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St. Louis may have stolen Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona, but he’s going to want his money

Hall of Famer and former New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson created a lot of buzz this week when he pointed out that St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is the “steal” of Major League Baseball.

He’s not wrong. Goldschmidt is an awesome talent in the top five percent of sluggers in the game. By comparison to other players near his ability level, the former Arizona Diamondbacks franchise player makes about half of his market value. That’s great for the Redbirds in 2019. But is it going to be a problem for the St. Louis front office in 2020 and beyond?

In short, Goldschmidt has a lot of lost time and dollars to make up for in his next contract. It’s not usually the Cardinals Way to overpay for an aging premium player’s decline years. Yet, by trading for Goldie, that’s the situation they’ve put themselves in. Goldschmidt isn’t likely going to be willing to take less money or fewer years than he can get because he was so underpaid in the past — and this is probably going to be his last bite at the apple when it comes to big league paydays.

Three times in his career, the first baseman has finished in the top three for the National League MVP Award, he finished sixth once and 11th another time. He’s averaged 33 homers a season and hit .297 but over the past six years he has made $46.5 million. But Manny Machado is going to make $60 million in only the first two years of his 10-year, $300-million contract with the San Diego Padres. The way it’s structured, Bryce Harper will make $56 million in the first two years of his contract with the Philadelphia Phillies while the total pact is worth $330 million over 13 seasons.

Goldschmidt isn’t going to get 13, 10 or even eight years when he signs a new contract. But I could see the 31-year-old perennial All-Star asking for six seasons at $30 million a year. I know I would if I was in his position. Will that be beyond John Mozeliak’s oft-referenced puke point? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was. After all, the Cardinals are apparently still chapped over their decision to give Dexter Fowler a five-year contract when he was pretty close to Goldschmidt’s age. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s been a disaster beyond year one. Plus they’re still feeling the financial consequences of a similar ill-advised deal with pitcher Mike Leake who St. Louis is subsidizing to play for the Seattle Mariners. The Cardinals could counter such a proposal with an offer of five years. But if I am in the player’s shoes with the leverage he has, I think I’d be tempted to dig in my heels and hold on for one more big nest egg. Why wouldn’t you?

I don’t see how the Birds can opt not to re-sign Goldschmidt at whatever price it takes. And he probably knows that. The didn’t pay a lot for him in trade. But it needs Goldschmidt because it’s refusal to bid on top free agents and the disappointment in how the Marcell Ozuna trade has worked so far makes it pretty apparent making a trade is the only way this club is going to add star power to the roster. If the mission is to build from within, you can’t keep giving away three prospects every year to rent a player.