An overpayment? Undoubtedly.
A mistake? Arguably.
A sunk cost? Not yet.
A curiosity? Very much, still.
In year four of his pinstriped journey, Giancarlo Stanton has much to prove, and at least judging from my engagement with Yankees fans, he carries over little goodwill from the power show he put on last October. That’s probably because that show, through no fault of Stanton’s, didn’t last past the American League Division Series.
Yet that prodigious display of slugging, supplemented by how good (and upright) Stanton has looked at the start of this Grapefruit League campaign, should count for something. It should remind us that, as shaky as the first three years of this long-term commitment have been, time — and promise — remain to considerably upgrade the narrative.
Or maybe you missed the 420-feet, 115.1 mph, three-run homer he launched Wednesday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field, helping the Yankees edge the Pirates, 6-5.
“I feel good,” Stanton said before the game. “During this time, it’s all about getting your rhythm and timing and getting your sequences right. The spring at-bats are good to build up.”
This buildup has served as a prolific 2021 teaser so far. On Sunday, Stanton lasered a pair of doubles, sporting exit velocities of 109.4 and 109.8 mph. Then came Wednesday’s moon shot to left field off Pirates starter Tyler Anderson. We’re talking about the exit-velocity king, the man responsible for six of the eight balls hit at 120-plus mph in the regular season. Exit velo, Stanton said, “is pretty cool for fans and people that might not understand how fast this game moves.”
We’re talking about a player who has lost considerable time to injuries the past two seasons (the primary reason an albatross still resides around his muscular neck), yet has not shown a decline in skills or motivation and has $188 million coming to him through 2027. That differs Stanton and the Yankees from recent pricey baseball marriages that broke bad, like the Angels with Albert Pujols or the Mets with Yoenis Cespedes.
More “agile” as a result of working with Yankees director of player health and performance Eric Cressey, Stanton said, he seconded manager Aaron Boone’s repeated notion that he’s actually a better hitter now than he was in 2017, when he clubbed 59 homers and won National League Most Valuable Player honors with the Marlins and convinced the Yankees to import him after they whiffed on Shohei Ohtani.
“I would say I have a better sense of the zone, a different approach to pitchers,” Stanton said. “I definitely am a better hitter than at that point. Now, have the results shown? No. But I am.”
Could the results show this year, if not in quantity (after totaling 41 regular-season games the past two years due to myriad ailments, it probably would thrill the Yankees should Stanton clock 120) then in quality? If they did, and if enough of Stanton’s teammates reached a similar percentile of their peak probability to push them deep into October, then the 31-year-old could reshape his Yankees identity.
“I really feel like if [Stanton] stays healthy, it’s going to be a scary season,” Boone told the YES Network during the game, and when pressed on that comment afterward, the skipper pointed back to Stanton’s outburst of last fall as a taste of what the big guy can do.
As long as Stanton can make baseballs wish they never existed, he holds with him the promise of change for the better and of validating the Yankees’ faith in him, if not the massive expenditure on him (it’s just too much for a DH, though Stanton said he hoped to get in the outfield shortly).
If he understandably hasn’t earned your trust, he shouldn’t have lost your curiosity. Not yet. The Stanton verdict remains unresolved. It’s on him to sway it in his direction, and he sure looks ready to make a case.