After more than a month on the sidelines recovering from an injured right hamstring, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton finally began a minor-league rehab assignment this week. Barring a setback, that puts him on track to rejoin the team in the next several days. And when he does, the Marlins will have added much more than simply their starting right fielder. They will have regained potentially the most valuable trading chip in the game, at least among those players with a realistic chance to be moved this year.
It's not at all hard to see why other teams would covet Stanton so much. He'll play the entirety of this season at just 23 years of age, and he needs only four more home runs to become the 21st player in big league history to hit 100 homers through their age-23 season. With a big second half, he could conceivably get himself into the top 10 of that list, which is littered with inner-circle greats like Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. In the entire history of baseball (minimum 1,500 plate appearances), there's exactly nine men with a higher isolated power mark than Stanton's .276, and there again you'll find the names of all-time elites like Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and Babe Ruth.
On most teams, Stanton's combination of production, youth and team control -- he will only be arbitration-eligible for the first time next season and can't be a free agent until after the 2016 season -- would make him an absolute untouchable. But of course the Marlins are not most teams, and as one of the few survivors of last winter's teardown, Stanton made his unhappiness towards the club clear. So as Stanton returns and (presumably) begins to mash again for the worst team in baseball, the trade winds around him will only continue to increase.
Nearly every team in baseball will show some interest. The price, understandably, will be massive. But for as great and rare a player as Stanton is, there's a small but growing worry: for interested teams, the best Stanton move might be the one that isn't made at all.