Last night, Sirius radio’s Craig Mish, who has covered the Giancarlo Stanton trade saga with gusto and believability, dropped a bomb on Twitter by reporting that Stanton has stated he would only accept a trade to the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers,.....or Astros.
[added 12:30pm, for context] Stanton, who just turned 28, batted .281/.376/.631 with 59 home runs, 123 runs, and 132 RBIs last season for a woeful Marlins team that is looking to shed payroll under its new ownership team. It goes without saying that adding Stanton to MLB’s already-top offense in Houston would be...amusing.
Predictably, #AstrosTwitter went nuts, but the general consensus seems to be, “Won’t never happen...the Astros can’t afford it.”
Far be it from me to question the conclusions of The Mob. But...is that statement true? Can’t they?
Jim Crane has made some interesting noises about the Astros being able to afford Stanton’s contract, and separately has doubled down on his years-old pledge to move into the top five or ten teams in payroll when the time was right.
Fans have been skeptical, since the Astros have only recently reached the middle echelons of MLB payroll during Crane’s tenure. Are they under-estimating his willingness to spend big? What if....Crane means what he says?
The big doubt about the Astros acquiring Stanton has been that fans on social media have presented it as an either/or scenario. “Either the Astros can have Stanton, or they can have Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, but not both.” This author is guilty of Tweeting the same, when Mr. Mish’s report broke.
How possible would it be for Stanton, Altuve, and Correa to all be long-term Astros? Can fans really rule it out, if they take Crane’s statements at face value?
Finances only really become a question around the year 2020 and 2021, when superstars Correa and Altuve would be at the front end of presumably massive contract extensions.
Let’s take a look at the year 2021, eliminate some variables, and just take the temperature of the Astros’ 25-man roster payroll.
- Stanton $26M guaranteed
- Correa $30M (estim. average value of contract extension)
- Altuve $24M
= $80 million.
That's a lot. But if we believe Crane when he says the Astros can be a top "five or ten" payroll, that would be (in 2017 dollars) between $180 to $200M. With ~10% inflation of the market between now and then (and it could be more...), $200 to $220M for the entire 25-man roster.
On the low side, meaning the Astros would have the 10thish-highest MLB payroll, those whopper Stanton/Correa/Altuve contracts would leave $120M for the rest of the roster.
And what would the money go towards?
First, let’s eliminate some variables.
- We’ll assume that the Astros don’t sign any Free Agents (which they will do)
- We’ll assume that no blockbuster trades severely change the core lineup construction
- We’ll assume that a couple-three of the current AA/AAA top prospects become at LEAST ML-average players, with one becoming a star (this guy’s money is on Tucker or Whitley, for the record)
- We’ll assume that the Astros let Dallas Keuchel walk after 2019 due to a lengthy injury history
- We’ll assume no contract extensions to Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Josh Reddick, Collin McHugh, or Yuli Gurriel, who will all be gone by 2021.
- The Astros call up at least one B-grade prospect from the 2018-2020 drafts that make an average to above-average impact.
- We’ll hold George Springer in our left hand as an extension candidate, only if there is enough leftover cash at the end of our experiment.
- Let’s ignore contract dynamics, like Correa or Altuve having a $10M contract in 2021, and having, say $40M in 2030 or whatever. This would be a conservative way of looking at things.
- I’m ignoring that there will be some substantial prospect cost in acquiring Stanton. That’s okay, because it doesn’t really change the overall point, as you’ll see below.
Bregman, McCullers, Martes, and Fisher would be in various stages arbitration. Let’s say $40 million for the lot of them, with two-thirds going to Bregman and McCullers.
Prospects Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, David Paulino, Rogelio Armenteros, and Yordan Alvarez would all still be on pre-arb deals and are at least average major leaguers, with at least one (as stated above) performing at or near a star-level, similar to Bregman in 2017. Let’s hand out around $3M total to those guys, and that number might be a little high.
A couple other guys have established themselves as average or above-average. Potentially, any one of Tyler White, A.J. Reed, and Colin Moran could establish themselves as an average major league regular, with a longer-shot chance at stardom that we will ignore. Let’s hand out a couple mil to one or two of them.
Let’s give the bullpen $30 million, just to be generous, and $20 million to the bench.
I don't think it's as far-fetched as some folks might think.
C: [your name here]
LF: Fisher or Tucker
CF: Springer (it could happen!) or Tucker or somebody
RF: Giancarlo Stanton
SP: McCullers, Whitley, Bukauskas, Armenteros, Martes, Paulino, Cionel Perez, Hector Perez, or whoever.
RP: $30 million worth of studs
Bench: $20 million worth of Marwin clones
I don't think the roster WILL look like this in 2021, because the Astros have demonstrated over and over the ability to add key pieces via trade or value free agents. But this is representative of a quality 2021 Astros team, using only internal assets and Springer, just to see how it would shake out.
$80M - Correa, Altuve, Stanton
$40M - Arb regulars
$5M - Pre-arb regulars
$30M - Bullpen
$20M - Bench
By golly, there is between $25 and $45 million dollars left over to reach our Top Five or Top Ten payroll. That leaves space for Scott Boras to play hardball with Altuve, or for a George Springer extension, or for a Justin Verlander extension even! When will Chris Archer be a free agent, anyway? This definitely opens the door to add some strong veterans to that currently-untested starting rotation that I list above...if that’s even needed.
The point is, if fans are willing to take Crane’s very public statements about his intention to spend like a big boy baseball club as the unvarnished truth, it is entirely possible to construct a roster with Correa, Stanton, and Altuve (and dare I say Springer?) that is still a very likely 2021 playoff contender.
Early feedback is that some fans think (though I don’t agree) that Altuve could get $30M or more, and Correa $40M or more. That’s fine. The math still works, and the conclusion doesn’t change.