I am not sure when it happened, but at some point in time Giancarlo Stanton became the most popular in-house target for the ire of Yankees fans everywhere. It may have been when he took his first circuitous route in left field, or when he struggled against the Red Sox in the 2018 ALDS, or when he spent April, May, and most of June on the injured list in 2019 – but it has been the case for at least two years or so.
And I’m here to say that’s mostly unfair.
But first, allow me to get this out of the way: Stanton’s seemingly magnetic attraction to the injured list is incredibly frustrating. He missed 181 of the Yankees 222 games over the last two seasons with a variety of injuries, and that’s seriously detrimental to the team. If Stanton is going to live up to his contract, he is going to have to stay on the field. That’s a given.
It is at this point that I am going to lose many of you, though, with this simple statement: Stanton’s on-field performance has merited his salary.
Now, bear with me. Due to the Marlins’ surprising generosity, Stanton’s luxury tax hit for the Yankees is $22 million per season. The 31-year-old has averaged roughly 4.0 WAR per 650 PA in pinstripes as per Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, with a 131 wRC+. And those figures do not include the playoffs, where Stanton has hit a robust .267/.352/.683. When healthy, the production matches the cost.
Let’s take a look at some similarly compensated players, shall we? What follows is a list of position players with luxury tax hits between $20 and $25 million in 2021:
- Joey Votto
- George Springer
- Jason Heyward
- Justin Upton
- Mookie Betts
- Wil Myers
- Freddie Freeman*
- Francisco Lindor*
- Buster Posey
- Charlie Blackmon
- Chris Davis
- Josh Donaldson
- Eric Hosmer
- Andrew McCutchen
- JT Realmuto
- Xander Bogaerts
Freeman and Lindor are both free agents after 2021, so they don’t quite fit in with the rest.
That said, how many of these players are actually better than Stanton? I’d probably go with Springer, Betts, Freeman, Lindor, Realmuto, and Bogaerts. I would take Stanton over everyone else. And beyond them, this list is essentially a testament to the perils of long-term deals. And given how abruptly some of these other deals looked awful, it probably isn’t all that fair to compare someone like Stanton to players that just signed.
Stanton is not a player on the decline. There’s no indication that he is no longer a game-breaking hitter. The last time we saw him in a game that matter, he was slashing .316/.381/1.000 with 4 HR in 5 games in the ALDS. Stanton can still mash with the best of them.
Again: Stanton needs to stay on the field. And that is why I cannot wholeheartedly say that he is worth $22 million a year. However, he has the ability to earn that $22 million a year, and his salary is much more akin to the normal cost of doing business than a dramatic overpay.
So here’s hoping he can play 140+ games this year.