Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’re probably aware that the Cards have had some discussions with the Dbacks about trading for Paul Goldschmidt. On its face, it sounds like a great idea. Goldschmidt is a legit middle of the order star, an MVP candidate, who’s been worth 5+ fWAR 4 years in a row, and combined for more than 10 fWAR the 2 years prior to that. He would instantly make the Cardinals considerably better.
Despite Goldschmidt’s greatness, I was initially ambivalent about trading for him. He is, after all, a guy who’ll be playing his age-32 season next season and is only under contract for the 2019 season and is restricted to being a first baseman. It seems like a trade for Goldschmidt would be something of a plan B in case the team is unable to sign Bryce Harper and so the idea would be to try to sign Goldschmidt to a long-term contract once he’s wearing the Birds on the Bat. Still, I wonder if we really want to sign a first baseman to a 5 or 6 year contract that will begin in his age-33 season. I’m not sure. Albert Pujols was actually a year younger than Goldschmidt will be when he began his 1st season with the Angels and we all know how that contract has turned out. As good as Goldschmidt is, the prospect of signing him to a long-term deal just doesn’t strike me as all that great an idea.
The other thing about trading for Goldschmidt is that, though he fits a position of need in the batting order, he doesn’t fit a position of need defensively. It’s true that the team can shift Matt Carpenter back to third base but I’m just not convinced that’s a very good idea. He’s a much better first baseman than third baseman and I’m afraid that moving him back to the hot corner would be giving back some of the gains we would make by installing Goldschmidt in the middle of the order.
The obvious benefit of trading for Goldschmidt is that the team would be getting a legit 5 WAR player for the middle of the order and, since he’s a free agent at the end of the season, we wouldn’t have to give up all that much to get him. To be sure, we would have to give up some value, but trading for even great players under contract for just 1 season isn’t going to cost the team the farm. Goldschmidt is under contract for $14.5 million for 2019. If he was a free agent and signed a 1 year contract, he would probably sign for something in the $30-35 million range. (No, I’m not saying that he will receive that much in AAV on his long-term deal, but would probably get that much on a 1 year deal.) That means that any team that acquires Goldschmidt is getting a great player, but still one with just about $20 million or so in surplus value. That’s worth something but much less even than what the Cardinals gave up for Marcell Ozuna a year ago.
I would think that a good offer from the Cardinals would be something like Tyler O’Neill and Carson Kelly. Maybe the Dbacks would be interested in pitching and would prefer, say, Dakota Hudson to O’Neill but I would think that’s about what it should cost us. Good young players with some talent and long-term control but nothing like, say, Jack Flaherty. About a week ago when first thinking about this potential trade I posted a Twitter poll asking if the Cardinals should trade O’Neill for Goldschmidt without any ability to negotiate a long-term deal with Goldschmidt prior to completing the trade. I found the results extremely interesting – 52% said yes, 48% said no.
Though I’m ambivalent about trading for Goldschmidt for the reasons mentioned earlier, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s worth O’Neill and probably a little more. As I’ve written before, I’m an O’Neill fan but I don’t really get the idea that the organization is. 40% strikeout rates will do that. Even if I’m wrong or even if O’Neill is able to reduce his strikeout rate to 30-33%, that many strikeouts probably limits his ceiling to 2.5 – 3 WAR per season. Now, those guys are valuable, particularly when making the league minimum, but it’s also not that hard to find corner outfielders who can give you 2.5 – 3 WAR. MLB.com’s Mike Petriello called opposition to trading O’Neill for Goldschmidt “insane.” I tend to agree. The Cardinals could probably get 2.5 WAR out of RF by signing Marwin Gonzalez and mixing him with Dexter Fowler, Adolis Garcia, Lane Thomas, and Yairo Munoz.
If Goldschmidt is a 5-win player then he displaces Jedd Gyorko and that’s probably about a 3-win improvement. Considering the team missed the playoffs by just a game last season, those would be 3 important wins but, of course, it’s not that simple. Moving Carpenter across the diamond probably costs the team half a win or so because of the defensive downgrade so the addition of Goldschmidt is realistically probably worth 2 – 2.5 wins to the team. Those are still important wins which makes this a deal definitely worth considering but if the team ends up trading O’Neill for Goldschmidt it does probably create another hole in RF.
We could sign a free agent like Gonzalez, Michael Brantley, or Andrew McCutchen to play RF. Each of those guys has their flaws. When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Josh Donaldson being a plan B to Harper I suggested that the team could also trade for a left-handed hitter to play RF as well. The team has been quite open about wanting to add a lefty to the lineup to balance it out a little more and Goldschmidt, like Donaldson, makes the lineup extremely right-handed. Every hitter between Carpenter in the leadoff spot and Kolten Wong in the 8-hole would be right-handed unless the team has got Fowler in right field and I seriously doubt the team wants to count on him every day.
What if the team expanded the Goldschmidt deal to also include David Peralta? Peralta is a guy I mentioned in the Donaldson piece that I like a lot. He’s left-handed, hits for power, plays corner outfield and is solidly a 3 – 3.5 WAR player. He’s very good and will be a free agent in 2 years. It’s doubtful that the Dbacks, who appear to be wanting to restructure their team by trading for younger guys, would be planning on extending a Peralta once he’s a free agent. They would surely consider trading him.
Obviously that means the Cards would have to give more up but maybe now we’re talking about O’Neill, Hudson, Kelly, and another smaller piece. That’s a trade I’d do. Adding Goldschmidt and Peralta probably adds 3.5 – 4 WAR to the Cards’ total next year and would surely put the team in the position of being a favorite for a playoff spot. But I’m still not sold on the idea of signing Goldschmidt long-term.
Does Goldschmidt have to be a plan B in the event the team can’t sign Harper long-term? In other words, why can’t the Cardinals trade for Goldschmidt AND sign Harper? They could then keep Goldschmidt just for 2019 and allow him to become a free agent at the end of the season. Adding Harper and Goldschmidt is probably worth 5 – 6 wins next year and, once the bullpen gets fixed, puts the team as a legitimate contender for the NL Central title next season. Plus, the trade for Goldschmidt may help entice Harper into signing with the Cardinals if he questions the Cardinals’ ability to get into the playoffs and contend for a title. I like that idea a lot. That would be worth having Matt Carpenter play 3B for a season.
Imagine a lineup with Carpenter at the top and Goldschmidt, Harper, and Ozuna in the middle. This lineup would truly become one of the best, if not THE best, in the National League. And this doesn’t strike me as a “pie in the sky,” fantasy baseball suggestion. The Cardinals have already been connected to the Dbacks in discussions about a trade for Goldschmidt. Additionally, as I’ve noted before, I see no reason why the Cardinals aren’t positioned as well or better than anyone else to sign Harper. Adding one wouldn’t in any way preclude adding the other since they don’t play the same position and adding one wouldn’t require any resources that would be used to add the other. This is unlikely, but it’s doable.
So that’s it. Let’s sign trade for Goldschmidt and sign Harper and then not worry about signing Goldschmidt to any long-term deal. If we’re unable to sign Harper, we can expand the Goldschmidt deal to include Peralta.
Thanks to @cardinalsgifs for the great cover art and thanks to all of you for reading.