MIAMI — What Stephen Strasburg is to the Nationals, Mike Stanton has become to the Marlins.
Sure, Stanton was always a highly touted prospect in their system, and he’s been the top-ranked guy there for a while. But now is when it’s becoming a Strasburg-ish situation in South Florida, with anticipation building about exactly when he’ll be up in the big leagues for good. Heading into Sunday, Stanton (pictured) sported absurd numbers in pretty much every offensive category through 33 games: a .322 batting average, 36 RBIs, a ridiculous 1.237 OPS and a league-leading 15 home runs (one of them a mythical 500-plus-foot shot).
As my colleague Joe Frisaro and others have noted
, it looks like late May or early June will be the time Stanton finally gets called up to the Major Leagues.
When the Marlins sent Stanton down after he hit .286 with three homers in eight Grapefruit League games, manager Fredi Gonzalez said he’d let them know when he’s ready. Well, he’s ready, all right. And since the Marlins waited, they now delay his arbitration process and free-agency period by an extra year.
But now the question remains — how do you make room for Stanton in the starting lineup? Here are some options that come to mind:
* This is the one that may make the most sense: They can trade fan favorite Cody Ross for relief help to open up a spot in the outfield. Marlins fans love Ross, and for good reason — he’s a great clubhouse guy, is a solid defensive player and produces offensively at a reasonable price. But that’s also what makes him so attractive to other suitors, and what can perhaps get Florida the late-inning relief pitching it needs (perhaps maybe a solid lefty specialist). Ross is making $4.45 million and has one more year of arbitration, which could make him easier to move than this guy …
* Dan Uggla. The Marlins shopped their power-hitting second baseman all offseason but had no real takers. And though he’s having his best start to the season ever (.281 batting average, eight homers and 24 RBIs in 37 games heading into Sunday), he comes at a $7.8 million price tag and several teams are put off by his defense. Plus, while moving Ross would allow the Marlins to simply slot Stanton in right field, moving Uggla would take more shuffling. Chris Coghlan, who’s been very good in left field, would go to second base, and Stanton or Ross would migrate to left field.
* Or you can do the same thing with Jorge Cantu, which would move Coghlan to third base — a position he also played in the Minors, though not nearly as much as second — instead. Moving Cantu would be tempting — despite his great knack for driving in runs — because he’s owed $6 million this year and is a free agent after the season. Cantu is solid at first base, but the Marlins see him as somewhat of a liability as a third baseman, which is why Wes Helms usually mans the position late in games. Cantu’s bat would be appealing to other clubs.
* And then there’s Cameron Maybin. In many fans’ minds, this is the easier decision. You either option Maybin right back down to the Minor Leagues or trade him. But they may be a little hesitant to do that because it seems like finally — finally! — Maybin is starting to get the hang of this whole Major League thing. He’s taking better routes on balls in the outfield, and while the strikeouts will always be there, he’s put up back-to-back multi-hit games. No big sample size, sure. But he looks better at the plate, and the Marlins have so much invested in him (essentially, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis), that it seems like it’d be tough to give up on him now. If you trade him, you give up on him. If you option him, then you’re sending a very bad message to a guy who’s been through this before and is actually now playing well (plus, you get nothing in return, even though you have a surplus of everyday players).
I can’t see the Marlins keeping all of those guys and then having four everyday outfielders on the active roster. So, if you’re the Marlins’ brass, which of those options do you choose?
— Alden Gonzalez