Through the general miasma of negative feelings I got when I first heard about the Paul Goldschmidt trade, it hit me that I had attended his last home game as a Diamondbacks in person. According to the box score, he went 1-4 against the Dodgers with two strikeouts. Not a lot of fanfare. No chance at a standing ovation, a thank you for giving your all for eight years to a team that didn’t always deserve it. Just another game in the season. Ho hum.
We don’t always get the endings we want. We can’t always write our own stories. Sometimes, however, these things do shine a light on a bunch of mold in the foundation of, say, a sport we all love.
Let’s talk about how much more a billion is than a million, using one little mathematical trick:
One Million Seconds: About 11 Days
One Billion Seconds: About 31 years
For the price of anywhere from 2/3rds to just under an entire year of seconds per year, the Diamondbacks probably could have kept Paul Goldschmidt forever. Would this have been the best use of money? Maybe, maybe not, but based on the glancing of comments on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook I did in the immediate aftermath of the trade, they probably could have recouped a bit of it in ticket sales than whatever is gonna happen in 2019.
I bring this up because there is an... interesting (I’ll say for the sake of politeness) tendency for people to defend the frugality of people who possess, either in cash or through assets, more than a billion US dollars, especially in Baseball transactions, There’s a tendency to accept at face value when ownership states a payroll limit, as if exceeding it will suddenly give Ken Kendrick a Dickensian street urchin affectation and send him to a soup kitchen.
Well, it does make sense. Baseball revenues are obviously dwindling due to-
Ah, well, nevertheless. It’s not like a revenue source from, say, a media company that teams invested in is paying off through a sale-
Well, you see, it’s also not like the TV money bubble has burst and networks aren’t handing out obscene amounts of cash-
Obviously, there’s money in baseball. A lot of it. More than you or I could ever imagine. This rising tide should help all boats. Players, owners, fans, etc should all have benefited financially. And yet, we’re entering year two of one of the dullest Free Agent markets ever.
Last season, guys like J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain signed very late into Free Agency. Both of these guys helped teams that went extremely far into the playoffs, and were obvious upgrades for a lot of teams. So why were they signed so late when in previous years teams would have been tripping over themselves to sign a guy who could put their team over the top?
If you haven’t guessed by now, the core thesis of this section of the article is “Owners are pocketing a large portion of the profit and not spending it on payroll and roster decisions are reflected as such.” They are well within their rights to do that. There’s no salary floor in MLB, it’s a moneymaking enterprise for these people. etc. etc. etc.
That doesn’t mean we have to like it.
But like it we do. One of the reasons, I posit, that owners do this is cause they know that people will instinctively side with them over players. The reasons for this go into how Americans view themselves in terms of class mobility, politics, etc and are interesting but go beyond the scope of this article. (Basically, the concept of “Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires” is the reason)
So when owners of a team whose payroll never approaches the luxury tax cry poor about player salary, take it with a healthy amount of skepticism, at the very least. There is money in baseball. It doesn’t seem to be going to the players. That’s probably going to rear its ugly head around the next round of CBA negotiations. But the owners who are worth more than their entire MLB payroll combined will be fine. They know you’ll go on your comment sections and slam players for being greedy and the fact the Diamondbacks are paying Yasmany Tomas such and such amount of money is why Hot Dogs are 50 cents more expensive and what-have-you.
One of the other reasons Paul Goldschmidt isn’t, and probably never will be again, a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks again, and how his return might seem kind of underwhelming, is how front offices seem to value assets in trade, which ties into the previous point.
Take this tweet:
Immediate reaction from rival exec on #DBacks’ return for Goldschmidt: “A boatload” (Only he didn’t say boat). Five years control on Weaver, six on Kelly, plus pick in 70 to 75 range; Young fringy. #STLCards will call it a win, too. Kept Dakota Hudson, Kelly blocked by Yadi.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2018
Note how nameless rival exec who scared Ken Rosenthal from saying “shit” didn’t start off with “Weaver and Carson are good at Baseball or will be good at it in the near future.” (And they could be, I’m not going to dispute that!) It’s that they have those precious “Years of control” What’s more: ooooh, a draft pick. How decadent.
Years of Control basically means that you won’t have to pay these players a lot until arbitration (and even then, still not a lot in the grand scheme of things) which is good because in a sport with a hard salary cap like Major League Baseaball, controlling player costs is paramount and...
... Ah, I see.
The way a lot of front offices seem to operate now is not “Put the best team together full stop.” It’s more “Can we have the highest $/WAR ratio, and maybe just leave out the WAR if we’re certain teams.” Some teams, like the A’s, can parley a cheaper team into a playoff appearance. Which is great! Awesome! Overcoming the odds! Now are you going to add some free agent pieces to fill in the gaps and do better? Ah, I see you’ve non-tendered a First Baseman that was due to make about $6 Million in arbitration. Oh well.
One of the criticisms by old codgers of the analytics revolution was that it reduced everything to “spreadsheets.” Now, to those people, they were talking about things like “Heart” and “Hustle” and “Grit” and “Clutchitude” so they were, correctly, mocked. However, the “spreadsheet” mentality does seem to show itself in that $/WAR ratio. If X = $/WAR (or whatever metric used, WAR is just easy to use here) and X is < a certain number? Ship that guy out. It’s how a 30 homer guy gets non-tendered.
All new GM hires seem to be of a similar breed. They’re youngish Ivy League educated guys in polos who have an analytical background. You just hope you get someone from Harvard and not some Dartmouth reprobate. They all seem to think in similar ways, as well. There’s also a creeping school of thought that if you aren’t going to win the World Series or come close, you should actively blow everything up.
Think about the American League. How many teams would you say are actively trying to contend or add pieces to get better? I count the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, and maybe the Angels. That’s it. Cleveland can, and still probably will, sleepwalk into an AL Central Title for the next few years, but even they’re trying to sell their good pitching. The Mariners have the longest playoff drought in baseball, and were a second half collapse away from changing that, but they’re selling everything for pennies on the dollar. The A’s and Rays, despite both being unexpectedly good, aren’t going to do anything to add to payroll until they get new stadiums (and even then, it’s suspect.) It’s better in the NL, but there is one fewer team now that the Diamondbacks have decided to punt.
There’s a vacuum where a middle class of 70-82 win teams that expected to be as such would exist. It’s a bunch of front offices adopting the Ricky Bobby creed of “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” And if there’s a bunch of non-competitive teams out there, there’s going to be consequences.
These are very generalized points, and have been made more eloquently and better by people not me and I suggest you find them on twitter or other websites to just see that viewpoint. I’m pointing these out because the seemingly broken MLB economy has a direct line to the reason that Paul Goldschmidt isn’t on the Diamondbacks anymore. Given everything else, though, he could have been. He should have been. In the irrational chaos of sports fandom, being able to have an all-world player for the entirety of their career is rare, but it would have been amazing.
Maybe he would have regressed, maybe the money wouldn’t have been “worth it” in a traditional baseball sense. But Paul Goldschmidt could have been just a Diamondback. He could have been the guy people think of when “Arizona Diamondbacks” is mentioned. Hell, he still could be, but he’s a Cardinal now. He’s off to the land of calling ketchup on crackers pizza.
My first live memory of Goldy was the game in 2011 where the Diamondbacks clinched their last NL West title against the Giants. I had gone to the game on a whim cause I was feeling like crap about life and dropped what I was doing on a Friday night and trekked to Chase.
It was a pretty tense game. Joe Saunders was matching Matt Cain’s pitching production pretty well! It was looking kind of dicey... but then in the 8th, Goldy hit a go-ahead triple. He cemented himself in Diamondbacks lore with that. He only continued to add on to it.
It can be argued that this move “Had” to be made. I don’t buy that for a second, due to reasons stated above. However I’ll grant it for the sake of argument. Even if you are 100% in the camp that it had to happen and you like the return, part of your soul just had have died a little yesterday. That’s how big Paul Goldschmidt was to the Diamondbacks. It’s unlikely there will be another like him for a long time, and we have to deal with that.
Thank you for your time, I will not be reading your comments.