On Friday afternoon, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds executed a headline-grabbing multi-player trade. The Dodgers sent outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, left-hander Alex Wood, and catcher Kyle Farmer to the Reds in exchange for right-handers Homer Bailey and Josiah Gray and infielder Jeter Downs.
The instant reaction to this trade? Bryce Harper is going to the Dodgers. However, let’s pump the brakes on that recurring conclusion. Yes, the Dodgers traded away two proven starting outfielders which creates a void in manager Dave Roberts outfield, but perhaps this transaction paves the way for the addition of a different star outfielder. And that individual is New York Yankees outfielder/designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton.
Last offseason, the Yankees acquired Stanton from the Miami Marlins fresh off his 2017 Most Valuable Player of the Year Award campaign. He joined a lineup that already featured the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner and eventually included rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Despite their first-round loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees still possess one of Major League Baseball’s most feared and productive offenses. With that said, while it hasn’t been brought up often, or discussed at length, there have been some intriguing reports surrounding Stanton’s future since he became a Yankee.
Days after they acquired Stanton, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Yankees were going to trade Stanton to the Dodgers after the 2018 season to sign Harper in free agency. Wallace Matthews of the New York Daily News noted a month and a half ago that there was talk at the MLB winter meetings of the Yankees going forth with such a trade and Stanton waiving his no-trade clause because he grew up in Sherman Oaks, California.
So, why would the Dodgers trade for Stanton, instead of signing Harper?With a hole in right field after the Yasiel Puig trade, the @Dodgers have been linked to Bryce Harper. However, @RPStratakos envisions a scenario wherein L.A. acquires Giancarlo Stanton and let the @Yankees sign Harper.Click To Tweet
Stanton is 29 and under contract for at least $26 million a season through 2027; it’s a hefty commitment for any team who would potentially trade for him. With that said, he’s still one of the most productive hitters in the sport. While 2018 was an up and down trial, Stanton still finished the season hitting .266 while totaling 38 home runs and 100 RBIs for a second consecutive season. Now, Stanton did struggle in the field. He misplayed balls and, at times, looked like a below-average fielder, but an immense reason for that was the limited reps he received, as manager Aaron Boone utilized Stanton as his designated hitter more often than not.
Before being traded to the Yankees, Stanton was a steady presence in right field for the Marlins and played in the National League — so going back to being an everyday outfielder shouldn’t be an issue for the Dodgers’ sake. Stanton is more of a given than Harper. It’s not to say that he’s the better overall player, but you know what you’re getting in Stanton where with Harper you don’t know if you’re getting the 2015 MVP or a .243 hitter going into Spring Training. There’s also the idea that Harper may sign the biggest contract in the history of professional sports, exceeding Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million deal. If the Yankees want to just begone with Stanton’s contract, the Dodgers could absorb the money and trade a lower prospect, and it would essentially be a free agent signing — and for less dollars per year than Harper.
According to MLB.com‘s Ken Gurnick, by trading Puig, Kemp, and Wood and taking in Bailey, the Dodgers relieve themselves of $7 million in payroll and $16 million in luxury-tax calculations. Still, how does that evidently mean they’re going to break the bank for Harper? They’re still fourth in MLB in payroll ($148 million), and that figure can and likely will increase before Spring Training.
For a Dodgers team that has lost in the World Series in back-to-back years, they’re going to want to, at some point, finish the job before it’s too late. After executing their complex trade with the Reds, an ensuing move likely follows. The Dodgers potentially have left-handed hitters Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Max Muncy in their starting lineup for 2019. A power right-handed bat makes more sense than a left-handed one.
So, why would the Yankees trade away Stanton after one season to sign Harper to a more expensive contract?
The Yankees know what they have in Stanton: an individual who is one of the most feared hitters in the sport and a walking MVP candidate. But he’s also the most expensive designated hitter in MLB and apart of a right-handed heavy lineup. Judge, Sanchez, Andujar, Torres, Stanton, and Luke Voit all hit from the right side, and Hicks is a switch hitter. Replace Stanton with Harper and the Yankees get a force to be reckoned with 26-year-old left-handed power hitter joining a stacked lineup. An underrated part of Harper’s offensive skill set is his plate discipline.
Yes, he had a rough first half and ultimately finished 2018 hitting .249, but he also recorded a .393 on-base percentage, which included drawing a career-high and MLB-best 130 walks. And considering who he’ll be hitting behind and in front of, opposing teams wouldn’t be able to pitch around Harper on the Yankees. He’s also versatile. Harper has played all three outfield positions in recent memory and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the sport — which is also overlooked. He would likely start in left or center field, as moving Judge out of right would be unwise. There would be some shuffling as the Yankees will likely want to get Gardner involved, but Boone can have Harper DH on games the 35-year-old is in the order (hey, they’ve done it with Stanton), and on days Judge is the DH, or gets a game off, Harper can start in right. There may be a lot of moving pieces, but there would be just as many in the path the Yankees seem hell-bent on pursuing.
Many expect and are waiting on the Yankees to sign Manny Machado. They have a temporary need at shortstop with Gregorius recovering from Tommy John surgery, and with Gregorius hitting free agency after 2019, the Yankees could argue they want to be locked in at the position long-term. But outside of his recent injury, Gregorius has done nothing to lose his starting job. He’s one of the best all-around shortstops in the sport, a contact hitter, and is a vital part of the Yankees’ identity. If the Yankees sign Machado, Gregorius’ future with the organization is sealed. The only scenario where Gregorius stays past 2019 is if the Yankees trade Andujar or Torres and move Machado to third base — which doesn’t seem like a definite possibility.
A lineup of Harper, Judge, Andujar, a resurgent Sanchez, a healthy Gregorius, Torres, Hicks, Voit, and Gardner would be the most well-balanced and high-octane lineup the Yankees have fielded since their 2009 World Series championship squad. To fill the void that Gregorius’ injury creates, the Yankees could sign a proven middle infielder on a short-term deal such as Tim Beckham or Adeiny Hechavarria (who was with the Yankees down the stretch of 2018) to play shortstop, or move Torres to the position and play the free agent signee at second base.
Of course, committing in excess of $300 million to Harper, whose career has been electric, yet inconsistent, is a risk. At the same time, so is giving that same money to Machado and trying to get your fanbase to accept the negative aspects of his game such as his lack of hustle and bizarre antics — though Harper has dogged his fair share of groundballs. Plus, if the Yankees trade Stanton and sign Harper, their payroll would only increase by roughly $5-10 million, and they would still have room to re-sign Gregorius and add a frontline starting pitcher after 2019.
If the Yankees traded Stanton to the Dodgers and signed Harper, it would make for a remarkable and historic turn of events, especially considering the teams it would involve. The Dodgers have created a need in their outfield. They could go into next season with a mix of Pederson, Bellinger, Chris Taylor, and Enrique Hernandez in their outfield, but considering the magnitude of the trade they executed with the Reds, they likely have something else in mind, but it shouldn’t be assumed that it’s Harper or bust; there are other options for the Dodgers. And in the case of the Yankees, it shouldn’t be assumed that they’ve absolutely shut the door on a Harper pursuit; they have reason to get creative this offseason, as they look to surpass the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.