As the 2020 season rears its head back and steams toward us, and with Giancarlo Stanton injuring his calf in the Spring Training game Wednesday afternoon, I figured what better time to revisit the Stanton trade than now. More specifically, I wanted to have a bit of fun and explore the possible ‘what if’ the Yankees had traded for a different Miami Marlins outfielder — Christian Yelich. Seeing as to how a lot of Yankees fans feel as if the team got the worse of the two players, I wanted to dive into a comparison of both players and how I still am perfectly happy with Giancarlo.
Stanton’s Time in New York
Giancarlo Stanton has been a very solid player for the Yankees, when he’s on the field. The production is undoubtedly still there, and his talent is at the top of the league. With that, he has had trouble staying healthy over the last year. His injuries, while all seemingly unlucky and unrelated to one another, still stack up and cause him to miss significant time. For Stanton to be missing this much time, especially with his hefty contract, is hard for everyone involved in the equation.
As tough as it must’ve been for Stanton to miss virtually all of last season, and to already be forced off the field with a hamstring injury, the Yankees have had to manage because of his absence as well. With the incredible career year by Gardner, and the emergence of Mike Tauchman, Stanton’s injury wasn’t as big of a deal as it could’ve been. However, in 2018, Stanton showed that he was deserving of the ’17 NL MVP award, despite regressing. The regression, was expected, as Stanton smashed 59 HR’s and posted a WRC+ of 158 in 2017. Both staggering numbers, but the ’18 season he was more than solid. Stanton ended up OPS’ing .852 to go with a WRC+ of 129 and hit 38 home runs. To say he’s a liability at this point, or that the Yankees chose the “worse” between he and Yelich would be a false statement. While Yelich has been absolutely insane, and won an MVP with Milwaukee, there’s no true telling how he would’ve done in Pinstripes.
The thing with Stanton is that when he’s on the field, he’s one of the best players in baseball. Both offensively and defensively, Stanton is menacing and oozes quality. He played 158 games in 2018, following up the 159 he appeared in in ’17, so saying he’s injury prone and inconsistent with playtime would be incorrect. His injuries have been ones that linger, and when he does get healthy, something else pops up that drags out his rehab process. I don’t view him as an injury prone player, or not nearly as much as the stretch from ’12-’16 — where he only appeared in 140 games once. I am not upset having Stanton in New York, and I think his mentality and the way he plays the game embodies the Yankee way. He’s focused on his craft and enjoys living his life off the field, often reserved he leads by his play and his pedigree. Stanton has made a career off of being one of the most feared hitters in the league, as whenever he steps in the box opposing pitchers tremble. His mammoth power is second to only Aaron Judge, and he has an incredible baseball mind as well.
Revisiting the Trade Packages
For the sake of looking back, and rethinking some things, I figured it’d be interesting to see how Yelich may have done in Pinstripes. For starters, re-working the trade package is one of the first glaring things I see as a problem. When the Yankees acquired Stanton, the package they gave up for him was small, as they ended up taking on the at-the-time goliath contract. New York ended up sending Starlin Castro, Jose Devers and Jorge Guzman to Miami, in exchange for Stanton — and his $25,000,000 AAV contract. Looking back at the trade now, especially with how many large contracts have been handed out like candy over the past few years, paying $25 mil a season for a player of Stanton’s caliber is definitely worth it.
As for the Yelich trade, Miami ended up receiving Lewis Brinson — who was at the time the Brewers’ top prospect — as well as Jordan Yamamoto, Isan Diaz and Monte Harrison. Yamamoto is now one of the Marlins’ flurry of rotational arms, and Brinson has been absolutely dreadful. However, looking back at the time of the trade, there was no telling that Brinson would be where he is at now — fighting for a roster spot on the Marlins this Spring. If the Yankees were to want to acquire Yelich instead of Stanton, they would’ve likely had to have offered Andujar or Torres, as well as a flurry of other talented prospects. For me, as amazing as Yelich has been with the Brewers, would it have been worth it to see off Torres and/or Andujar, for someone — who at the time — was a talented player, and was predicted for roughly 5.0 fWAR the following season? In short, no. While New York never made a formal offer for Yelich — as they had their sights on Stanton and acquired him well before Yelich was traded — the Marlins were asking for Acuna from the Braves in exchange for Yelich. Essentially, Miami was asking every team to fork over their best prospect for him.
The Transition to New York
Christian Yelich is one of the best players in all of baseball, and is the best player in the National League, with the exception of arguably Mookie Betts. Coming into the 2018 season, however, Stanton was the better player of the two. Not to mention, he was coming at a far cheaper price — due to his contract. However, looking now and comparing the two, Christian Yelich is definitely the better player without a doubt. With that, nobody saw him producing back to back MVP seasons, as ultimately his repeat was derailed by him getting injured. I viewed Yelich as one of the better outfielders in baseball, as he’s clearly a talented 5-tool player, but I didn’t think he was as good or as talented as Giancarlo Stanton.
Next, there’s always a worry with players being able to adapt to the Yankee lifestyle and what comes with it. Being a member of the Yankees means that you are on one of the best clubs, and the most prestigious club, in all of baseball. What comes with that is the expectation to be great and to perform when called upon. There have been many players that had high expectations and ended up floundering in Pinstripes. Sonny Gray, AJ Burnett, and Jacoby Ellsbury — for a great portion of his Yankee career — all failed to live up to expectations set. With that, all of them saw success elsewhere, as Sonny Gray specifically bounced back in glorious fashion this last year with Cincinnati. To say Yelich wouldn’t perform in New York would be ignorant and a statement that holds no substance. However, to say that there are doubts about if Yelich would have acclimated as well as Stanton did in his transition from the small market Marlins to the Yankees, is a valid statement in every way.
The Yankees didn’t get the “worse” of the Two
With Spring Training now under way, and the season right around the corner, 2020 looks to be a massive year for both Stanton and Yelich. Even with this hamstring injury, it shouldn’t be problematic for Stanton as he looks on track to be back by Opening Day, if not a few games after. I have high expectations for Giancarlo, and still believe he is at the top of the crop of players in the entire league. His projections, by ZiPS, Steamer, and THE BAT, all have him hitting at least 40 HR’s and pairing it with a WRC+ of 130+. With that, the collective expectation is that Stanton plays 130-140 games this upcoming season, which makes those projections all the more impressive. As for Christian Yelich, his HR low projection amongst those sources, is 36. To go with that, they have him posting a WRC+ of at least 144, and playing in at least 142 games.
With both players, there is no “worse” of the two, in my opinion. The last two years, I will say, Yelich has been the far more productive and better of the two. With that, the year prior Giancarlo clubbed as many HR’s in that individual year as Yelich had hit from the years ’13-’17 — and posted a 7.3 fWAR season. I would say the ceiling for both players is in the stratosphere, and even if Stanton is to be used as a DH a fair amount this year, his value and role will still be undisputed. Yelich may be the better of the two now, and could be for the future, but the Yankees got an incredible player in Stanton and he fits the role and what the Yankees need — and needed, perfectly.
Essentially, the Yankees didn’t make a mistake trading for Stanton. He is an incredible player and a great presence to have in the clubhouse as well. If he is to be tormented by these small-ish injuries that develop and turn into something that is around longer, this season, I would be massively disappointed and somewhat surprised. Stanton is a consistent player and takes care of his body, so the idea his injuries are because he’s not in shape, or to blame it on the Yankees, needs to be done away with.
Giancarlo looks to put together a fantastic year, and combine with the rest of the talented New York Yankees in the hunt for number 28. As for Yelich, he looks to lead the Brewers in the loaded NL Central, and make his case for his second NL MVP.