee to the Pacific League's Nippon-Ham Fighters.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler was with the Yankees as an assistant to Cashman until 2015. And now, before his third season as the Angels' general manager, Eppler has landed one of the most highly coveted prospects. Previously, Eppler was part of the Yankees' pursuit of Japanese superstar right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.
Ohtani had narrowed his choices to seven teams -- the Giants, Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Cubs of the National League and the Angels, Mariners and Texas Rangers in the American League.
It was a wild situation MLB hadn't seen before. Because of his age, the 23-year old Ohtani is limited to signing a minor league contract, so the money didn't scare any of the teams away. Ohtani is reported to be a two-way star -- a phenomenal pitcher who can throw at 100 mph and a left-handed hitter who all the scouts drool over for his power.
There are some general managers and scouts who claim he can do both, be a starting pitcher and an almost everyday player. Then again, there are others who point out that it sounds too good to be true and any attempt by Ohtani to pitch and bat may limit his ability to excel at either.
Well now it'll be up to Eppler and his team to figure how to put Ohtani's unique skill set to work.
Clearly, the AL's designated hitter rule had a great deal to do with him choosing an AL team. And just as clearly was the fact that Ohtani wanted to play in a market as close as possible to home and one in which there would be a Japanese-speaking population.
Issue 240: December 2017