To preface this editorial, when the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton I laughed, going on record to say this contract would bite the Yankees and that Ozuna and Yelich were far better options despite Stanton coming off of a season where he won the National League MVP. I said this for a few reasons: Stanton’s injury history was worrisome, his contract is ridiculously bad and his all or nothing approach at the plate wasn’t sustainable. There were questions regarding the defensive prowess of Stanton, but they’re neither here nor there playing in the Bronx with the designated hitter around.
Since, Christian Yelich has won an MVP and been one of the league’s most potent hitters, while Marcell Ozuna is coming off of a 2020 where he led the senior circuit in homeruns while hitting .338 with a 1.067 OPS (which was higher than Stanton’s OPS when he hit 60 homeruns). Giancarlo? Not so much. Due to his body being made of more glass than Debbie Harry’s heart, he’s been limited to just 199 games in front of the Bleacher Creatures. Moreso, just 18 games in 2019 and 23 games in a shortened 2020 season. On the surface, a contract as such could cripple a team, much like it did the Marlins, after Jeffrey Loria gave his golden child a 13-year, $325M deal. That’s an average of $25M a year, at the time the highest contract in the league. Unfortunately, Stanton is not one of the best players in baseball, but that’s okay as the Yankees noticed their need and addressed it with the player they thought was best suitable at that time. Players such as Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado make more per year. He is set to make $218M over the next seven seasons, as the contract is backloaded. Let’s be real, the Yankees will spend regardless. They just signed Gerrit Cole to a $324M deal a year ago. They’re in on virtually free agent. The Yankees don’t need the money. While yes, a guy like Stanton being compensated as much as he’s compensated is ludicrous, the injuries don’t impact this. The Yankees will be reimbursed every penny for every game that Stanton’s misses up to 80% the value of his contract through their insurance policy. As long as Giancarlo Stanton plays 20% of the games under his contract over its duration, the Yankee do not lose money from Stanton being on the IL.
Now that the discussions with injuries is out of the way already, even a banged up Giancarlo Stanton makes the Yankees better. The ire of the Yankee faithful also stems that he doesn’t perform well enough when he is happy and that he’s not a very good hitter. Overall as a player, Stanton has to be one of the most overpaid, overrated players in the game: he strikes out a ton, his defense is awful and his baserunning isn’t very good. But, for what Stanton is paid to do (hit for power and drive up pitch counts), it’s hard to find somebody better.
Ask any Yankee fan who grew up in the seventies who their favorite player is. Sometimes you’ll hear Bucky [word redacted] Dent or Chris Chambliss for the one big homerun each hit. Perhaps, Jim Hunter, who’s the posterboy for pitching, while Rich Gossage and Sparky Lyle changed the way we perceive relievers. However, the most common answer will be Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
Reggie Jackson was awe-inspiring with his power, coming in on a loaded contract after tearing up the league as an Oakland Athletic. He was already a former MVP who was the most powerful man in the game with a bat in his hand. The contract he signed made him the top paid player in baseball.
Reggie Jackson entered Cooperstown because he was great for his generation. Digging into the stats, though, he hit 563 homeruns, collected in more than 2500 hits and posted an .846 OPS over 21 seasons in the Show. Digging deeper, he struck out 2,597 times, the most in MLB history for his career. He walked around 79 times over a 162 on average in his career. His 162 average slash was .262/.356/.490, with 32 homeruns and 27 doubles. His defense was poor. His average WAR over his career in a season, including seasons he didn’t play every day is 3.5.
What is the typical Giancarlo Stanton season? Stanton over a 162 average in his career has a .268/.359/.546 slashline, better slightly in both average and getting on base, while having more power by a substantial amount. Alongside that slash, he walks 80 times, averages 43 homeruns and 34 doubles with a .905 OPS. He also has an RBI over a 162 edge on Reggie with 109 to Jackson’s 98. That’s with Jackson playing on loaded playoff teams for most of his career and Stanton spending most of his career on a mediocre at best Marlins club. Stanton’s WAR in the average season, including seasons he didn’t play everyday missing ample time to injury, is 3.7. He does average 192 strikeouts a year.
While Stanton strikes out just a little bit more, when healthy he hits for more power and gets on base at the same rate as a Reggie Jackson. In Jackson’s day, he was the highest paid player in the league but Stanton isn’t today. While Reggie certainly has an earned and warranted adulation in the Bronx for his legendary October play, that argument is rather thin when comparing eras. In the 1970s, there were only two rounds of the playoffs: the LCS and the World Series. It was a far less strenuous path to the World Series, as in 2020 we had the Wild Card Round, Division Series, League Championship Series and then the World Series. Jackson also had more proficient teams around him. So while Reggie Jackson is fondly remembered for his postseason heroics, Stanton not winning a championship three years in is held against him considerably. However, the 2020 postseason, Stanton hit six homeruns in seven games, including a grand slam against John Curtiss. He slugged 1.000 in the LDS against the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays, a series in which his team lost. He slugged at least 1.000 in two playoff rounds in 2020, a fear Reggie only slugged twice in his entire postseason career (17 rounds to Stanton’s six). In fact, Reggie’s postseason slashline has an .885 OPS, which is stellar, while Stanton’s is a 1.035 OPS, albeit a much more minute sample size. The fact that Stanton’s only had three postseasons because the team around him doesn’t do as much as Reggie’s did and that he hasn’t won a championship when the path to a championship is far more difficult nowadays, shouldn’t be a knock on Stanton.
Stanton isn’t held in the highest stature right now to Yankee fans, some of it is certainly warranted. But, the injuries don’t actually cost the Yankees money and it frees up more money at the deadline to go and pick up another piece, not that they cannot afford it anyway. He statistically when healthy is the exact same player as Reggie Jackson, yet when he’s healthy he doesn’t do enough. Reggie Jackson as a player never sees any flack looking back upon his career. In 2018 when Yankee fans vilified Stanton’s on field production, he hit 38 longballs with a slashline of .266/.343/.509. That is almost identical to a career average season of Reggie Jackson.
The contract for Stanton is one of the worst in baseball. But, it’s interesting to see how he compares relatively to a legendary Yankee who once was the highest paid player in the sport, is somehow better and is still ridiculed for his production when healthy. Is the contract justifiable? No, he’s simply not worth the contract and it’s extraordinary amount. Yet, it doesn’t keep the Yankees from making moves and the Yankees are absolutely a better ballclub when Aaron Boone can pencil Stanton’s name into the DH spot on his lineup card. Once, what was considered a tremendous ballplayer in Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson is now considered not worth that kind of value. The game has changed in a major way.