Right now, Twitter is a bit abuzz with rumors of a Paul Goldschmidt deal being almost done for the Cardinals. (And, if you don’t believe that, which is completely fair and most likely the right thing to do, there are still reports of discussions between the two teams.) I wrote earlier about how prioritizing Goldschmidt over Bryce Harper didn’t make a lot of sense in my book and, if it is a binary decision, I’d still stand by that. Harper’s youth and ability trump a lot of what you can get from Goldschmidt. However, it seems more and more likely that this is not a “one or the other” but a solid possibility for both. Which would seem to be perfect for the Cardinals, a chance to win now while still leaving their options open for winning later.
If you’ve listened to either Meet Me at Musial or Gateway to Baseball Heaven, you’ve probably heard me talk about this, but with the Exit Interviews over I probably should be put some sort of content on this site. So let’s assume the Cardinals make the trade and sign the free agent. What does that mean for 2019 and the years after?
Obviously, for 2019, the Cardinals would be stacked. A lineup with Harper and Goldschmidt, plus Matt Carpenter leading off and what should be a resurgent Marcell Ozuna likely hitting fourth ahead of Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina could be the best in the league. Pair that with the pitching the Cardinals have (assuming maybe a piece added for the bullpen) and the Cardinals are in the World Series favorites conversation.
I think there’s a significant push to try to take the World Series in 2019 instead of hoping for it in the next decade. This well may be the last Cardinal team that has both Molina and Adam Wainwright on it. I would think there’s got to be some sentiment toward getting those two guys another ring or at least another significant October experience. This would be a significant push in that direction and all it would cost is money (for Harper) and a non-crippling amount of prospects (for Goldschmidt). Even if Arizona wanted Dakota Hudson, Tyler O’Neill, and Carson Kelly, the Cardinals could absorb that. Would it hurt? Yeah, probably. Does it shorten their window after 2019? Not significantly.
Of course, the front office hates the idea of putting all their eggs into one basket. Which is why trading for Goldschmidt by himself doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, it’d be an upgrade, but is it enough of one to say you’ve really changed the whole dynamic? You are replacing, basically, Jose Martinez with Goldschmidt when it comes to playing time. That’s better, yes, but Martinez was one of the best hitters the Cardinals had last year. The overall offense may not uptick enough even with Goldschmidt’s stellar bat. Plus Goldschmidt is unlikely to agree to an extension as a condition to the trade. Why would he? Would you want to commit yourself to a place and an organization you’d never been a part of?
Which is why you need the Harper part of the equation. After 2019, Goldschmidt and Ozuna (plus Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas, but let’s focus on the offense right now) are free agents. In 2020, Molina’s contract (in theory) runs out, as does Carpenter’s (assuming the club picks up his option after the 2019 season, which is basically a slam dunk). The key parts to this team could be gone really soon. However, if you have Harper, you could have him for 10-12 years. Now, there are going to be opt-outs in his contract, that’s probably a guarantee, but if you can get him to push the first opt-out until after 2021 or 2022, that lets you have that anchor as you fill in around him. At the prices Harper is going to command, I don’t know that him opting out is a fait accompli, as he might not be able to get those when he’s 30 or 31. Part of what teams are buying this offseason is that age, after all.
So even if Goldschmidt and Ozuna walk, the Cards still have a strong team (though perhaps not a Series contender) and they also have financial resources to tackle the problem. After all, the two players are going to make around $27 million or so this year (depending on what Ozuna’s salary winds up to be). Add Molina’s $20 million in 2020 and you can go out shopping for replacements that may not be as top shelf as what walked but still good enough to keep the team in contention with Harper committed.
When you factor in merchandise sales, increased attendance, postseason revenue, and all the auxiliary streams that come with having a superstar and a winner, getting these two guys makes a ton of sense. You win now and you still have the talent to win later.
I wonder, though. When you read Derrick Goold’s chat, you can see that he at least believes Nolan Arenado is the real apple of the Cardinals’ eye. I would hate to think that the Cardinals would forego getting Harper because they were trying to keep a spot open for Arenado. I mean, you have to think the Rockies have a strong chance of extending a guy like that, but even if not, do you want to risk everything that you can talk him into St. Louis?
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Nolan Arenado. I’ve wanted him to be a Cardinal forever and if the club doesn’t wind up with Harper, I really hope they are strong players for him next offseason if he’s available. Having a Scott Rolen type back on this team would be huge. (And while it would be theoretically possible for the club to have both Harper and Arenado, assuming Goldschmidt walked, having two players in the $30 million or more range REALLY doesn’t sound like this ownership group.) You just can’t pass up on opportunities today hoping that a better one (or, in this case, one you like a little more) will come along tomorrow. Besides, you’ve got a number of good third basemen coming up and while they probably won’t be Arenado, they won’t cost $30 million either.
The Cardinals can stay true to their overarching sensibilities by signing Harper and trading for Goldschmidt and that’s what they should do. Trading for Goldschmidt alone would be foolish, short-sighted, and requiring a lot of faith in an extension to make it worth the move. Those aren’t exactly qualities we usually see out of the front office. Let’s hope we’re not seeing them now.