The Cardinals are not trading Paul Goldschmidt. You know this, I know this, everybody knows this. People who are speculating about Goldschmidt being traded know this. I don’t even think he’d be traded if he were an impending free agent, but at least that would be a possibility. But the fact that he’s signed for 2024 pretty much guarantees he’s not being traded.
When one considers whether or not to trade an All-Star caliber player, one of two things must be true. You might trade him because the trade return genuinely improves your team in the future, or at least shifts the talent of your team from an area of surplus to an area of need. Essentially, if Goldschmidt were to return a starting pitcher of Goldy’s caliber, it would make sense to trade him. The other possibility is that you don’t think the All-Star caliber player will be a part of the next playoff caliber team.
In this writer’s opinion, neither situation applies to the Cardinals. Neither situation comes close to applying to the Cardinals. The Cardinals at least believe that they will be a playoff caliber team in 2024. Which means that a potential trade must somehow transfer the surplus of 1B/OF into a SP. Except Goldschmidt isn’t returning an All-Star starting pitcher in 2024.
You know how I know this? Because starting pitchers aren’t a surplus, no matter how many you have. Nobody is giving up someone you can reasonably expect to duplicate Goldschmidt’s value in 2024 who is a starting pitcher. The equivalent of Goldschmidt in the rotation will be needed for the playoffs this year.
But for the sake of argument, what is Goldschmidt’s value on the trade market exactly? He has a rest of season projection of 2.1 WAR, which would put him in line to finish with 4.8 fWAR, although I don’t know if his game yesterday improved his rest of season projection. His projection prior to this season was 4.4 WAR, so he’s in line to surpass that, which makes me think his current 2024 ZiPS projection of 3.1 WAR can reasonably be expected to improve at this moment. That 2024 number has been calculated with zero input from his 2023 season. Let’s say 3.3 WAR. So he’s projected for 5.4 WAR over the next two seasons.
Except not really. If the Cardinals actually traded Goldschmidt, it’d be as close to the deadline as possible. As a team who never wants to rebuild, they will wait until the last possible moment to blow it up. The Cardinals are actually off on July 31st, and there are 28 games until then. That takes away 0.7 of Goldschmidt’s WAR this year. So really, his on field value is 4.7 WAR at the time he would be traded.
How about his salary in that time? He’ll be on his new team for approximately 62 days, which would be $8.6 million of salary. Throw in his $26 million salary for next season and that’s $34.6 million. If Goldschmidt finishes the 2024 season with 3.3 WAR, he will get the qualifying offer. The rules are somewhat complicated, but it is exceedingly likely a team trading for him will get a pick after Competitive Balance Round B, which for 2023 anyway, means the pick is going to come between 68 and 70. If a team exceeds the luxury tax, they’re only getting a pick after the 4th round. But we’ll stick with the 68th pick and say that’s an additional $4 million.
We’ll say it’s $10 million per win, which I think is a bit high, but these are also deadline prices, so it should be an inflated price anyway. I can’t find any articles detailing how much the deadline inflates the cost, so let’s just say it’s a 10% markup. So that’s $47 million plus $4 million in probable QO plus an additional $5.1 million from the 10%. So Goldschmidt’s value is $21.5 million. ($56.1 million - $34.6 million)
So my numbers are not exactly accurate, but I have included the QO value, went with what I think is a high cost per win, and given a 10% playoff price, and even with all that, Goldschmidt’s surplus value will net a back-end top 100 prospect according to this. That’s it. A prospect who is somewhere between the 75th and 100th ranked prospect. You may get a throw in if the prospect is closer to 100, but a prospect 90th or better, is fair value straight up. This is what we’re trading Paul Goldschmidt for guys?
Now you may argue “well we don’t need to trade him for a prospect” which is true. I just don’t know if a team will trade for Paul Goldschmidt with the intention of making the playoffs who has a spare starting pitcher who will help the Cardinals in 2024 with similar value to Goldschmidt. There’s definitely a situation where they can get a starter, but would it be their first or second best starter? Third? And how many years of control do they have?
Now maybe I could scour the competing teams and search some implausible, but theoretically possible player who somehow is expendable, but since this trade has a near zero percent chance of happening, it’d honestly just be a waste of my time. As I said before, it’s either a not all that enticing prospect who is unlikely to be as good as Goldschmidt or it’s a 4th or 5th starter type with years of control beyond 2023. Neither seem worth punting on 2024 to me.
Well, I just spent nearly 1,000 words talking about something that will never come to pass, so let’s pivot to something that feels like it might actually happen: a Goldschmidt extension. Now, this isn’t something that is going to happen during this season, but spring training of next year seems probable if it happens.
Now personally, I don’t think I’d give an extension before his contract is up. With the glut of 1B/OF/DH players, you’d want to make sure that Goldschmidt is still Goldschmidt if they’re going to re-sign him. You don’t want to extend Goldschmidt, for him to have a not very good 2024, and then you’re in a tough spot. But this has not stopped the Cardinals in the past, so I don’t think it will in spring training 2024.
So age 37 must be the time when, historically speaking, sluggers collapse. Because his 2025 projection sort of drops off a cliff. He goes from 3.1 WAR to 1.9 WAR. This is partially plate appearance-related. His projection foresaw 616 PAs this year, drop to 566 next year, and 502 in 2025. ZiPS rest of season projection has him finishing with 674 PAs, so good chance both PA totals increase if that becomes reality.
And then there’s the aforementioned - as of now - increase in expected production. I improved his 2024 projection from 3.1 to 3.3 based on his first half so far, which could go up or down depending on how the rest of this season goes. Let’s improve his 2025 projection to 2 WAR in 502 PAs, and also improve his PAs. Let’s just say... 540 PAs. He’s in line to beat his projected PAs by 50, and so I expect his 2024 to improve to close to 600, and then that’s how I got to 540. Now we’re at 2.2 WAR.
So you can kind of see why an extension is not exactly my preferred route. It’s better for aging players to have all the information instead of hoping a season goes well. That 2.2 can turn into 1.5 or worse very easily. It’s not super likely to work out for the team in the opposite way. Even with his consistency and his recent excellent performance, ZiPS still sees him as a 1.9 WAR player in two years. And that’s with his bat being currently elite!
So, if they extend him earlier than they need to, it would have to be for two years. That’s the one benefit of an extension before you need to. If he hits free agency and is still a good player, he’s probably getting three years. A three year deal for a will-be 37-year-old one year before you have to is phenomonally stupid, so I have to assume a spring training extension is a two-year deal. Maybe a vesting option for a third year.
I’m just going to have to guess what his age 38 season will be. He has a projected decline of 1.3 and 1.2 WAR, but I think part of that was how high he started, so I don’t think a continual 1 WAR decline is a reasonable estimate. Let’s say a 0.8 decline. So that would make him a projected 1.4 WAR player in 2026. In total, that’s 3.6 WAR over two years projected.
But there’s more! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Remember that qualified offer? Well that applies to the Cardinals too. They can and would offer him a qualified offer, and any extension should probably acknowledge that. As I mentioned above, the value of that pick received would probably be about $4 million in value. So I’m removing $4 million from the offer.
However, we theoretically actually want Goldschmidt to sign this, and we’re now venturing pretty close to the point where he just would accept the QO instead of signing this deal. So we’ll give him that vesting option for a third year. We need to make it high enough that if he reaches it, he’s still worth playing. Let’s say 550 PAs.
Actually, you know whose contract we will copy? And this is not a comparison that I love making, make no mistake. Matt Carpenter. He had a vesting option that required 1,100 plate appearances in 2020 and 2021 combined, plus 550 in 2021. If Goldschmidt reaches both of those figures, he’s somebody still worth playing in his vesting year. If he’s at a place where you want no part of that third year, he’s probably going to sit just enough to not have it vest anyway.
And besides, we aren’t even projecting him to finish with 550 in the first year of this deal. Okay this is where things get kind of confusing. So the trend with the ZiPs projections is a loss of about 50 PAs, then 60 and I assume it continues like that.. So I have him with 2.2 WAR in 540 PAs, and then 1.4 WAR in 480. We’ll say 2026 is 0.8 WAR in 400 PAs. But we need to account for the fact that, if his option manages to vest, he’s obviously worth more than this.
So here’s what I’ll do: I’ll use the same rate stat and instead assume he reaches 550 PAs. So that’s 1.6 WAR and 1.1 WAR. That’s 4.9 WAR over three years, or $49 million if you assume $10 million per win. We’ll remove the $4 million in value from the QO they could get without an extension and say $45 million. So here’s a potential extension:
2024: $15 million
2025: $15 million (vesting option guaranteed if he reaches 1,100 PAs in 2024-2025 combined, including 550 in 2025; $6 million buyout)
2026: $15 million
Since Jose Abreu got 3 years, $58.5 million - though that wildly surpassed expectations, Abreu is a year younger than Goldschmidt will be, and has so far been a huge flop - I don’t know that Goldschmidt would sign this. But it would work out for both sides if Goldschmidt wants to stay a Cardinal.
This does multiple things. For starters, Goldschmidt will be guaranteed exactly what at least I am assuming his projected performance and thus contract will be. So there’s no extension discount. There’s also a hefty buyout, incentivizing the Cardinals to take that third option year even if it doesn’t vest. This is why Goldschmidt might sign the deal.
The Cardinals might sign the deal because the risk isn’t that bad. If his option vests, it’d be hard to imagine him not being worth a $15 million gamble - really a $9 million gamble with the buyout. He’s a Hall of Famer and they become Hall of Famers by defying aging curves, which Goldschmidt has absolutely done so far. He will obviously age, but there’s also some reason to believe he can outplay his projections.
So would you take this extension as a Cardinal fan (assuming 2023 goes as well as the projections say)? Would the Cardinals? And would Goldschmidt?