Record contract makes sense for slugger Stanton, Marlins

BY Ken Rosenthal • November 19, 2014

When Giancarlo Stanton said it wasn’t about the money, he actually was telling the truth. Oh, it’s always about the money, let’s not kid ourselves. But Stanton knew that he was all but assured of future riches. Barring catastrophe, he would have earned $30 million-plus in his final two years of arbitration, then hundreds of millions in free agency.

So, why did Stanton stay with the Marlins? Why did he accept a below-market $107 million in the first six years of his new contract, leaving him the potential to walk away from $218 million if he opted out of the final seven years?

Because Stanton figured out that for the Marlins, it is about the money — and that the team, for all its past deceits, has every reason to keep its promise and build a championship roster around him.

Oh, we’ve heard it all before from the Marlins, particularly during the 2011-12 offseason when they loaded up with free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and — ahem — Heath Bell. But Stanton is making the right bet. This time indeed should be different. Because really, what is the alternative?

The Marlins can’t go about this half-heartedly, and they’re not — they’re trying to sign free agents, trying to sign their own players to extensions. Clearly, they see an opening in the NL East — the Phillies are a mess, the Braves are in transition, the Mets are, well, the Mets. Yes, the Nationals are a major force. But Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria sees an opening, and he’s going for it.

Loria gets accused of many things, but rarely, if ever, is he accused of being a poor businessman. Leaked documents to in 2010 showed that the Marlins received a combined $92 million in revenue sharing in 2008-09 and produced a combined net income of $33 million in those years. The team also paid less than 25 percent of the $634 million cost of its new ballpark, getting public funds to finance the rest.

Winning, of course, makes for good business, too.

The signing of Stanton alone likely will not significantly increase the Marlins' home attendance, which was the fourth lowest in the majors last season. But the team wants to re-negotiate its local TV contract with FOX Sports, which currently runs through 2020. Signing Stanton should boost that effort, and in a perfect world, the new deal would begin in ’17.

Now, what did teams such as the Rangers, Angels and Tigers do before signing new local TV contracts? Spent big to deliver more attractive programming. The Marlins are following the same pattern, and there is simply no turning back. They’re not going to tear down again in two years.

Think about it: The Marlins improved from 62 wins in 2013 to 77 in ‘14 with Jose Fernandez making only eight starts and Stanton missing the final 18 games. Their young players, including Stanton, are only getting better. If they sign a No. 2 starter, upgrade at first base and find a better solution at second, they might actually be onto something.

Why shouldn’t a team succeed in Miami, which in many ways is the capital of Latin America? Why can’t Stanton become an institution in the city, one of the faces of baseball? The Marlins could have traded Stanton for the sun, moon and the stars. But no, Loria wants to win. He often has an odd way of showing it. But no one who knows him questions his competitiveness.

Yes, we’ve heard it all before. But listening to Stanton at his news conference, it was clear that he was under no illusions, that he hadn’t been transformed into a smiling company man. The $325 million guarantee did not erase the Marlins’ ugly past. The decision to accept the money, he said, actually was the toughest of his life.

In the end, Stanton didn’t trust Loria’s word as much as he trusted his business plan. That plan, at least for the next six years, makes sense. After that, Stanton and the Marlins can figure out the rest.