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Good as Gold

There’s some risk, but the Goldschmidt extension finally gives the Cardinals the long-term star they’ve craved.

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As Ken Rosenthal reported last night and Derrick Goold expounded upon, the Cardinals and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt are finalizing details on a five year contract extension for $130 million. The extension begins at the end of this season, running from 2020 through 2024. It’s a pivotal move, one that should reward both the Cardinals and Goldschmidt handsomely.

Earning the Deal

Let’s take a look at what Goldschmidt will need to do to earn the deal first. Estimates for the cost of a win this off-season are approximately $9M to $9.5M. For Goldschmidt to supply $130M of value, he’ll need to produce between 13.7 wins (at $9.5M/win) and 14.4 wins (at $9M/win) from 2020 through 2024.

In every three year period since 2013, he has surpassed 15 wins. And those are three year groups, not the five that he’ll get to amass the value required. Of course, it’s not that simple. He’s older now and this contract will pay him for his age 32 through 36 seasons.

We can do the simple “subtract half a win per year” process since he’s in his 30s. Here’s how that looks with two different starting places. One is his 2019 ZIPS projection as the baseline, and the other uses his 2018 season as his baseline and then subtracting half a win each subsequent year.

Paul Goldschmidt, Projected fWAR 2019-2024

Year Proj. fWAR, ZIPS 2018 Baseline
Year Proj. fWAR, ZIPS 2018 Baseline
2019 3.9 4.6
2020 3.4 4.1
2021 2.9 3.6
2022 2.4 3.1
2023 1.9 2.6
2024 1.4 2.1
2020-2024 12 15.5

Using the ZIPS version, he’s worth $108-114M. If we use his actual 2018 as his baseline, it’s $139.5-147.25M. One of those is more palatable than the other, but neither outcome will destroy your roster and the risk of the lower version is well worth it considering the potential upside.

Bucking Trends

Most curious about this deal is how much it bucks current market trends. Fewer teams are spending big on first base. The two largest contracts awarded at the position over the last few free agent cycles:

  • 2019: Daniel Murphy, 2 years/$24M, and Steve Pearce, 1/$6.25M
  • 2018: Eric Hosmer, 8 years/$144M, and Carlos Santana, 3/$60M
  • 2017: Ian Desmond, 5/$70M, and Edwin Encarnacion, 3/$60M
  • 2016: Chris Davis, 7/$161M, and Byung Ho Park, 4/$12M

Over the last four years, there are just two (Hosmer and Crush Davis) that are comparable to Goldschmidt’s extension. Given how many of those deals above have turned out, it’s easy to see why teams are hesitant to give long contracts to first basemen. Then again, none of the players on that list were as productive in the preceding years as Goldschmidt, nor were any of them as consistent.

Part of the reason for that trend is teams realize that first base represents the end of the defensive spectrum. Once a player gets to first base, the only place for him to play if he diminishes with age is usually DH. It’s much more true for the large types who lack mobility and general athleticism. Think Mo Vaughn or Prince Fielder. Goldschmidt, who runs the bases and fields his position well, doesn’t fit the immobile archetype. Even if he diminishes at a typical rate, he’s starting off from a better place than most first basemen.

Bucking another market trend, fewer and fewer 30+ year old players are receiving contracts of this length. As Jay Jaffe points out at Fangraphs, only eight players over 30 have gotten a contract for longer than two years over the last two seasons. Again, we can look at the type of players who have hit free agency to understand this outlier. Goldschmidt has 16 bWAR over the last three seasons. In the last five seasons, only one 30+ year old position player with a three-year bWAR over 14 has hit free agency. And that player- Lorenzo Cain- also received a five year deal, albeit at a lower AAV. There aren’t many players Goldschmidt’s age to sign long-term deals, but there also aren’t many players performing like Goldschmidt.

A Consistent Masher

Compounding the age concern is the report early last season that Goldschmidt was struggling with high octane fastballs up in the zone, seen as a sign of aging. It’s an understatement to say he corrected the issue.

Paul Goldschmidt, 95+ MPH, Top Third of Strike Zone

Year Whiff Rate wOBA
Year Whiff Rate wOBA
2015 15.00% 0.400
2016 24.44% 0.215
2017 22.54% 0.184
April/May 2018 26.32% 0.147
June-Sept. 2018 8.33% 0.377

By mid-September, Mookie Betts was the only hitter in baseball with more hot zones in the strike zone than Goldschmidt.

If you’re going to make a commitment this big, you’d like to give it to a player with some consistency and reliability. Goldschmidt excels in this area. I’ll copy and paste from the Community Projection article about Goldschmidt a few weeks back:

In five of the last six seasons:

• Goldschmidt’s batting average has landed between .290 and .302. The one outlier was .321 in 2015.

• His on-base percentage has been between .389 and .411. The one outlier was .435, again in 2015.

• His slugging percentage has been .533 to .570. The outlier was .489 in 2016.

• Goldschmidt’s isolated slugging has landed between .241 and .265. The outlier was .192 in 2016.

• He’s had between 665 and 710 plate appearances (outlier: 479 in 2014).

As I said then, Paul Goldschmidt is a baseball-mashing robot.

Finding their Star

One of the more subtle benefits of this extension is the message it delivers. It shows fans that the Cardinals aren’t totally averse to large dollar commitments. It also puts a second face on the franchise beyond Yadier Molina, one that will likely outlast Molina on the roster. Most importantly, it gives the Cardinals a greater shot at having star-quality production in the lineup for at least the foreseeable future. It’s the first time they’ve had a player this caliber in quite some time.

It also represents a positive return to their roots. Folks like to bring up the long history of Cardinal trade-and-signs. You know the list- Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Matt Holliday. Then it backfired with Jason Heyward and suddenly everyone was questioning if the Cardinals could still leverage the city and franchise in the same way. Extending a player like Goldschmidt shows that this type of deal can still happen, even if it sometimes requires highly specific conditions.

Risk or not, the Cardinals have made themselves better next year and beyond, and they’ve done so by paying over market value for a premium player. It’s a good day in St. Louis and it’s a good day for Paul Goldschmidt.