There are a variety of different ideas on how to build a winning baseball team in this day and age. You can go the full Astro (or the full Cub, if you’re less Cardinal-minded) and tank earnestly until your team is made up of young superstars. You can spend lots and lots of money on free agent pieces to supplement homegrown talent. You can also do what we’ve come to expect from the Cardinals – raise the floor with the knowledge that (A) your chances of getting into the playoffs are better than not (B) the playoffs are inherently a crap shoot.
Essentially, though, what these all boil down to is this: good teams are made of good players, and however you acquire them is, well, good. The easiest way to do so is by identifying and wooing them with large piles of cash via free agency, and the numbers show that it pays off. Heading into the final year of the decade, seven of the nine World Series Champions since 2010 have had payrolls in the Top 10 of the MLB. It’s not always as simple as, “spend, spend, “spend,” but there’s no doubt that paying for quality is good for business – at least, when you’re in the business of winning.
This weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals, whose payroll consistently hovers around the lower half of the Top 10 payrolls (if not on the outside), took a step they’ve only taken once in the past decade, signing a very good player to a “long”-term extension for a lot of money. It’s not as if the Cardinals have been averse to offering these deals in the past (see: David Price, Jason Heyward, or even Albert Pujols), but there’s also been a sneaking feeling that the front office hasn’t been willing to do what it takes to sign top-tier players for top-tier money. Like it or not, the Paul Goldschmidt extension will vault him up into that category, as he will be paid not at a Top 10 level, but closer to a Top 15 level player.
So how do we evaluate whether or not this deal is good for the Cardinals? John summed it up pretty well when he called the extension, “fine.” Goldschmidt is certainly not being overpaid at the moment, but he may be toward contract’s end. In fact, he may even be underpaid if he maintains his current level of production for another two or three years.
Maybe there’s a way to see this extension, however, as more than just dollars and cents. It seems unlikely Goldschmidt will turn into an albatross, but it also seems unlikely he’ll continue to be an MVP-level player well into his mid-30’s. Calculating and predicting surplus value is a gamble, especially before the slugger has taken his first regular season swings in the birds on the bat. And, frankly, it doesn’t seem all that useful at this point. The deal is done, and so with it any outcomes that may follow.
It seems coincidental, however, that the Cardinals bet on an aging star the same week it was confirmed they always had one. Yadier Molina’s value has always been a point of contention for baseball scribes and Cardinals vs. The World fan groups. FanGraph’s new framing data was able to bring some of that conversation out of the stratosphere and down to earth.
However, it still seems Molina’s value – if only to the Cardinals organization – is still being underappreciated. We may be talking about strictly off-the-field concerns here, but Molina has been the rock on which this franchise has stood since the mid-naughts. It’s hard to put into words what he means to the Cardinals because he means so much. Aside from the higlights and the pickoffs and the bench-clearing brawls, Molina is also a dedicated student and teacher of the game, as well as a champion for the city in which he lives. That value may not show up on a baseball card or a web page, but it does exist, if only for the organization which employs him and the colleagues and friends with whom he plays.
So maybe there’s a way to look at the Paul Goldschmidt extension as a doubling down on incalculable value. In a joint podcast late last week, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold and Fox Sports Midwest broadcaster Dan McLaughlin discussed Goldschmidt’s spring. Goold recounted how Goldschmidt has become close with several teammates and brought up a conversation with the first baseman where he discussed wanting his children to grow up around his teammates. There was even some mention of a Mike Shildt approved bouncy house.
However, it was when Goold discussed Goldschmidt’s interactions with more periphery teammates that stood out. He discussed how the new $26 million dollar man works with relievers who barely know him, or lifts up minor leaguers who are struggling in camp, knowing they are likely years away from receiving a paycheck that provides them with livable wages. Maybe it’s romanticizing Goldschmidt’s extremely brief time as a Cardinal, but those players are hard to come by, especially when they’re as good him.
So yes, there is a very necessary and fascinating place for evaluating Paul Goldschmidt’s extension on its figures and the on-field results that follow. A swift fall in his numbers wouldn’t be saved by any good-hearted sentiment or pictures of his kids running around in the shadow of the Arch.
But maybe there’s also a place to look at this extension as an opportunity for something more, something we’ve only recently seen from the longest-tenured catcher in the majors. Surplus value can be created on the field of play and the practice lots. It sure seems like Paul Goldschmidt is the type of player who could have it both ways.