Now that the St. Louis Cardinals have landed slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, what’s it going to take to keep him?
The Arizona Diamondbacks said they tried unsuccessfully to sign Goldschmidt before reluctantly making the decision to trade him. So, it would seem to be pretty clear that the six-time All-Star who will be paid $14.5 million in the last year of an extremely team-friendly contract isn’t willing to play for another discount.
I imagine he’ll be anxiously watching to see what free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado get to figure out what his rate is going to be although it’s likely that, because the current two free agents are five years younger than Goldschmidt, the length of his deal will be shorter. Harper and Machado are expected to get 10-12 years. Goldschmidt will likely ask for at least six years, which would take him through his age-37 season.
What would that contract look like?
If I was the general manager of the Redbirds, I’d try to front load a deal for two reasons: First to avoid paying an over-the-hill player too much at the end of his contract and, second, to take advantage of the fact that St. Louis is saving a lot of money in other places right now because of the youthful nature of its roster. While starting pitchers Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas and shortstop Paul DeJong are working on team-friendly deals, the Birds are really making a killing in that Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber and Harrison Bader are making at or near the league minimum.
If the Birds back up the bank truck and pay Goldschmidt $40 million in 2020 and 2021 and then pay him $35 million in the third year, the Cardinals can allocate their payroll in a way that takes advantage of the cheap pitching and supporting cast in the early days and limit how much they’ll commit to an aging player on the back end. They could pay Goldschmidt $25 in the fourth year and $20 million in the fifth and sixth seasons to come to $180 million over six years, a $30 million average.
How can they afford to pay so much to one player?
People can say “no one is worth that kind of money” as much as they want. But the fact of the matter is that revenue in Major League Baseball is through the roof and the players know it. Because of soaring local television contracts and a massive national TV pact, revenue is at an all-time high. According to Forbes Magazine, seven major league players started the 2018 season with a contract that averaged more than $28 million a year and while a total of 41 made $20 million or more per year on average. Those numbers are only going to go up as Harper and Machado join the group this year and, after next year, Mike Trout and Goldschmidt join the ranks. It’s not a matter of if Goldschmidt will get the money, it’s a matter of who will give it to him.
The Cardinals will see some payroll flexibility created as Yadier Molina’s $20 million is replaced by Andrew Knizner’s league minimum contract. They’ll save $13 million on Jedd Gyorko’s expiring pact and, about $8 million if they replace Michael Wacha with one of their young prospects, and $14.5 million a year wasted on Dexter Fowler two years into the proposed Goldschmidt deal. While I would like to see the club hang onto left fielder Marcell Ozuna, the team could save some money on his spot after 2019, too. In addition to saving some money, the Birds are going to have to expand their payroll to remain competitive. Last year was the team’s high water mark at $159.7 million. But St. Louis is going to have to edge up closer to $180 million to maintain a decent and consistent chance to win. You can’t keep up with teams willing to break the luxury tax limit if you’re spending $40-$50 million less than that mark.
The front office has insisted that it’s willing to pay the price for the right player and almost committed itself to paying Giancarlo Stanton nearly $300 million this time last year. Goldschmidt is a player the Cardinals have been interested in for years. Now they have him. If he isn’t the player the team is willing to pay a team record contract for, I don’t know who that player would be.
Goldschmidt is a top 10 hitter in baseball whose numbers are ridiculously good against the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. He’s a sharp defender, a leader and a great personality who could help market the club and sell tickets. I hope this isn’t just a one-season stand.