These being the Marlins, it's only natural that something bad has indeed happened to Stanton. And now the Marlins should be worried.
The 23-year-old Stanton injured his right hamstring running through the first base bag during Monday night's game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park. The pain was bad enough to make him hit the deck immediately, and the injury itself was bad enough to put him on the disabled list on Tuesday.
It's not that we're talking about a contender losing a star player. We're talking about a can't-bear-to-watch awful team with an already disillusioned fanbase losing its main attraction.
That's the reality team owner Jeffrey Loria is presumably cursing, and for good reason.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Marlins are drawing 19,331 fans per game. That's second-lowest in baseball next to the Cleveland Indians, and it represents an average of almost 11,200 fans fewer than the Marlins were drawing last season.
So business is already bad, and now the Marlins better get ready for it to get worse. Stanton won't be there to hit any light-tower home runs as long as he's out, so you have to figure many fans aren't going to bother turning up.
But attendance is a mere short-term concern. The bigger concern is how Stanton's injury could impact the Marlins franchise long-term, and his injury has the potential to do some significant damage.
It's no minor injury, after all. Here's the word from Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald:
Will Carroll, B/R's resident injury expert, took a look at the situation and wrote that the time frame for recovery for such an injury is four-to-six weeks.
But there's always the possibility that Stanton actually has a Grade III strain or a strain in a "bad location." If that's the case, the rest of his season could be compromised.
Not that I have Carroll's expertise, but even a lesser hamstring injury could impact Stanton's entire season. We saw Matt Kemp have his once epic-looking 2012 season derailed by a pair of Grade I hamstring strains. He spent 58 days on the disabled list with those two injuries, according to Baseball Prospectus, and he just wasn't quite the same player when he was able to play.
Whatever the case, what the Marlins need is for Stanton to bounce back from his hamstring injury the same way he bounced back from last year's knee surgery. He was actually better after the surgery than he was before it, posting a 1.057 OPS and hitting 18 homers in only 43 games.
If Stanton bounces back from his hamstring injury like that, he'll still have the one thing that's vital to the Marlins' long-term future: trade value. The Marlins haven't come out and put a Stephen Strasburg-esque countdown in place, but we know that they're going to deal Stanton eventually.
It's either that or hold on to him, and that's a matter of first allowing him to go to arbitration, which will make Stanton much more expensive, and then signing him to an extension to keep him away from free agency, which is the hopeless fantasy of hopeless fantasies.
When fully healthy, Stanton's the kind of guy who could fetch any prospect in the game. T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com recently wrote that the Texas Rangers would deal Jurickson Profar, widely considered the best prospect in the game, for Stanton in the "blink of an eye." A New York Mets official told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that he would trade Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud for Stanton "in a heartbeat."
And so on. A fully healthy Stanton is the key to an overwhelmingly good cache of young players with which the Marlins could aid their rebuild. If you're into geek references, he's like the AllSpark or the Cosmic Cube for the Marlins' ongoing rebuilding effort.
A not-so-healthy Stanton? That's a not-so-valuable Stanton.
If Stanton is still hurting around the trade deadline, the Marlins aren't going to be able to go get a Profar, a Wheeler or a whoever for him. Stanton will still be an insanely talented player with a few years of team control ahead of him, but, you know, damaged goods are damaged goods.
The smart play for the Marlins in a situation like that would be to hold on to him and hope for a strong finish. If he were unable to provide one, his winter trade value would be just as uncertain as his deadline trade value had been.
Sure, a winter of recovery would have the potential to make Stanton an elite player again, but the warning signs would be clear and present. For a guy who's only been in the league since 2010, he already has a number of injuries under his belt.
Most of them have been minor, but last year's knee injury wasn't minor and this year's hamstring injury isn't minor. A team looking at Stanton from afar would have every reason to fear that more non-minor injuries would be waiting in the wings. A fear like that makes one grip top prospects tighter.
This would put the Marlins in a corner. The longer Stanton stays under their control, the more his salary is going to rise and the more his trade value is going to decline, regardless of whether he were to turn things around in 2014 after a lost season in 2013.
The Marlins would then be kicking themselves for not trading Stanton this past offseason while they were trading pretty much everyone else under their control. It was easy to read their intentions—did they dare trade the only player with drawing power they still had?—but there's no denying the opportunity was there to make a damn good baseball trade.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports was one of the leaders of the "Trade him now!" bandwagon, writing that the chance to do a Herschel Walker deal was right there in front of the Marlins. Besides which, who exactly were they hoping of attracting after the various stunts they had pulled throughout the past year?
"They basically said eff you to their fanbase," said a National League general manager, "so why not now?"
The Marlins passed, and as recently as April 14 Peter Gammons of MLB Network was reporting that they weren't interested in moving their prized slugger.
Now it's looking like the Marlins' hard-to-get act with Stanton could backfire in a significant way. All it will take is for his already bad-looking hamstring injury to get worse and linger for a while.
Stanton would surely still be traded somewhere down the line, but not for a bushel of top prospects. He'd maybe only fetch one, with assorted decent prospects on the side. Or maybe two, with no decent prospects on the side.
Either deal wouldn't be bad without context, but the context in this scenario would be that the Marlins once had a chance to do a franchise-altering deal. And without a deal like that, the Marlins' rebuilding process is not going to move as quickly as it otherwise could have, or arrive at as special a destination as it otherwise could have.
That's a notion that should have Mr. Loria feeling uncomfortable. After all he's done, Loria owes the people of Miami something special.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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