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Envisioning a trade for Paul Goldschmidt

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If the Cardinals prefer to pay in prospects, this could be their chance at an elusive “big bat”

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Morning, all,

As I assume most of you have heard by now, Josh Donaldson is heading to Atlanta on a one year, $23 million deal. The contract makes perfect sense for both parties, just as it would have for St. Louis and virtually every other contending team not already pressed up against the luxury tax threshold. Donaldson is betting on himself to produce a resurgent 2019 campaign while the Braves are taking a one year flier on the potential of a healthy, elite Donaldson that, worst case scenario, is money off their books by the end of the season anyways should things go south.

Perhaps this was a situation where a free agent prioritized factors other than salary, as Donaldson grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. I would like to think a $23 million contract given Donaldson’s upside wouldn’t be too rich for the Cardinals’ blood from a pure cost standpoint. The eternal optimist in me goes another step further and hopes that the Cardinals didn’t pursue Donaldson more aggressively because they were already planning on acquiring such firepower through other means, be it a free agent like Bryce Harper or a trade target like the subject of today’s post: Paul Goldschmidt.

Granted, this report from Ken Rosenthal provides the disclaimer that no trade is imminent, but as the Winter Meetings, held December 9-13, quickly approach, it’s never too early to start gauging the value of the possible pieces in a blockbuster move for Goldschmidt.

We’ll begin with the man of the hour himself. If we assume a win costs $10 million on the open market and the Steamer projections system pegs Goldschmidt for 4.1 wins above replacement in 2019, the final year of his contract, his market value checks in at $41 million. Subtract his actual salary of $14.5 million from that number to arrive at a surplus value of $26.5 million. The Cardinals would presumably land Goldschmidt and attempt to iron out an extension with him à la Jason Heyward, but Goldschmidt would at the very least net the Cardinals a compensation draft pick in the event he walked after rejecting the qualifying offer next winter. That pick would slot immediately before the beginning of the third round, so let’s round his overall surplus value up to around $33 million. If that seems low for a player of Goldschmidt’s caliber, keep in mind that quite literally all of his value as a trade asset is confined to 2019 and only 2019. There is only so much value that a player can accrue in a single season.

The Diamondbacks parting ways with their franchise cornerstone would likely usher in a rebuild in Arizona, so they would probably be eying a prospect-centric return for Goldschmidt. Conveniently enough for our purposes, VEB overlord emeritus Craig Edwards recently published a series of outstanding articles taking a closer look at the way the industry values relatively unproven commodities in prospects. I highly recommend you read the hyperlinks in the previous sentence, but know that Craig tinkered with the value assigned to positing player and pitcher prospects in accordance with their rating on the conventional 20-80 scouting scale. As different sources have different evaluations of prospects, I averaged the surplus value figures based on FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline, and John Sickels’ Minor League Ball scouting reports. A few caveats before we get to the actual numbers:

  • FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline posted midseason updates to their prospect reports, so I made the executive decision to slightly alter Minor League Ball’s preseason ratings if FanGraphs listed a prospect’s stock as trending up or down.
  • Speaking of Minor League Ball, John Sickels employs a letter grade system as opposed to 20-80 scores. For those surplus value numbers, I deferred to this study by former VEB writer Ben Markham.
  • For the sake of consistency, I multiplied all values in the table below by 10/9 to account for the fact that I am estimating the cost of a win at $10 million rather than $9 million as Craig and Ben did at the time their respective articles were written.
  • Since MLB Pipeline no longer features any scouting reports for Carson Kelly and Nolan Gorman had yet to be drafted when Minor League Ball’s grades were released in March, those spots are denoted as N/A and omitted from the averages.

Cardinals Aggregate Prospect Surplus Values

Player FanGraphs MLB.com Minor League Ball Average Surplus Value
Player FanGraphs MLB.com Minor League Ball Average Surplus Value
Nolan Gorman 31.1 51.1 N/A 41.1
Carson Kelly 31.1 N/A 27.1 29.1
Andrew Knizner 31.1 31.1 20.8 27.7
Dakota Hudson 4.4 37.8 17.0 19.7
Randy Arozarena 2.2 31.1 16.0 16.4
Elehuris Montero 4.4 31.1 5.6 13.7
Ryan Helsley 3.3 23.3 11.1 12.6
Adolis Garcia 2.2 2.2 20.8 8.4
Dylan Carlson 6.7 6.7 5.6 6.3
Edmundo Sosa 2.2 6.7 5.6 4.8

If the magic number we’re trying to reach is $33 million, there are a variety of avenues one could take to assemble a suitable package. Even within this table we see significant deviation regarding prospect valuations, so the Diamondbacks–and every MLB front office–will inevitably value certain prospects more or less than these aggregated numbers. Nolan Gorman’s $41.1 million surplus value seems a bit ambitious, but any one of him, Carson Kelly, or Andrew Knizner could serve as the centerpiece of a Goldschmidt deal without the Cardinals needing to add much more.

What remains to be seen is what the Cardinals and Diamondbacks would prefer in terms of how that $33 million surplus value is achieved. For example, does more consolidated value through Carson Kelly plus prospect fodder move the needle any more than, say, Dakota Hudson, Adolis Garcia, and a C+ prospect?

If St. Louis’ currency of choice is to spend in prospect capital over free agent dollars, a trade for Goldschmidt fits the bill as an overnight corner infield upgrade that also allows Jedd Gyorko to slide into a utility role. Since 2013, Goldschmidt trails only Donaldson and Mike Trout atop the bWAR and fWAR leaderboards. How far are you willing to go for Goldschmidt as he enters his walk year?