Trading MVP candidate Stanton could pay off big time for Marlins

On July 24, I wrote that the Marlins should trade Giancarlo Stanton, imploring them to “get with it already” and saying, “let’s see Stanton play for an actual contender.”

I’m not taking it back — I still don’t think Stanton will sign long term with the Marlins, and I don’t think owner Jeffrey Loria will cough up the necessary $200 million-plus to make such a deal happen. But in one sense, I may have spoken too soon.

The Marlins are an actual contender, or at least what passes for an actual contender in Wild-Card World.

Never mind that the Marlins’ minus-26 run differential is worse than the Mets’ minus-eight and Padres’ minus-nine; the Fightin’ Fish were 47-53 when I wrote the column, and they’ve gone 16-10 since, moving to within four games of the second National League wild card.

Stanton, meanwhile, has emerged as a leading candidate for NL MVP, in part because of injuries to the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, in part because some voters are reluctant to vote for a pitcher such as Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw and in part because people aren’t paying enough attention to Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

Ah, but the MVP is a story for another day. Of course, one might argue that the notion of trading Stanton is a story for an even later day — a day, the Marlins would like you to believe, that might never come.

Right-hander Jose Fernandez will return from Tommy John surgery next season. Hitters such as Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will continue to mature. And Stanton, by golly, will still be only 25, under club control through 2016.

All fair points — and the Marlins’ front office, led by Michael Hill and Dan Jennings and previously by Larry Beinfest, is often resourceful, with this season proving no different.

Reliever Bryan Morris has performed brilliantly since the Marlins acquired him for the 39th overall selection in this year’s draft; he is under club control through 2018. The early returns on another trade acquisition, right-hander Jarred Cosart, also are encouraging; he is under control through ’19.

None of this changes the reality with Stanton, whom the Marlins can afford next season even if his salary in arbitration increases to the $10 million range, but whose trade value diminishes with each day he gets closer to free agency.

Of course, Marlins fans hate reading this stuff — and yes, the Fish do have a following. A number of their fans reached out to me on social media after my initial column, saying in essence, “Hey, leave us alone!” I used to get the same reaction from Mariners fans when I suggested that the M’s trade Felix Hernandez. And those folks, too, had a point — an even better point, actually, because the Mariners’ ability to pay Hernandez never was in question.

I actually wrote two columns in 2011 urging a trade of King Felix. In the first, I proposed a 5-for-1 with the Yankees in which the Mariners would have received catcher Jesus Montero (whom they later acquired for right-hander Michael Pineda), lefty Manuel Banuelos or righty Dellin Betances, righty Ivan Nova and two others from a group that included righty Hector Noesi (who also was part of the Pineda trade), infielder Eduardo Nunez and second baseman David Adams.

In retrospect, it would have been a bad deal, even if you factor in the successes of Betances and Nova, who underwent Tommy John surgery this season. Add to that King Felix’s performance and the Mariners’ resurgence, and it sure looks like the M’s knew what they were doing — though I still don’t like long-term deals for starting pitchers, and this is only year two of Hernandez’s seven-year, $175 million contract.

How does all this relate to Stanton? If anything, it’s another cautionary tale on how prospects are overhyped — and how the Marlins should perhaps seek more established players along with prospects for Stanton, the way they did in their blockbuster with the Blue Jays in Nov. 2012 (right-hander Henderson Alvarez, shortstop Yunel Escobar and catcher Jeff Mathis all came with significant major-league experience; shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, outfielder Jake Marisnick and pitchers Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani did not).

Think back to the non-waiver deadline: The Red Sox’s trades for outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig and right-hander Joe Kelly represented perhaps a new paradigm; the Sox acquired proven major-league players for lefty Jon Lester and righty John Lackey, not youngsters.

The Marlins, as a low-revenue team, cannot necessarily operate in such fashion. Still, when the time comes for them to trade Stanton — and trust me, it will come — who’s to say that the Fish will need to take a step backward? Obviously, teams need stars to win, and obviously it would be difficult to replace Stanton, the NL leader in Wins Above Replacement. But it took the Marlins only one season to recover from the purges of Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Co. Who’s to say they can’t make this work?

The Marlins are contending. They can contend again next season if they keep Stanton. And if they play this right, they eventually can contend without him.