The Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes appear to be headed for the final straightaway.
That’s assuming Stanton decides between his two most active suitors—the Giants and the Cardinals—rather than holding out for his preferred destination, the Dodgers.
Multiple reports suggest the Cardinals and Giants have made significant progress in trade offers to the Marlins, and that both have met with Stanton’s representatives in hopes of convincing the slugger to approve a trade to their respective clubs. Because of his full no-trade clause, Stanton holds all the cards in determining whether a deal to any of the proposed destinations could be finalized.
With that in mind, a common refrain surrounding these negotiations states that the respective offers from San Francisco and St. Louis don’t matter at all—if the Marlins are as intent on trading Stanton as we’ve all been led to believe, they will be forced to bend to his whim, and enact the blockbuster deal with whichever team Stanton would prefer to join.
This viewpoint makes sense, but only to a point. The no-trade clause does severely limit Miami’s leverage in the situation, but why should it eliminate their role in this process altogether, as some have suggested?
If the Marlins field offers from the Cardinals and Giants with a willingness to accept either package, and then present Stanton with both destinations as possible landing spots, sure, there’s not much the Cardinals can do. If Stanton truly prefers the west coast, he’ll probably end up with the Giants.
But what if the Cardinals make it so the Giants aren’t viewed as a possible destination? In theory, they could wield that power.
The fervor of Miami’s reported desire to unload the National League MVP makes a $295 million game of chicken less believable, but the onus is on the Cardinals to incentivize the Marlins to play the game.
From what has been reported, the Cardinals' offer is superior to that of the Giants in terms of prospects, but the Marlins’ priority in the proceedings is salary relief—not the strength of the package of players they receive in return.
If the valued currency is money, and the Giants are offering to take on more of it than the Cardinals, the Giants have the objectively superior offer; there’s no debating this fact. And as of now, that appears to be the case in the quest for Stanton.
Not only does Stanton reportedly prefer San Francisco to St. Louis, but the Giants have also made the better offer to Miami. It’s no wonder most pundits are projecting Stanton to end up with the Giants.
So how can the Cardinals turn the tide? In addition to offering premium prospects, if they want to be able to tell their fans they did everything possible to bring Stanton to the Gateway City, they must offer to match or exceed the financial relief the Giants intend to provide. If St. Louis goes to Miami and offers to take on Stanton's entire contract, while simultaneously offering the better package of talent with which the Marlins could begin their rebuild, there would be no reason for Miami to consider the Giants' offer alongside the Cardinals'—and that could be where Stanton might lose some leverage.
Why would the Marlins allow Stanton to decide between the Cardinals and Giants if the Cardinals' offer was overwhelmingly superior? If the Cardinals can blow away the Marlins, the latter would be foolish to present Stanton with a chance to choose the Giants, anyway.
'The only offer that has satisfied our demands is the one presented by the Cardinals,' the Marlins would tell Stanton. 'Accept a trade to St. Louis, or toil through another rebuild in Miami. What will it be?'
Would such a ploy work? Perhaps not. Stanton could choose to stay at the poker table, call the Marlins gamble, betting their hypothetical ultimatum is merely a bluff. And in the end, there's a good chance he would be correct, as the Marlins have already tipped their hand regarding their desperation to get rid of the Stanton contract.
But unless the Cardinals pursue this route, they can't in good faith claim to have made every effort to close the deal for the biggest prize of the MLB offseason.