A great deal of digital ink has been spilt over the past eight months regarding the most opportune time for the Diamondbacks to make a serious run at the postseason. Many felt that the next likely window for contention to be 2017. Others, including Tony La Russa have intimated that 2016 was the year to expect a solid push. There were (and still are) even a few who believe the Diamondbacks have an outside shot at the playoffs this year. While the front end of the window for contention may be up for debate, there is one thing that seems to be universally agreed upon, the Diamondbacks need to strike with a fierceness befitting their mascot before the 2019 season is concluded. The 2019 season represents the final year of control for the Diamondbacks' three-time all-star, Paul Goldschmidt.
It is not hard to see why so many agree on this one point. As of 19 August, Paul Goldschmidt's name litters the MLB and NL leaderboards. Here is a sampling
MLB bWAR: 6.9 (3rd behind Mike Trout and Bryce Harper at 7.1 each)
MLB fWAR: 5.8 (4th behind Harper 6.8, Trout 6.7, and Josh Donaldson at 6.7)
BA: .333 (1st in MLB)
Hits: 140 (6th MLB, 2nd NL)
OBP: .449 (2nd MLB, 2nd NL)
SLG: .567 (5th MLB, 2nd NL)
OPS: 1.016 (2nd MLB, 2nd NL)
HR: 22 (9th NL)
RBI: 88 (3rd MLB, 1st NL)
PA: 520 (2nd MLB, 1st NL)
Walks: 92 (2nd MLB, 2nd NL)
Runs Created: 113 (1st MLB)
wRC+: 169 (4th MLB, 2nd NL)
OPS+ 175 (3rd MLB, 2nd NL)
Oh, and unlike most of the names ahead of Goldschmidt on the leaderboards, he's performing like this for $3.1 million in 2015. He gets a big raise next season, all the way to $5,875,000. Goldschmidt's salary in 2019 should the Diamondbacks exercise his option? It is only $14.5 million with a $2 million buyout. Another way of seeing it, Paul Goldschmidt is playing this season for about 10% of what he would be getting paid if he was on the open market. In terms of team-friendly contracts, Goldschmidt's contract of 5 years/$32 million, ranks right up there amongst the very best of them all.
"We want to make him a lifetime Diamondback."
- Diamondback's GM Dave Stewart
Who wouldn't want to? Although Goldschmidt was brought up at the tail end of the 2011 season for 48 games, it was 2012 that marked his first season as a full-time player. In that time, Goldschmidt has been golden, putting up a triple slash of .300/.395/.532 with 105 HR and an OPS+ of 151.
If the Diamondbacks seek to stay around the $90 million payroll for 2016, they appear to have roughly $50 million worth of team payroll wiggle room after the likely arbitration raises are paid out. As it has been for the last two years now, the team's first priority for that money must be finding a solid, top-of-the-rotation arm. It would now appear that the second priority is to extend Paul Goldschmidt - significantly. From a baseball standpoint, there are a great many variables that would argue the team's best course of action would be to wait until prior to or during the 2017 season to start making this pitch. This, however; is not just about the baseball. This is also a public relations move. In his short time in the desert, Goldschmidt's subdued attitude, combined with his stellar performance, has made him one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise, right alongside names like Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez. The franchise is coming off a few rough years, and the management shenanigans of Kevin Towers. Neither Tony La Russa or Dave Stewart has run a front office before, and a number of their decisions in the front office, on the farm, and on the field have been met with a great deal of skepticism. They've made some trades that have upset the fan base and even brought the prolonged derision of the national media - an entity generally uninterested in the Diamondbacks (unless HBPs are involved).
Signing Paul Goldschmidt to a contract that will all but guarantee he remains in Arizona for the totality of his career is a sure-fire way to energize a lethargic fan base and to win back many of those that were starting to doubt the team's ability to "get it right". This is also the sort of signing that just might help the Diamondbacks at the negotiating table with free agents over the next few years, as the team will be able to hold up Goldschmidt as a solid investment in the team's sustained success. In this case, the pros provided by other factors far outweigh the cons of engaging Goldschmidt in extension talks a season or two too early. Of course, it is going to be far easier for Dave Stewart to continue extolling the virtues of Goldschmidt and the team's desire to lock him up long-term than it is going to be to make those desires a reality.
There are essentially two ways the team can approach the talks. They can attempt to renegotiate a deal that essentially tears up his current contract, inflating Goldschmidt's salary significantly starting in 2016, giving him a 9-10 year deal. The second route, would be to make any offer to extend Goldschmidt be exactly that, an extension - one that would not kick in until the expiration of his current deal that is up at the end of 2018 (2019 being an option year that could push that out another year). This is where baseball practicalities may again win out in designing a deal to keep Goldschmidt in Sedona Red for the remainder of his career.
I did a great deal of digging around and doing contract comparisons, only to find this article turning into something that would have made my draft primer look small. Instead of going through all of that, I'll just sum things up. Looking for a good comparison for Goldschmidt is difficult. Andrew McCutcheon has been nearly as good, and is actually a year older. However, Cutch plays a premium defensive position, signed his deal at a much younger age, and represents the team's only "big money" payout. Looking for an unreachable ceiling, Mike Trout comes to mind offensively. Yet, once again, Trout was five years younger and already much better than Goldschmidt when he signed his deal. Miguel Cabrera signed a massive extension to his already lucrative deal when he was two years older than Goldschmidt. That contract, and the one Albert Pujols received are of the kind unlikely to be seen again though. Furthermore, as good as Goldschmidt is, he still is still six more seasons of the same level of performance away from being a Cabrera-like talent.
Surprisingly, given how long ago the deal was struck, the very best comp I could come up with for Goldschmidt was fellow NL West first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez. A-Gone was two years older when he signed his deal, which began in 2012. It was a 7-year/$154 million deal. Giving Goldschmidt a comparable deal, accounting for inflation and the general rapid escalation of contracts, that would put Goldschmidt at making around $26.5 million per season if he was to be "like compensated". A seven-year deal that buys out his option year means he finishes the contract in his age 37 season. This is a bit older than would seem to be prudent from a pure baseball business standpoint, but it is not exceedingly so. Furthermore, if the real goal is to honestly ensure that Goldschmidt remains a Diamondback for the totality of his career, extending out that far just might need to happen. All told, that would be a 7-year/$185.5 million contract extending from the end of this deal at the conclusion of the 2018 season and running through Goldschmidt's age 37 season. If the team is truly averse to going that deep into his aging curve, the team could back things all the way down to his age 34 season by buying simply having the new deal start right away. This would mean that Goldschmidt would likely be eligible for one more contract though, and it would also eliminate a significant portion of the financial wiggle room his current deal affords the team while they are trying to build for their next playoff run in 2016 and 2017.
Whether the team extends Goldschmidt with a new deal that starts in 2019, or it gives him an 8-year/$212 million deal to lock him up through his age 35 season with the deal starting next year, this winter is going to be a fun one to watch, as Dave Stewart tries to navigate his way to both a TOR pitcher and something nearly any real Diamondback is truly hoping for, seeing Paul Goldschmidt remain in the Sedona Red for life.