There were angry threats, broken promises, bitter shots, and a stench of acrimony Monday that wafted from New York to Miami.
In one of the most dramatic press conferences in baseball winter meeting history, with New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton the biggest star to appear on this stage since Alex Rodriguez’s $250 million contract in 2000, Stanton’s exodus from the Miami Marlins culminated in a bitter separation from the organization that was a picture of dysfunction right up to the moment he left it.
It wasn’t just Stanton’s Instagram post with the message that “I’ve always tried to be as professional as possible during the unprofessional, circus times there!,” but doubling down on his views throughout the day.
The Marlins and Stanton couldn’t even agree on how they disagreed. They had different versions on their parting, with Marlins chief operating officer Derek Jeter saying Stanton asked out, while Stanton saying Jeter was the one who wanted him out. They even had conflicting stories on rejecting trade offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Stanton insisted he never said no to any team, but merely needed more time, while the Marlins said he flatly exercised his no-trade rights.
Little wonder why Stanton will never possess mixed sentiments on leaving Miami, with his agent, Joel Wolfe, already declaring that Stanton has zero interest in opting out of his remaining $295 million contract in three years.
“There was no structure,’’ Stanton said of the Marlins, “no stamp of ‘This is how things are going to be.’ It’s a different direction every spring training. You’ve got to learn something new. Every spring, a different manager, every spring, or every middle of the season.’’
Stanton, who never played on a winning team in eight seasons with the Marlins, now joins a franchise that hasn’t had a losing season since 1992, and is employing just their third manager since 1996.
“They’re winners,’’ Stanton says. “They’re young and they’re in a good position to win for a long time.
“And I lost for a long time. So I want to change that dynamic.’’
Oh, and did he ever, even though he felt there was malice in the soap opera departure, feeling as if he were treated more like a Class AA prospect than the guy who just won the National League MVP award.
“This has been quite the experience,’’ Stanton said, conceding his ire, “quite the road to get here. When I signed up in Miami, I wanted things to work out, and I had a good vision there, but sometimes things spiral out of place and you need to find a new home.’’
Stanton insists he offered to stay, but told Jeter that he believed the team could contend if they simply added pitching. Jeter told him that wasn’t going to happen, and that he believed their only chance for future success was to strip the franchise.
“I reiterated I wanted to give at least a half-season chance,’’ Stanton said, “to see if we could put something together with some arms, but there that wasn’t the direction.’’
Then, things turned ugly.
The Marlins virtually threatened Stanton in his last few days on their payroll, agent Joel Wolfe said, telling him that unless he accepted a trade to the St. Louis Cardinals or San Francisco Giants, he would be stuck in Miami.
“They were pretty clear,’’ Wolfe said, “if he did not accept a trade to these two teams, that he would be in Miami for the rest of his career.’’
Stanton called their bluff, and told them to go back to the teams he originally told them he’d be willing to play: The Los Angeles Dodgers, Yankees, Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs.
Yes, the four teams that were in the American League and National League Championship Series in October.
The Marlins told Stanton that none of those four teams were interested.
Stanton told Jeter and president Michael Hill that wasn’t his problem. Keep trying, he told them. It was only then that the Yankees came to the rescue, taking him out of baseball’s abyss, and in the bright lights of New York where anything less than a World Series title is considered a failure.
It may have taken eight years, but the way Stanton was feeling Monday, he couldn’t help but feel as if he were just called up to the big leagues.
No more fire sales. No more changing managers as if they’re summer interns. No more change of directions by mid-May. No more playing in front of swaths of empty seats.
Yeah, the big fella was feeling pretty good in front of a media horde that was larger than some of the Marlins’ crowds during the course of his career.
“That’s what I’ve always dreamed of,’’ said Stanton, who played for seven managers in Miami. “You always want to be in competitive games that mean something, and your performance means something to the team and the city.’’
When he won a gold medal in the World Baseball Classic this spring, listening to his teammates from other clubs talking about World Series rings and perennial playoff teams, he realized just how miserable he was playing for the Marlins.
When Wolfe was asked when he first sensed Stanton was unhappy, he paused, and said with a grin: “Probably, Double A or Triple A.’’
“What got him early on was the high rate of turnover, coaches, players. Changes. It became hard for him to grow relationships with players and coaches because he knew they weren’t going to around long. That was difficult for me.
“This guy is a football player at heart. He spends his Octobers in Europe unable to watch the playoffs because it just kills him.’’
There will be rough times in the Bornx. There weren’t enough Marlins fans in the stands to notice whether Stanton went hitless for a month, or homered every day for a week, let alone cared one way or the other.
Stanton, 28, talked to the small media corps when he felt like it. He would rarely talk before games, and after, he’d often times keep them waiting long after his teammates departed. He may have been the franchise player, but he wasn’t the Marlins’ spokesman.
The New York press will be much more demanding. Those splendid days of privacy, driving home to his gorgeous penthouse, hanging out with his buddies in South Beach without being bothered, are over.
He’ll be rudely welcomed to Page 6 the moment he’s spotted in a restaurant, nightclub, or simply walking on the street.
“It’s a new dynamic,’’ Stanton says, “but at the same time, it’s baseball. So I understand there will be some ups and downs. I’ll have to deal with that on a bigger scale, but it’s the same game I played down in Miami.
“Just a bigger scale, brighter lights.’’
Most important, he believes, he will find happiness, while bemoaning the fate of the fans and teammates – though not the franchise – he left behind.
“Hang in there,’’ Stanton said. “Fans are hurting. They’re going to go through some more tough years. Just keep hope.
“Maybe, watch from afar, if you’re going to watch.’’
It’s a whole new world for Stanton, and for once, he can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.