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Giancarlo Stanton's opt-out clause in Marlins deal a win-win for both sides

Miami Marlins rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton sits in the

Miami Marlins rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton sits in the dugout before a game against the New York Mets in Miami on May 5, 2014. Credit: AP / Alan Diaz

There is a clear best-case scenario for both parties in the Miami Marlins' historic 13-year, $325-million contract with slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

If Stanton can stay healthy and productive for the next six seasons, he would almost certainly avail himself of the opt-out clause that is reportedly built into his pact following the 2020 season.

Under that scenario, everybody wins.

A 31-year-old Stanton could hit the open market in search of an even bigger payday in the prime of his career. And the Marlins would be off the hook for paying the slugger during his post-prime and most likely least productive years, sidestepping the riskiest part of any long-term megadeal.

So, what are the chances that Stanton and the Marlins actually reach that point?

History says it's possible.

Here are the players most comparable to Stanton through their first five big-league seasons. This group includes those who played at least 600 games, hit at least 150 homers (Stanton has 154), and finished with an OPS+ of at least 140 (Stanton is at 144): Mark McGwire, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Todd Helton, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

How did this group fare in the six seasons following their first five, which is when Stanton could hit the market again?

McGwire fared well, hitting .263/.406/.581 with 173 homers and a 167 OPS+ from 1991 to 1996. He missed much of two seasons in that span with injuries but roared back with a then-career high 58 homers for the A's in 1996.

Had he been playing under Stanton's contract, McGwire would have been in position to opt out and earn a payday. Instead, the Cardinals traded for McGwire in 1997, the beginning of the second and more memorable act of his career.

Of course, McGwire has admitted to using steroids for a considerable part of his career, which should be taken into account when weighing his numbers.

Robinson hit .308./.400/.570 with 208 homers and a 164 OPS+ from 1961 to 1966. The final year of his six-year window was spent in Baltimore after the Reds dealt him away in one of the dumbest trades of all-time.

In 1966, his first year with the Orioles, Robinson won the American League Triple Crown and the Most Valuable Player Award.

If Stanton produces like Robinson did in that six-year window, expect an opt-out and another trip to the bank.

Mays hit .321/.394/.591 with 216 homers and a 163 OPS+ with the Giants from 1957 to 1962. His six-year stretch ended with the 1962 season, when Mays led baseball with 49 homers and 382 total bases.

If Stanton came close to Mays' production during that stretch, he'd opt out and find himself with plenty of suitors.

Helton hit .330/.440/.556 with 147 homers and a 146 OPS+ from 2002 to 2007. Coors Field certainly helped his numbers. That kind of production from Stanton in the next six years could push him to opt out. He'd be just 31, after all.

So far, that's four guys who would likely opt out if given the terms of Stanton's contract. At the end of the six-year window, Robinson (30) and Mays (31) were the closest in age to Stanton, an encouraging sign since both remained remarkably productive into their late 30s.

But the news isn't all rosy.

Fielder has hit .285/.395/.496 with 128 homers and a 140 OPS+ in five seasons beginning with 2010. But the previously durable Fielder played only 42 games with the Rangers last season before going down with a herniated disc in his neck. He'll need a bounce-back season in 2015 to get back on track.

Braun is a .295/.362/.523 hitter with 69 homers and a 138 OPS+ over his last three seasons. But can he produce anything close over the next three years? Braun's last two seasons don't paint an encouraging picture. Like McGwire, Braun has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, so the numbers could be skewed.

Ultimately, of the six players most comparable to Stanton, three (Mays, Robinson and Helton) offer encouraging case studies.

While McGwire's production fit the bill, his use of PEDs clouds his numbers. Fielder would be on track, but only assuming that he stays healthy in 2015.

Only one (Braun) represents a clear red flag.

Of course, there is no accounting for the risk of injury, and Stanton has already dealt with his share.

The Marlins were clearly willing to bet that he'll continue to keep company with some of the game's all-time greats. Judging by history, there's a chance Stanton does just that and puts himself in position to opt out after the 2020 season.

But if not, the Marlins face paying what's left of the contract, which is $175 million over seven years.

Indeed, it's a quite a wager.

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