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MLB Notebook: Why a trade for Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t make sense; cheaper alternatives to J.D. Martinez; and more

Dale Zanine/USA Today

According to a report by MLB Network’s Jon Morosi earlier this week, the Red Sox have already had “preliminary communication’’ with the Miami Marlins regarding a trade for Giancarlo Stanton. And on Saturday, the Miami Herald reported talks between the teams may be "heating up.''

That’s neither surprising nor regrettable. As a big-market team with a ton of revenue, the Red Sox are, theoretically at least, a logical landing spot for Stanton. Even with so many clubs flush with money from newly-signed TV deals, the Red Sox are among the top handful of teams when it comes to resources. The Marlins would be foolish not to check in with the Sox.

And from Boston’s standpoint, Dave Dombrowski wouldn’t be doing his job properly if he didn’t at least listen to what the Marlins have to say/propose. Stanton is the No. 1 power bat in the game, and if it’s one thing these Red Sox need, it’s power.

But unless the Marlins somehow present some sort of “Godfather’’ offer to the Red Sox, Dombrowski should refrain from engaging in any serious discussions for Stanton.

“Look, no one is denying that Stanton is a great talent,’’ said an executive with another organization. “But how many of those (contracts) turn out well in the long run?  The fact is, very few.’’

And Stanton’s contract is like no other in baseball history, with 10 years and $295 million remaining. (For competitive balance tax purposes, Stanton’s deal going forward is “only’’ $25 million per year, but you get the idea).

What are the chances that Stanton is still a fearsome run producer, for, say, the last half of that deal? For that matter, what are the odds he stays healthy for anywhere near the length of the deal? After all, this is a player who has played in more than 140 games just three times in his first eight big-league seasons. What are the chances that Stanton becomes more durable once he gets into his early- and mid-30s?

Beyond the financial and physical question marks – they are, themselves, considerable – there’s the matter of what the Sox would have to give up for Stanton. (And, please, no more suggestions that the Marlins might be intrigued by Hanley Ramirez. For 2018, the actual savings represented in exchanging Stanton’s deal for Ramirez’s would total about $3 million, given Ramirez’s $22 million salary. That’s not nearly enough to achieve the $30 million reduction in payroll, to say nothing of Ramirez’s limited value to a National League team.)

What the Marlins would want in return would be a young, affordable talent with next-to-no major league service time so as to maximize his value. Someone like, say, Andrew Benintendi. And while no one would suggest that Benintendi is a comparable talent to Stanton, it’s also obvious that Stanton isn’t worth $24 million more than Benintendi in 2018.

There are other far more affordable options on the market for the Red Sox. In the most obvious example, they could probably sign J.D. Martinez for roughly half of Stanton’s deal for five or six years.

About the only scenario by which Stanton would make sense would be for Stanton and his representative to guarantee that they would exercise the opt-out following 2020 season. That way, the Red Sox would be limiting their financial liability and taking on Stanton from his age 28 season through his age 30 season.

Furthermore, those three years would roughly coincide with the control the Red Sox currently have with much of their core. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Xander Bogaerts will be eligible for free agency after '19, while Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. will be eligible after 2020.

If the Sox wanted to go all-in over the next three seasons and try to win a couple of World Series, this would make at least some sense.

But then, why would Stanton agree to such a deal? What if injuries struck in the next three years and he was forced into opting out of a deal that would see him walk away from seven years and more than $200 million?

Stanton is bound to be the dominant story over the next few weeks, and for many Red Sox fans, the mere thought of Stanton taking aim at The Wall is understandably appealing.

But that dream is unlikely to have a happy ending for a team taking on such enormous financial obligations and sacrificing young, controllable talent.

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The GM Meetings – the unofficial start to the Hot Stove season – do not begin until Monday in Orlando, but already, there are indications that the price for baseball’s premier free agent will skyrocket.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweeted this week that based on conversations with teams who had preliminary discussions with agent Scott Boras, the asking price for Martinez is “something in the $200 million range.’’

To put that in perspective, only seven position players in the history of the game have signed multi-year deals worth $200 million or more:  Stanton ($325 million); Alex Rodriguez (twice: once for $252 million, and then another for $275 million when he had an opt-out for his first deal); Miguel Cabrera ($248 million); Albert Pujols ($240 million); Robinson Cano ($240 million); Joey Votto ($225 million); and Prince Fielder ($214 million).

Assuming that Martinez is looking for a six- or seven-year deal, that would translate to an average annual value between $28.5 million and $33.3 million. Even allowing for Martinez having the highest OPS of any position player on the market and the seventh-highest in the game since 2014 (when he was signed, after being released by Houston, by none other than Dombrowski), that’s an extraordinary investment for someone who profiles as average at best defensively.

The Red Sox have already demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the competitive balance tax (CBT) threshold of $197 million. But just because they have the resources to afford Martinez, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they should.

Yes, the Red Sox are profitable – hugely so, thanks to NESN. And it’s John Henry’s money, not ours. But there being able to afford something doesn’t always mean it’s a wise investment. Think otherwise? The name Pablo Sandoval should ring a bell.

Of course, it’s quite possible that Boras is merely attempting to set the bar absurdly high here, on the off-chance that a desperate team meets his asking price. It’s unlikely that Martinez will realize such an amount.

But he might come close, at which point it’s worth asking: is that the best allocation of the Red Sox’ financial resources? Or would they be better off setting their sights on a cheaper alternative and hoping for a good return on their more modest investment?

There’s a "next level" of available free agents – led by the likes of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce – who are intriguing, but also, far from moderately-priced.

The Red Sox won the '13 World Series largely on the strength of a handful of undervalued free agents whom Ben Cherington had signed the previous off-season: Shane Victorino, David Ross, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes. Almost all far exceeded expectations.

That was a different time, of course. The Red Sox hadn’t yet fully developed their core of homegrown position players, and many of these veterans fit nicely because they served as cheap placeholders until the likes of Bogaerts, Bradley and others were ready to be regular contributors.

Repeating that sort of good fortune this winter isn’t realistic, but neither is it necessary. The Sox don’t need to add four or five players to the mix; they just need one good run-producer who can hit some homers and lift the team from the bottom of the home run race in the A.L. and out of the middle-of-the-pack when it comes to runs scored.

(For these purposes, we’ll focus squarely on first base/DH types, since, without a corresponding trade to open up a position, those are the only openings in the Red Sox lineup for now. Presumably, such a player could fill a role similar to that of Mitch Moreland from this past season – i.e. some sharing of first base/DH duties with Ramirez.)

Let’s look at a handful of less expensive alternatives for the Red Sox to pursue:

1)   Logan Morrison

Like some others last year, Morrison re-tooled his swing to provide more loft and saw his fly ball rate jump. Would it surprise you to know that he led all first basemen with homers (38)?  One concern would be that last season was an outlier (in seven prior seasons, Morrison had topped 20 homers only once) and that Morrison merely timed his career high perfectly. But again, the change in the swing suggests this might have been a breakthrough year. As a lefty hitter, he would have to tailor his swing some, but he’s already exhibited the ability to do that.

2)  Lucas Duda

Duda has carried a reputation as someone who has never fully made good on his talent and his career batting average of .242 is a stark reminder that he’s not without some weaknesses. But like Morrison, he saw an uptick in his fly-ball rate this past season (split between the Mets and Tampa Bay Rays) and he has averaged 29 homers per year over the last three years. Like Morrison, he’s a lefty hitter. He’s also played some outfield, which provides at least some flexibility.

3)  Yonder Alonso

In some ways, the prototypical journeyman who has played for four different teams in his eight-year major league career, Alonso exploded in 2017. He nearly matched his career home run totals (39) with a career-best 28 homers, split between Oakland and Seattle. A fringe-average first baseman, he’s played a little third in big leagues, but not enough to be considered a regular dependable option there.

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The Yankees managerial search should prove fascinating.

The Yankees are the lone team without a manager in place and don’t seem to be in any sort of rush to fill the spot. GM Brian Cashman – who, strangely, does not have a new contract for himself for next season, but is leading the search – is said to have a list of more than 20 candidates, in stark contrast to the Red Sox who interviewed just three candidates before hiring Alex Cora.

Already, the Yankees have confirmed interviews with long-time coach Rob Thomson and former Seattle and Cleveland manager Eric Wedge – conventional enough choices.

But the Yanks also intend to interview ESPN analyst – and former Red Sox heartbreaker – Aaron Boone, who has never managed or coached at any level. Boone’s ability to communicate is, presumably, his chief selling point, especially after Cashman cited issues with ex-manager Joe Girardi’s “connectivity’’ with players.

Boone may not be the only player-turned-broadcaster on the list of potential interviewees: both David Cone and John Flaherty, each of whom work for the YES Network, signaled this past week that they would be interested in talking to Cashman about the position.

The fact that the most iconic team in the game, in the world’s biggest market – one which, not incidentally, finished one game shy of a trip to the World Series – is willing to think so far out of the box is the surest sign yet that the game is quickly changing.

This sort of experimentation might be more expected in a smaller market, where the expectations are more modest and the pressure less obvious. The fact that it’s taking place with the Yankees is eye-opening.

The last three Yankee managers – Buck Showalter, Joe Torre and Girardi – were far more obvious choices who traveled more traditional paths. Showalter had been a long-time club employee who had worked his way through the system. Torre had enjoyed a long, successful playing career and had already managed three other clubs. Girardi had played for the Yankees and managed the Marlins.

It would shock no one if the next manager of the franchise had either no past association with the team or no coaching or managerial experience – or both.