THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals had no desire or intention to trade first baseman Paul Goldschmidt at this year’s deadline. They’ll take the same attitude in the upcoming offseason planning. Management wants to clear the stench of 2023 by rebounding for a championship-contending season in ‘24.
The Cardinals aren’t in a rebuilding mode. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has been clear on that. And everyone from chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., to Mozeliak, to manager Oli Marmol believes that Goldschmidt is vital to an immediate Cardinal comeback. It’s also important to remember that Goldschmidt has a full no-trade clause. He really likes it here. And he’s taken on a leadership role, which indicates he’s fully invested in being a touchstone for the younger players.
I’m more interested in what happens in 2024 … and beyond? A lot depends on the success of the instant-turnaround project. It won’t be easy unless Mozeliak and DeWitt go in big instead of taking half-measure steps. They’ll have to spend more money and get the team’s 26-man payroll up to $200 million. Making trades is part of the solution, but there’s always the possibility of deals going wrong.
1. What kind of season can we expect from Goldy in 2024? More on that later.
2. If the Cardinals stumble and become an also-ran again in 2024, will the front office consider the idea of moving Goldschmidt at the trade deadline? And would he be willing to waive his no-trade protection? I’m not sure about any of this.
Goldschmidt can become a free-agent after the 2024 season. And for obvious reasons, there is no way to gauge his trade value in advance. Approaching the 2024 deadline, he’ll be nearing his 37th birthday. Will his offensive numbers be vigorous and stable? Or will we see stronger evidence of age-related decline?
The value for impending free agents is lower … and that’s especially true of struggling older, position players with limited upside. For that reason and others, keeping Goldschmidt in place through the end of 2024 is the most logical outcome.
3. If the 2024 Goldschmidt hits for more power and maintains his customary onbase-percentage reliability, would the Cardinals preemptively offer a contract extension before the offseason kicks in and Goldy is free to negotiate with interested teams?
4. Or will the Cardinals just wait until the conclusion of the 2024 campaign and take extra time to reassess Goldschmidt’s value and future performance projections? Goldschmidt has the final word on this, anyway. He may decide that free agency is his best option. If the Cardinals can get straightened out and start winning division titles again, I’m not sure why Goldy would want to stick around. He only has so much time left in his career. And the Cardinals have won four postseason games (and one playoff series) since he came to STL before the 2019 season.
5. Would Goldschmidt be in favor of going year-by-year with the Cardinals? Adam Wainwright was fine with that. Would the Cardinals be willing to offer Goldschmidt a two-year deal covering the 2025-2026 seasons? He’d be 38 by the end of the 2025 season, and 39 at the finish of 2026. All I can say is: be careful. The Cardinals can’t put themselves into another Matt Carpenter situation.
Going by the numbers, Goldschmidt already is trending down. But that doesn’t tell us everything; I’ll explain more about that in a bit.
All numbers used here were current before Thursday’s day game in Milwaukee.
This season Goldschmidt has:
* His lowest slugging percentage (.444) of a 13-season MLB career that began in 2011.
* His lowest OPS (.806) of his career.
* His third-lowest batting average (.267) of his career.
* His fourth-lowest onbase percentage (.362) of his career.
* His third-lowest OPS+ (120) of his career.
Goldschmidt has 25 homers this season. That’s fine as a raw number. But during his career he’s homered in 4.5 percent of his plate appearances; this season that HR rate is 3.7%. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Goldy hasn’t hit fewer than 31 home runs since launching 24 in 2016.
In 2021 and 2022, Goldy averaged 6.0 WAR per season.
With a few games remaining in 2023, he has only 3.5 WAR.
I don’t think any realistic observer expected Goldschmidt to come close to matching his NL MVP season in 2022. Not only did he have 7.0 WAR last season, but Goldschmidt batted .317 with a .404 OBP and .578 slug.
Compared to 2022, this season Goldschmidt’s batting average is down 50 points, his OBP has dropped 42 points, and his slugging is an eye-opening 134 points lower. After cranking 41 doubles and 35 homers in 2022, Goldschmidt had 29 doubles and 25 home runs through the team’s first 158 games in ‘23.
And Goldy’s numbers have declined rather significantly after the 2023 All-Star break. I won’t rattle all of them off, but here’s the bottom line: his performance was 36 percent above league average before the All-Star break and is only six percent above average in the second half.
Goldschmidt’s 2023 season isn’t all that much different from what we saw from him as a first-year Cardinal in 2019. In fact, his OPS+ through Wednesday (120) is higher than his OPS+ (115) in 2019. But his slugging percentage now (.444) is 32 points lower than his .476 in ‘19.
And yet …
The Statcast data shows us that Goldschmidt’s metrics are in good shape, with no distressing signs of an age-related falloff.
Goldschmidt’s hard-hit rate, barrel-rate, average exit velocity and sweet-spot contact are higher than his MVP-season figures in 2022.
Goldy is in the top seven percent of all MLB hitters in hard-hit rate, and he’s among the top 10 percent in batting-run value. Based on quality of contact, Goldschmidt should have a .486 slugging percentage instead of his actual .444 slug. He’s in the top 21 percent of hitters in average exit velocity, and is among the top 23 percent in barrel rate.
These impressive data points do not reflect what you’d expect to see from a 36-year-old hitter who has produced lesser numbers in other areas of hitting. Goldschmidt has chased pitches out of the strike zone a little more often than usual, and his overall contact rate isn’t quite as sharp – but there is nothing even close to alarming about his percentages in those categories.
What about the forecasts?
Here are the 2024 and 2025 ZiPS projections at FanGraphs.
I’ll limit it to three categories.
OPS: .803 next season, then .752 in 2025.
Slugging: .455 next season, then .417 in 2025.
Home Runs: 22 next year, and 17 in 2025.
ZiPS projected Goldy with a 4.4 WAR this season, and he’ll fall well short of that. His projected WAR is 3.1 in 2024, and 1.9 in ’25.
The arrow is pointing to a specific direction.
And it isn’t pointing up.
But the projections aren’t always on target or even close to it. The Cardinals are facing some difficult decisions in assessing Paul Goldschmidt’s value and the investment price for keeping the relationship intact.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: With Wednesday’s loss at Milwaukee, the Cardinals are locked into a last-place finish in the NL Central since the leagues split into three divisions in 1995. And the Cardinals had not finished last in any division since going 70-92 to sink to the bottom of the six-team NL East in 1990. There were two six-team divisions in the NL that season. The Cardinals finished 25 games behind the first-place Pirates and their .432 winning percentage was the second-worst in the NL to Atlanta’s .401.
BAD HISTORY: With 89 losses through Wednesday, the 2023 Cardinals will have to close the season with four straight wins to avoid their first 90-defeat season since 1990. Their .437 winning through the first 158 games is the second-worst since the 1978 Cardinals had a .430 winning percentage at the same stage of the season. The 1990 Cardinals were 70-88 (.443) through 158 games before losing their final four games.
SPUTTERING OFFENSE: Since Sept. 13 and through Wednesday’s loss at Milwaukee, the Cardinals had scored three runs or fewer nine times in 13 games. During that 13-game block they averaged 2.5 runs, batted .204 overall, hit .170 with runners in scoring position and pumped only eight homers in 422 at-bats. On average that’s one home run every 52.75 at-bats. Good grief. This latest skid has dropped the Cardinals to 10th in the NL and 19th overall with an average of 4.42 runs scored per contest.
The lineup is missing regulars Brendan Donovan, Willson Contreras, Nolan Arenado, Alec Burleson and Tyler O’Neill. Since Donovan last played (July 29) the Cardinals have averaged only 3.8 runs per game and batted .235
THE ROSTER SHUFFLE: The Cardinals have used 25 position players. That’s the largest number of position players for the Cardinals in a season since the 1997 squad deployed 27 guys. Among the position players on that ‘97 team included future Cardinals Hall of Famers Willie McGee, Mark McGwire and Ray Lankford. Plus future Reds manager David Bell. If you quizzed me on the identity of every position player used that season, I would have flunked. I did not remember these following guys being on that team: Mike Gulan, Scarborough Green, Steve Carsone, Jeff Berblinger and Scott Livingstone.
The 1997 also used 25 pitchers including third baseman Gary Gaetti, who pitched a third of an inning in a blowout. That 1997 pitching staff included Fernando Valenzuela, Dennis Eckersley, brothers Andy and Alan Benes, Ryan Ludwick’s brother Eric Ludwick, and several near-immortals including Rigo Beltran and Manny Aybar.
The 1997 Cardinals went 73-89.
BASES-LOADED UPDATE: With four games to play, the Cardinals are batting .190 with the bases loaded this season. That’s the poorest bases-loaded average in the majors in 2023. To give you an idea of how bad that is, the overall MLB average this season in bases-loaded situations is .265. Oddly enough the Cardinals are batting .278 with the bases loaded this month. Before September, the Redbirds hit .178 with the bases full.
Is this still Jeff Albert’s fault?
IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING: I opened this particular box, so let’s take a look at something else. The 2023 Cardinals have used 28 pitchers. One was Alec Burleson, called in to mop up two routs. But since DeWitt took over the franchise in 1996, the 2018 Cardinals used the most pitchers in a season, 32. That included some mop-up relief duty by Matt Carpenter.
Anyhoo … adding up the position players and pitchers used by the Cardinals in 2023, the total is 52 – including Burleson, who doesn’t count as an extra roster piece just because of his two relief stints.
CARDINALS GET AN “F” GRADE: ESPN’s David Schoenfield got a head start in issuing season report cards for each of the 30 MLB clubs. The Cardinals were one of five teams to get tagged with the “F” (as in failure) mark.
Here’s Schoenfield’s explanation, presented to you in three paragraphs.
“It was the first losing season under John Mozeliak, who took over as GM in 2008, and it was well-earned: The Cardinals had talent but didn’t have a plan on how to deploy it, leading to eight different starting left fielders, five center fielders, eight right fielders and a bunch of different shortstops and second basemen.
“Even if they had been smarter on the position player side of things, the rotation was a mess and fixing that is the obvious offseason priority.
“In recent seasons, I’ve thought an issue with the Cardinals is that they’ve been too content to build 90-win clubs because that’s usually been good enough in the NL Central. The risk is a 90-win team can fall apart a lot easier than a 100-win team and that finally happened in 2023. The Cardinals are certainly in better shape than the other teams down here at the bottom, but they have work to do.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.