There is a loud outcry to spend money this offseason on either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Josh Donaldson and Patrick Corbin have been thrown around as possible Cardinals moves as well. There is more than one way to add talent and payroll to a team than just free agency though. One possible avenue is trading with a team interested in rebuilding. Theoretically, that team is the Diamondbacks, though I personally am skeptical they will actually go through with this.
If the Diamondbacks DO decide to rebuild though, there are two particular players of interest to the Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke. On the surface, neither are really needed. The Cardinals have enough pitchers to fill out five rotation spots and Matt Carpenter exists. But also, Matt Carpenter exists and we don’t have five rotation spots filled that are better than Zack Greinke. (The second Matt Carpenter exists is supposed to remind you that he can play 3B, but I don’t think that came across)
Why would the Diamondbacks be open to trading these two players? Well, if they commit to rebuilding, that means they are giving up on 2019. Goldschmidt has one more year left until free agency. It makes sense to trade him over the offseason to maximize his value. Zack Greinke is owed $104.5 million over the next three years. He will be 35 next year. Not terribly ideal for a rebuilding team.
Here’s where things get a little complicated. I would guess if the Cardinals traded for Greinke, the Cards would try to get Dexter Fowler to agree to waive his no-trade clause and swap contracts plus add a prospect. The Diamondbacks would be potentially interested in Fowler because he’s owed $49.5 million over the next three years and, if you don’t like doing the math yourself, that’s $55 million less than Greinke is owed. Plus the Cards would add a prospect. Win-win.
Goldschmidt is a much more straight forward trade. 2019 value for future value. We don’t have 2019 projections yet, but Goldschmidt was projected as a 4 win player in 2018, he basically repeated his 2017 but with a higher BABIP and less power, and given he’s going to be 31, I highly doubt it will be higher than 4 for 2019. So Goldschmidt should be valued as a 4 win player in a potential trade.
Let’s say that the value of a win is $9.5 million. Goldschmidt’s salary in 2019 is $14.5 so his trade value should be around $23.5 million in surplus value. $23.5 million in prospect form is about top 100 hitting prospect, closer to 50 than 100. The surplus value on top prospects “says” that anybody in the top 50, whether a pitcher or hitter, would be overpaying for Goldschmidt. Something tells me the Diamondbacks would demand more than one hitting prospect around the 50-75 range. For whatever it’s worth though, the Cardinals have one hitting prospect in that range and his name is Nolan Gorman. (At least according to MLB Pipeline. If Carson Kelly didn’t lose his prospect status, he would also qualify).
Greinke meanwhile was coming off a 5.1 WAR season in 2017 and was projected for 3.9 by ZiPS going into the season. He slightly underperformed with 3.5 WAR, which is basically close enough. Given he will be 35, my educated guess for his ZiPS projection next year is 3 wins. It will definitely not be higher than 3.5 at the very least, so I feel safe assuming that. Greinke is getting paid $34.4 million for the next three seasons. A 3 WAR season would be valued at $28.5 million, so clearly the Cardinals would be trading for a contract that is very likely to be a net loss. Hence why Dexter Fowler is ideally involved.
Let’s assume Fowler is involved, because it’s hard for me to imagine the Cards agreeing to this otherwise. Well it’s hard for me to imagine this trade in the first place, but you get my point. Fowler was projected for 1.7 WAR by ZiPS going into the season and finished 2018 with a -1.2 WAR season. I’m going to guess ZiPS has him as a 1 win player in projections. A 1 win player is worth $9.5 million. Using the standard “knock off half a win every subsequent year,” Fowler could be valued as a 1.5 win player over the length of the contract, or just $14.3 million in dollars. I would probably take the over on that, but that means he’s worth $-35.2 million dollars over the next three years.
Don’t worry, Greinke’s also negative. Again, knocking off half a win every future year, Greinke projects to be worth 7.5 WAR over the next three years. This, admittedly, is probably wildly optimistic, because Greinke’s age is probably going to lead to a harsher projection than that past 2019. Nonetheless, that is worth $71.3 million. Greinke’s value for the next three years, by projections, is $-33.3 million or so in surplus value. Pretty similar to Fowler, albeit in ridiculously different ways.
Obviously, the Diamondbacks are not going to trade Greinke for Fowler straight up. But this is a framework to a potential deal. The more money the DBacks throw in, the better the prospect. If the DBacks would throw in the $33.3 million difference and take the hit on Fowler’s contract, for instance, they could demand Alex Reyes. If they threw in no money, they could ask for Juan Yepez or some other no name prospect, but save a whole bunch of money. If a trade involved Fowler and Greinke happened, I’m guessing it would be somewhere in between these two outcomes.
It’s frankly hard to see either of these trades happening. Goldschmidt is likely valued higher than his projections. The Diamondbacks are also likely going to want someone to overpay. Goldschmidt scares me a little, at least as far as trading a lot of value for him is concerned. His BB% has declined every year since 2015, moving from 17% to 13%. His K% has increased the last three years, going from 21.3% to 25.1%. These are concerns that make me think he’s closer to a 4 win player than a 5 win one, and I’m guessing you have to pay him as if he’s a 5 win player since he’s been a 5 win player for three consecutive seasons. He mostly has the superstar problem, which is that I can’t see the Dbacks letting him go for anything but a haul and he’s not really worth that. My “puke point” would be Gorman or Kelly plus a B prospect, and I just have a gut feeling the DBacks aren’t letting him go for anything close to that. And my deal says we are overpaying!
Meanwhile, the Greinke trade relies on a thin premise: Fowler agreeing to waive his no trade clause. I’m not saying it’s impossible. Given the right circumstances, he’ll agree to be traded. Is a rebuilding Diamondbacks team the right circumstance? Well, that depends on how much he wants to play. In this situation, the Diamondbacks should start Fowler every game, hope he bounces back to a 2+ WAR player, and then unload him to another team for a decent prospect. Best case scenario in St. Louis for him, he splits time with Tyler O’Neill. Worst-case, the Cards sign Harper and he’s a true bench player (or released I guess, where he’ll end up signing with a not very good team anyway). So if Fowler is intent on starting, it shouldn’t really be that difficult to convince him to go Arizona. We just don’t really know if he wants to win or start more.
So there are two hypothetical routes the Cardinals could take to improve their team if they miss out on the big free agents. In all likelihood, Greinke and Goldschmidt are still sitting there until the big names sign. When the big names are gone, Goldschmidt looks a lot more appealing as he is likely the best player available to acquire. Greinke/Fowler is probably dependent on other moves the Cards make first. A Harper signing, for instance, makes moving Fowler necessary (and way easier to convince him to waive the no trade clause I’d guess). A trade for Greinke makes the Cardinals starting pitching depth obscene. Luke Weaver becomes the 8th starter, assuming Wainwright is ahead of him on the depth chart, which is INSANE. Yes, one of the guys ahead of him is getting hurt or there’s a setback so that probably won’t be literally true on April 1, but good god.
Let’s say the Cards miss out on Machado and Harper. As Plan B, they make one of these two trades. There’s nothing that says that can’t do both, but that seems more unlikely than the Reds becoming division champs next year. Let’s say they also sign Josh Donaldson with either Greinke or Goldschmidt (pick your favorite for this hypothetical). Would you be satisfied with the offseason?