Forget Giancarlo Stanton, Red Sox should wait for Jason Heyward

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox are once again in the midst of Giancarlo Stanton trade rumors, but they'd be better off waiting for a different right fielder from the NL East.

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and Nick Cafardo starting Giancarlo Stanton trade rumors.

The National Baseball Writer for the Boston Globe has a bit of an obsession with the Marlins' 24-year-old slugger, and has long speculated that the Red Sox would be a perfect trade partner for Miami if they're so inclined to move their only offensive star. Cafardo is up to his old tricks again this week, publishing a column on Sunday exploring what a trade between the Red Sox and Marlins involving Stanton might look like.

The package that Cafardo suggests the Red Sox offer to the Marlins is huge, as it would need to be to land a player of Stanton's age and caliber. Here's what Cafardo suggests Boston could send to Miami to land one of the best power hitters in the game today:

Assuming the Red Sox would put Xander Bogaerts and Henry Owens on their no-trade list, the Marlins have always liked Will Middlebrooks and certainly feel Garin Cecchini is a top prospect. Add one of them to a package of Matt Barnes, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts? Would that be enough? Would that be too much for the Sox to give up?

I disagree with the assertion that Henry Owens should be untouchable, especially for a player like Stanton, but overall I think Cafardo has the right idea here. Bogaerts isn't going anywhere, and that means the Red Sox would have to offer a package of at least five or six prospects to even get Miami's attention. It would be an enormous price to pay for one player, and would gut the Red Sox of the organizational depth they've spent so long trying to build.

This is not to say that Cafardo is wrong for wanting the Red Sox to trade for Stanton. Stanton is one of only a handful of baseball players alive who can do this. He's still only 24, he produces between 3-6 wins above replacement per season when healthy and he's as fine a physical specimen as we have in the majors today. He's a monster, a stud, a "guy," and every other cliché you want to use, and any team would be lucky to have him.

But Stanton is not the only 24-year-old, uber-talented right fielder in the NL East. Around 660 miles north of Stanton is the home of one Jason Heyward, a former darling of the prospect world and one of the better young players in the game today. He's a different player from Stanton, relying on defense, some speed, and on-base percentage rather than tremendous raw power to create value, but his ceiling is also as a potential franchise cornerstone.

20130817_mbr_sz2_042Photo credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not suggesting that the Red Sox trade for Heyward instead of Stanton. The cost would be just as high, and Stanton might be a better fit for what the Red Sox could use right now given the rest of the roster.

But Heyward is slated to hit free agency after the 2015 season, and I think he's the player to which the Red Sox should be prepared to offer their first post-Nick Punto trade mega-deal if and when he reaches the open market. It's always better to give up money than prospects, and the Red Sox should have plenty of it by the time the 2015-2016 offseason rolls around.

Consider for a moment just how similar Stanton and Heyward have been throughout their careers. Both just 24, each player came up in 2010 and has about 2,000 PA of experience to this point. To whit:

Giancarlo Stanton

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

SB/CS

wRC+

fWAR

2010

396

.259

.326

.507

31.1%

8.6%

5/2

118

2.3

2011

601

.262

.356

.537

27.6%

11.6%

5/5

141

3.2

2012

501

.290

.361

.608

28.5%

9.2%

6/2

156

5.7

2013

504

.249

.365

.480

27.8%

14.2%

1/0

135

2.3

Total

2002

.265

.354

.535

28.6%

11.2%

17/9

138

13.5

Jason Heyward

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

K%

BB%

SB/CS

wRC+

fWAR

2010

623

.277

.393

.456

20.5%

14.6%

11/6

134

4.7

2011

456

.227

.319

.389

20.4%

11.2%

9/2

96

2.0

2012

651

.269

.335

.479

23.3%

8.9%

21/8

121

6.4

2013

440

.254

.349

.427

16.6%

10.9%

2/4

120

3.4

Total

2170

.259

.352

.443

20.6%

11.4%

43/20

119

16.5

In general, those numbers reveal much what you'd expect from Stanton and Heyward. The former is clearly the superior offensive force, beating the latter by nearly 100 points in slugging and 20 points in wRC+ over the past four years while essentially breaking even when it comes to average and OBP. Stanton strikes out considerably more than Heyward, but has a nearly identical walk rate.

While neither is a terribly efficient base runner, Heyward has the clear edge in speed, but that's not the driver behind his additional three fWAR since 2010. The main culprit there is defense, where Stanton has finished with a -8.4 defensive rating (courtesy FanGraphs) and Heyward a +28.1 mark. It's a bit odd, since we generally think of Stanton as an above average right fielder. Yet as far as advanced metrics go, his arm and athleticism aren't enough to register him as a good defender.

With those differences in mind, which player you like best is really just a matter of personal preference. Stanton has more jaw-dropping offensive feats, Heyward more highlights in the outfield. It's tough not to like the vision of Stanton batting cleanup in Boston for seven years, and it's hard not to like the image of Heyward patrolling Fenway's treacherous right field.

But that these players are largely even underscores the point that the Red Sox would be best left to make a Godfather offer to Heyward in 2016, when he's still just 26 years old rather than deplete their roster depth now to land Stanton, who is not a free agent until 2017 thanks to service time differences.

I'm aware that the many Sox fans have taken a strict "no long-term deals" policy after the Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford fiasco, but Heyward is not just any free agent. He'd be entering his age-26 season in 2016 at a time when fewer and fewer young, marquee players are hitting the open market, and his ability to reach base should be valued highly and, most importantly, ages well.

Right now, Stanton or Heyward would be a luxury, not a necessity, for the Red Sox. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli form a formidable power-hitting combination in the middle of Boston's lineup, and the outfield is filled with worthy starting candidates. Fast-forward to 2016, a season in which Ortiz will turn 40 and Napoli and Shane Victorino will be off the books, and it's tough to say that will still be the case. Sure, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and perhaps Will Middlebrooks and/or Garin Cecchini and Mookie Betts are expected to fill some of that void, but none are sure things.

The bidding for Heyward would be intense, and the extension-happy Braves may move some payroll to ensure that their homegrown star stays in Atlanta for years to come. But if Heyward does become a free agent, the Red Sox would be wise to do all they can to add him to what should be a young, cheap nucleus in 2016 as they look to transform their enviable prospect depth into a perennial contender once again.

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