ORLANDO, Fla. — Baseball's offseason began in earnest Monday with the annual gathering of the 30 general managers for two days of meetings. There will be clandestine encounters between team officials and agents, the stuff that breeds precious trade rumors. But the real hot-stove action hinges on a slugger who currently works for a team that desperately wants to trade his 59 home runs and $295 million contract.
Giancarlo Stanton is the prize of this winter's shuffling. The Marlins, under new owner Derek Jeter, have a mandate to trim payroll and acquire young talent. The Phillies are a team that just so happens to have a surplus of cash and prospects to trade. The connection is natural; it is enticing to dream about Stanton calling Citizens Bank Park home for 81 games every season.
But a match between the Phillies and Marlins is, at best, unlikely.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak would not comment Monday about Stanton; he is barred by Major League Baseball's rules from discussing a player employed by another team. But two baseball sources indicated the Phillies and Marlins have not had substantive talks regarding Stanton. That was the case last July, when the rumors percolated. Nothing has changed.
Stanton, the Phillies have decided, is not a fit. If they were closer to contention, they could be compelled to acquire the 28-year-old outfielder as the final piece to vault them into elite territory. If there was not a historic free-agent class slated to become available after the 2018 season, they could take a risk now on Stanton. If Stanton was not owed $295 million over the next 10 years, through his age 37 season, they could be convinced to surrender both cash and prospects for his services.
The Phillies do not appear willing.
"We're pretty comfortable with our position-player group right now," Klentak said Monday at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. "We are determined to let those young players play and continue to get at-bats. To do something to compromise that would take a pretty unique set of circumstances."
This is a unique set of circumstances. A player with the type of game-changing power that Stanton owns does not often become available in the prime of his career. A player with the kind of contract Stanton signed has never been traded. That contract, ultimately, is what could decide where Stanton lands.
The slugger holds a full no-trade clause. Stanton is said to prefer a West Coast destination and a team that is not engulfed by a rebuilding process. Mike Hill, Miami's president of baseball operations, said the team has engaged Stanton about his preferences.
"I do have a sense," Hill said, "and we'll keep that internal, and at the appropriate time we'll discuss whatever we need to discuss."
The Phillies will be connected to every prominent trade chip and free agent this winter because of their current roster situation. They have guaranteed 2018 money to one player, $3 million for Odubel Herrera. They have depth in their farm system to make a trade.
San Francisco, St. Louis, and Boston are rumored to have interest in Stanton. Other teams and player agents will float the Phillies as potential leverage to help their own causes.
"I understand why that narrative exists," Klentak said. "As an organization, the Phillies have been very disciplined over the last few years to get out from some of the contracts that we had and to not invest long term in players while we were going through the rebuild. The result of that now is a lot of financial flexibility moving forward. So I understand where the narrative would come from — because we have this financial flexibility, we should spend money.
"And that very well may happen. More so than the prior two offseasons, this offseason is the first time since I've been here that we will explore contracts of more than one year with free agents. Now, is that two years or is that 10 years? Or is it something in between? That will all depend on the market and the individual players."
The Marlins fire sale could extend beyond Stanton. If it includes Christian Yelich, the dynamic outfielder who turns 26 next month and is signed through 2021, the conversations between the Phillies and Marlins could develop.
"I have no doubt that we'll make some additions to our club," Klentak said. "Whether those come in the form of shorter-term contracts, or trades, or long-term contracts remains to be seen."