Happy Saturday, Viva El Birdos!
I have a short one for you today, but it will at least give you something to talk about on a quiet December Saturday.
In his chat on Monday, Derrick Goold opined that the Cardinals plan to approach veteran first baseman Paul Goldschmidt about a contract extension at some point this offseason.
Goldschmidt signed a 5-year, $130M extension in March of 2019 after he was traded to the club that offseason from the Diamondbacks. His deal paid him a base salary of $22M annually with an additional signing bonus doled out in regular installments. (Including $2.25M in January and July of this season.)
Goldy won the National League MVP award in 2022 with a career-best 176 wRC+ and 7.0 fWAR. He’s a multi-time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner.
Last season his counting stats dipped due to a decline in power. His ISO was .179, about 50 points lower than his career. His wRC+ was down to 122, 20 points below his career averages. Still, Goldy was worth 3.7 fWAR, a disappointing total in light of ’23, but that’s still a very productive outcome for a 35-year-old.
Should we expect Goldy’s decline to continue? Yes and no.
Sometimes when a player “declines” it’s because their ceiling was so incredibly high that all they could do was drop.
In Goldy’s MVP season, his actual wOBA – weighted on-base average, a cumulative offensive stat – was .419. Incredible stuff. Pujolsian. That same season, though, his expected xwOBA, the wOBA he should have had based on his batted ball events, was just .367.
That’s a tried-and-true method for winning the MVP. MVP seasons happen when a high-performing player has a higher-than-normal amount of luck. It’s also why there aren’t that many repeat MVP winners. Luck is a fickle master.
Do you know what Goldschmidt’s xwOBA was in 2023? .367. The same as last year. This year his luck turned. His actual wOBA was just .350.
Goldschmidt was better than he should have been in 2022. By a lot. In 2023, he was worse than he should have been. By a little.
There’s his decline. We saw it and felt it, on the back of his baseball card and in the standings. But there was little significant difference in the way he hit the baseball.
Almost nothing about Goldschmidt’s offensive profile changed between his 2022 and his 2023 season. Some examples:
* Exit velocity – his average exit velocity increased by 0.5 mph from ’22 to ’23. That’s pretty meaningless and only a positive.
* Max exit velocity – 112.3 to 111.7. Virtually the same.
* Barrel % - 11.6% in ’22 and 12.0 in ’23. Virtually the same.
* His K% and BB% were all within his normal margins of variance.
The one notable thing that did change for Goldy was his launch angle. In ’21 and ’22, Goldy produced some of the best loft of his career at 17.1 degrees and 15.7 degrees respectively. Last year, that fell to 12.8 degrees. That figure is above his career averages but lower than his high-performance history.
His ball dropped. His power waned. That would impact his xwOBA. Except he hit the ball a bit harder overall and had a slightly better barrel rate, essentially negating the drop in loft. The result? An identical xwOBA in two straight seasons. Completely different counting stats.
It’s also a problem that Goldschmidt, ever aware of his swing mechanics and analytical response, is working to resolve. Goldschmidt has hit the independent hitting laboratories this winter to work on rediscovering his lost loft.
I know that Cardinals fans are a bit jaded about giving early extensions to corner-infield hitters. The Matt Carpenter experience is too fresh in our minds. We know, though, that Carpenter’s hitting decline was driven somewhat by his stubborn refusal to adapt to his aging body and playing environment. It took a season or two of scuffling for him to start listening to what the Cardinals’ hitting coaches and analytics departments had tried to tell him.
Carpenter had a strong work ethic. He just directed it, for a time, in the wrong areas. When his consistently poor performance caused him to finally wise up, he had a brief resurgence before age finally did him in completely. What could he have done at the end of his career if he had been more like Goldy? Listening to the right people and pursuing the right solutions?
Plus, Matt Carpenter, as good a hitter as he was, is simply not Paul Goldschmidt. Few hitters are. Goldschmidt is the best pure hitter the Cardinals have had since Albert Pujols. He is entering his age-36 season with 57.4 fWAR already produced.
That’s 25 fWAR higher than Matt Carpenter.
It’s 8 fWAR better than Matt Holliday.
It’s just about even with Keith Hernandez.
Goldschmidt is not the kind of player who will just fall off a cliff as he exits his mid-30s. He has the pure hitting talent to stick around for a few more years.
And the club has the motivation to let him.
At 57.4 fWAR and an MVP under his belt, Goldschmidt is already a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Fans have debated Hernandez’s candidacy for decades. It’s too bad he didn’t play for a few more years and settle that debate.
They should give Goldy the chance. Let’s say the Cardinals give Goldschmidt a 2-year extension on top of his current contract with a 1-year team option. That would guarantee Goldy his age 36 season on his current deal and add age 37 and 38. Then they could decide on his age-39 year.
What could he add to his Hall of Fame resume?
Well, he produced 3.7 fWAR last year with no decline in his peripheral stats. We don’t need to assume improvement, though I would guess he and the Cardinals are counting on a bit more elevation in his swing and a corresponding power increase. Let’s project that next year is a repeat of this year except he, as folks his age do, gets a bit more time at DH and misses more games to rest his elderly back.
2024 – 3.5 fWAR.
Now just step down in production. Goldy is likely to face a few more injuries. A few more swing problems. A few more days at DH.
2025 – 2.5 fWAR
2026 – 2.0 fWAR
That’s good enough to pick up his team option. In his final year, he doesn’t go Pujols. But he doesn’t go Molina either. He’s primarily a DH and part-time starter at 1b.
2027 – 1.0 fWAR
Career fWAR at age 39 – 66.4 fWAR
That’s solid Hall of Famer territory. It puts him just below Miguel Cabrera and Willie McCovey and ahead of Killebrew and Ernie Banks. He would be .1 of a point ahead of Mark McGwire, with no steroids needed.
No one is debating the Hall of Fame candidacy of those players. They shouldn’t debate Goldschmidt’s either.
That brings me back to my question. Should the Cardinals extend Paul Goldschmidt? Here are my arguments:
Consistent production: They can expect a decline just because of age but don’t have any reason to believe that Goldschmidt is on the edge of a production cliff. He’s as good a bet as any to be a productive player into his late 30s.
Good cost vs. production value: Signing an extension now pretty much guarantees that Goldy won’t be able to significantly increase his annual cost. Most likely a contract would just continue giving him what he’s currently earning, likely with deferrals included. Last year, Godly was worth $29.3M. He was a net financial positive for the club. He only has to reach about 2-2.5 fWAR annually to reach a neutral cost vs. production analysis. He’ll do enough to make it close.
Future value: The Cardinals are a few seasons of health and production away from having another Hall of Famer to plaster on Busch Stadium’s outfield wall. That’s another historic star who will come back year after year to wave at crowds, ride convertibles, and show up at marketing events. Few teams make better use of their former stars than the Cardinals. It’s a culture and money thing for them. They won’t let one get away if they can avoid it. (And no, it doesn’t matter what hat he ends up wearing in Cooperstown. The Cardinals will treat him as their own regardless and willingly share him with the D-Backs.)
Add it up and it’s a relatively easy decision for me. There’s no reason to let Goldschmidt reach free agency. There’s no reason to risk him having another 5-6 fWAR season that could earn him $30M at the end of the season. There is always a risk of injury, but he’s not a pitcher. Most first baseman injuries are relatively short-term.
The Cardinals should extend Paul Goldschmidt this winter.
That’s my take. What say you?
Enjoy your weekend, Viva El Birdos.