The Diamondbacks relinquished their claim on Paul Goldschmidt, but after another slow winter, it’s worth wondering if Arizona pulled the plug too soon.
Before the winter began, the Diamondbacks offseason presented three paths: (A) trade Paul Goldschmidt, (B) sign Paul Goldschmidt to an extension, or (C) neither A nor B. When they cemented their trek down path A, it seemed reasonable if only because they likely couldn’t afford to sign him to a long-term extension. After a second straight unfulfilling free agent winter, it’s unclear how much Goldschmidt – or any free agent – will demand in winters to come.
In terms of pure talent, Goldschmidt compares favorably to this winter’s biggest fish, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. What made their free agencies so unique, of course, is their age, still only 26-years-old, whereas Goldy will hit the open market on the far end of the age spectrum at 32. His closest comps in this year’s class, then, are Yasmani Grandal and former teammate A.J. Pollock.
Grandal sits easily atop a weak positional class – with a qualifying offer attached. Goldy, too, will be the unequivocal top dog of a weak positional class – with a qualifying offer attached. The lack of depth at both positions extends beyond the free agent field, as there just aren’t a ton of superstar catchers or first basemen throughout the league right now.
Grandal is 30 now, two years younger than Goldy will be next winter, but factor in the aging curve for catchers and it’s a fairly comparable circumstance. Predictors put Grandal in the range of a four-year, $60MM deal – and he did, reportedly, receive offers in that range – but eventually the bottom fell out and he signed with the Brewers for one year and an option for $18.25MM guaranteed. The qualifying offer that he rejected was worth $17.99MM.
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Pollock’s peers were an even motlier crew, as there wasn’t a second centerfielder worth starting minutes. Still, his injury history made Pollock a risky buy. Defensive centerfielders who can hit like Pollock don’t come around often, however, and the Dodgers took their chances with – at minimum – a four year, $50MM deal. The contract’s exact worth is TBD as there are some creative opt outs and incentives built into the woodwork.
Goldshmidt has a decision to make even before next winter. If he signs an extension with the Cardinals, it won’t be for long enough. And it won’t be for enough money. And when it comes down to it, dollar bills are the driving factor behind free agent decisions. And no, it’s not avarice – necessarily – it’s more complicated than that, which is why here at Venom Strikes we are going to return again and again to a Grandal quote that explains his decision to sign a one-year deal:
"“A lot of teams made good deals and I am grateful for that, but I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys who went through the process before I did…”"
Many of us lamented that Grandal had to settle for a one-year deal, and maybe I’m a sucker and this is him saving face after turning down the Mets $60MM offer – but there’s at least a chance he was genuinely concerned about the future of the catching market. Isn’t that exactly what the rest of us have been talking about all winter? Why should we think for a second that players aren’t angling for ways to “take back” the market?
As reported on WFAN radio, Grandal had more to say: “…Brian McCann, Russell Martin and Yadier Molina. Those guys who established pay levels and markets for upper tier catchers like me. So, I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of these deals being thrown around.”
I’m not ready to say that Goldschmidt would be doing his fellow players a “disservice” if he signs an extension. But I am ready to say that the only reason for Goldschmidt to sign an extension – outside of an inordinate love of St. Louis – is fear. Fear driven by the suddenly judicious team spending patterns that have dried the market for free agents the past two offseasons.
If the Diamondbacks had opted to path B, if they’d held onto Goldschmidt, it would be interesting to see, at this stage in the game, what kind of contract Goldy might have considered when he could have couched the extension under the auspices of loyalty.
As much as I love Carson Kelly – and I do – wasn’t there a way to get him without giving up the best player in franchise history? Maybe not. The Paul Goldschmidt era is over for the Diamondbacks, and there’s no amount of second guessing that will change that.
This discussion, then, serves a separate purpose, not to wonder what if – rather to clock this data point because this market is going to keep evolving until the CBA expires in 2021. Both sides are fighting for territory, and all we can do is try our best to understand the struggle.