With Stanton locked up, Marlins turn focus to adding more talent

BY foxsports • November 19, 2014

MIAMI -- When Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton addressed the media Wednesday morning during the press conference officially announcing his record-breaking 13-year, $325 million extension, three of his teammates sat in the front row.

For 30 minutes, Stanton tried to deflect attention away from the dollar amount and emphasize his reason for becoming the face of the franchise: an opportunity to build a consistent winner.

"I'm not trying to come here and get my butt kicked for 10 hours, go home to a lavish lifestyle every day," Stanton said. "That's not fun for me. Money can't buy the happiness of that. That was a concern."

Those familiar faces looking on -- closer Steve Cishek, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, right-hander Tom Koehler and center fielder Marcell Ozuna -- gave Stanton confidence in Miami. He admitted to staying up several nights thinking about the positive direction the Marlins were heading.

After recording a 100-loss season in 2013, they managed to win 15 more games in 2014 despite ace Jose Fernandez's Tommy John surgery in mid-May and Stanton missing the season's final 16 games after he was struck in the face by a pitch.

Koehler, who won 10 games this season as the rotation's fifth starter, has watched Stanton develop over seven years in the Marlins organization.

This year, however, he noticed the leader in Stanton come out. While the two-time All-Star isn't the most vocal of guys, he spoke up during a team meeting earlier in the season and his words resonated with the club.

His play at the plate, on the bases and in the outfield also spoke loud and clear. As Koehler said, he showed the organization how it was "going to play from here on out."

"What's exciting growing up with G -- it's awesome for him because I've seen how hard he's worked to get to where he is," Koehler said. "It's awesome that he's been rewarded for that work. I'm pretty confident that he's going to live up to the contract. As to what it means for the organization, you look at it in a very exciting way because you understand they're not going to give this type of contract just to get him. There's obviously a game plan in motion to get us to where we need to be.

"We were very close last year. We got more wins, we lost some big pieces at some big times, but we're headed in the right direction. And to see him tailor the contract in the way he did to have some more flexibility -- I fully trust that the front office has a big plan in mind to get us to hopefully playing baseball deep into October."

Stanton, a two-time All-Star who turned 25 on Nov. 8, believes the club is just two to three pieces away. Although they may have performed the same as previous teams, he said it was a "different clubhouse. Before, my first couple years, the chemistry wasn't there."

That is why he structured his contract in the way that he did so the Marlins could add players either through free agency or trades to make a push for postseason baseball. He will get paid less than his market value from 2015-17 with $6.5 million in '15, $9 million in '16 and $14.5 million in '17.

The payroll in 2014 was around $48 million, but will likely increase into the $60 million range in 2015. Stanton won't take up 50-70 percent of the total payroll, which would've hindered any potential moves to add onto the roster. His '15 amount actually matches his '14 salary and falls behind Saltalamacchia as the highest-paid Marlin ($7 million).

In order to motivate the organization, Stanton came up with the idea of the opt-out clause when he is 30 years old in 2020. If the Marlins don't consistently field a competitor, he can go elsewhere. If not, he will be a Marlin for life.

"We've got to add pieces around me," Stanton said. "It was built that way in order to do so financially. That's what we've got to trust. Got to trust we're all in it to win it, and that's why it's structured that way and we came to terms on it, which is winning's everything I was thinking about.

"The tough part of my decision was the uncertainty of the past. But you can't always think about the past. You've got to look at what's with you and what can be ahead of you, and it looks good from my eyes."

So could Stanton deciding to stay in Miami to build a winner lead to the "LeBron Effect," where supporting characters are lured to the team under market value in the hope of winning a championship?

President of baseball operations Michael Hill hopes the positive direction of the organization as a whole, which features a talented young core of players, intrigues free agents. There have already been talks to extend Gold Glove-winning left fielder Christian Yelich as well as shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

"Obviously [Stanton] is a tremendous talent, but we all know you don't win with one person," Hill said. "We know that, and we've taken that approach this offseason that he's a big part of what we're trying to do because he sits in the middle of the lineup.

"He's one of the most productive players in the game, but we know our success is going to be with him in the lineup and the continued growth and maturation of Ozuna and Yelich and Hechavarria, and a healthy return of Jose Fernandez and the consistent growth of Henderson Alvarez, Nate Eovaldi and Jarred Cosart.

"We understand that this is about a team and building a team we put together that can sustain winning because that's our goal. He's a big part of it. Obviously he's one of the best players in the game, but I would hope when we talk to free agents that they look around and say, 'I may be that missing piece or slide in here and help this team do special things.'"

Who the Marlins pursue remains to be seen, but first baseman Adam LaRoche and right-hander James Shields are a couple of free agents that could fill needs on Miami's roster.

LaRoche, who has averaged 26 home runs and 85 RBI over the past three seasons, would lend protection to Stanton in the middle of the lineup. During his 11 seasons in the big leagues, he has already played in the National League East with the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves.

Shields would provide a veteran arm in a four-man rotation of Koehler, Alvarez, Cosart and Eovaldi that averages 25 years old. Each pitcher has fewer than three full seasons in the majors. Fernandez isn't expected back until the All-Star break, and there's no telling how he will look when he returns to the mound.

Second base is another area of concern, though if the trade and free agent markets don't offer many options, the Marlins could look at internal candidates like Kiké Hernandez, Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich.

Miami has the luxury of strong arms in the farm system that could be used as trade bait. Top prospects include lefties Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino and righty Anthony DeSclafani. Two of the three made their big-league debuts in 2014.

"When Jeffrey (Loria) put Mike and I in this capacity we made a promise to one another -- two things we would try to do is flipping rocks," general manager Dan Jennings said. "We're constantly looking at any spot, any place, whether it's through trade or through free agency to try and find players that will make us better. The other thing we wanted to do is create a team-first mindset, and we delivered that in spring training. A credit to (manager Mike Redmond) and these players we have and the players we brought in. They took that and ran with it.

"We are looking. We are looking at spots. Truly the thing now for us -- we went plus-15 from the previous year, which was great, it was a step in the right direction, but it's definitely not where we want to go. We want to be playing in October, and it was a mile marker towards the destination we're after.

"Bottom line for us if it makes sense and it makes us better then we're going to acquire and move in that direction. But the nucleus of young players along with the veteran guys we were able to bring in made it a very good feel down below. There is talent there. A piece or two in the right spot can be essential as we move forward and try to win."

Asked whether it became a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation in regards to Stanton's extension, Marlins president David Samson didn't see it as an issue. While the extension has received mixed reactions from media and fans alike, there appears to be a method to the madness.

Samson called the deal both exciting and frightening. The front office talked about it internally and knew its legacy was on the line. The Marlins are "married to him now like we've never been married to anyone before. Ever."

"We always had the ability to change our mind or rip the band-aid off or push the reset button," Samson said. "This contract you don't have that ability. We better be right, and Giancarlo gives the impression that we are."

Because the payoff can be great if what is being promised on Wednesday comes to fruition.

ESPN Stats and Info's Justin Havens reported that Stanton is one of only three players in the live-ball era to lead the NL in slugging twice before his age-25 season. Willie Mays and Stan Musial were the other two. Every eligible player with 154 home runs through his age-24 season is in the Hall of Fame.

Through five big-league seasons, Stanton has an NL Silver Slugger and an NL Hank Aaron Award. He was named NL Outstanding Player at the Players Choice Awards and a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove in right field.

Stanton called Miami a destination with the ballpark, a talented young team and beautiful weather. The next step is adding a few pieces to consistently produce a winner.

"This can be one of the biggest markets," Stanton said. "I say it over and over again. I believe it. It's just a few extra things."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.