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Rays offseason trade target: 1B Paul Goldschmidt

One of the best first basemen in the game would look right at home in Tropicana

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Diamondbacks were last year’s Brewers: a team succeeding after a front office overhaul brought analytics to the fore. But this is 2018, where Arizona failed to reach the playoffs as players slumped or were missing in action.

Accordingly, the team is headed for a rebuild, with any player available, including Gold Glove first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. I’m already salivating [Ed. note: calm down, Danny.].

Playing out the five-year, $32 million contract he signed ahead of the 2014 season, Goldschmidt has consistently performed at a baseline 5-win level, with little-to-no sign of decline. His 2019 team option is valued at $14.5 million and is a lock to be picked up by Arizona.

Should the Rays be interested?

The longer version of that question could be: “Should the Rays be interested in a three-time Gold Glove, three-time Silver Slugger, six consecutive year All-Star, who has placed second in the MVP voting twice, and third in 2017, with a top three finish possible again in 2018?” but I wanted to bury the lede.

Players of this caliber do not come available often, so the short answer is yes, but let’s verify my earlier claim of no decline before getting too excited.

All that glitters is Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt’s wRC+ was a shiny 144 in 2018, the third highest in the National League, and, for context, was better than Manny Machado’s season total by four points. (Hold that Machado thought.)

Digging deeper, the first time Goldschmidt’s rolling wRC+ dropped below leave average in his career was this season, when he began with a sustained cold streak through the first two months of the year — but he turned that around in July with some of his best hitting since 2015.

Meanwhile, Goldschmidt was still walking and striking out near his career rates (13.9% BB, 22.5% K) but with a bit more variance in the latter and fewer peaks in the former. The result was a 13% walk rate and 25% strikeout rate in 2018, largely influenced by his slow start.

Goldy’s discipline also comes with power, with only one season below an ISO of .241 since 2013, and at least 33 home runs in four of the last six seasons. According the FanGraphs metrics, Goldschmidt was hitting the ball harder than ever in 2018, as he worked out of his aforementioned slump. By the end of the year, he was even seeing fewer fastballs, accordingly.

It’s possible that Paul Goldschmidt’s bat is more of a roller coaster in his 30’s (Goldy turned 31 on September 10). September of 2017 he held a 35 wRC+ on the month, followed by 145 wRC+ in April 2018, and 48 wRC+ in May 2018. Concluding the season at 144 is an accomplishment after such a slump.

It’s also possible that some of those struggles come from slower bat speed, or at least some difficulty catching up with high-velo stuff. Earlier this year Buster Olney noted Goldschmidt, “had seen 77 pitches of 96 mph or faster without logging a hit, the most in the majors.” That article was from May 20th, and the results were not replicable. In my query I got 61 pitches and the data included three walks, but the overall point is fair.

Those results would improve from ‘hitless,’ but not by much.

Goldy saw 228 fastballs at 96+ mph in 2018, of which 79 were balls (with six resulting in walks), and 101 were strikes not resulting in an outcome. Among the 48 pitches he acted upon in that range, Goldschmidt had five singles, three doubles, and one home run for a batting line of .188/.278/.313 against high heat.

Faster stuff is something all hitters have to adjust to, but particularly in the evolving baseball landscape. According to a search on Baseball Savant, there were approximately 38,000 pitches of 96+ mph in 2014 (when Goldschmidt began his contract). In 2018 there was more than 50,000.

Baseball is changing, and good hitters adjust, but the durability of bat speed is a fair question for any aging hitter. It’s clear Goldy was taking or fouling off the vast majority of those pitches, though, and working to a pitch you can hit is a skill that likely won’t diminish.

Players get old, and skills do diminish, but if the hitF/X the Rays have access to clear any concerns on bat speed, this trade is reasonable to discuss.

We Buy Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt has consistently proven to be a 5-win player, and if you use napkin math of say $8.5 million per win, that’s $42.5 million in value for an incredibly cheap $14.5 million, one-year deal if he replicates five win value again. But there’s more to it than that.

When assessing the Trade Value for Goldschmidt, we need to recognize this comes with the opportunity to extend a qualifying offer when 2019 is done.

If he accepts, using current growth rates, that’s probably a one-year deal at $18.4 million for another year of Goldschmidt. If that offer is declined and Goldschmidt signs elsewhere for at least $50 million (you better believe he’ll get more than that), the Rays are in line for a Competitive Balance pick in Round A.

The Rays had two such draft picks this year, and received two 45 FV prospects in Shane McClanahan and Nick Schnell. A recent article at FanGraphs pegs the financial value on draft picks in that range between $11 and $13 million. So let’s continue napkin math and add $12 million to a one-year deal for Goldschmidt, bringing us to $40 million in surplus value ($42.5 - $14.5 + $12). Easier napkin math can also value a 45 FV prospect as 1.5 WAR, which we’ll use below.

Now let’s get into the numbers and see if we get close to that napkin math. In taking a conservative approach to trade value, and using our publicly available Surplus Value calculator, let’s say Goldschmidt has a slight decline in WAR of 0.5 per season. That produces the following:

And here’s what that looks like assuming Goldschmidt maintains his 5-win production level for two years. Here’s where that napkin math checks out:

None of this is an exact science, but it does help us hone into enough value to build a hopefully realistic trade.

At a minimum, you’re looking at a little more than $35 million in trade value for one-year of Goldschmidt, with the upside of more than $50 million if he accepts a qualifying offer. In a dream scenario the Rays acquire Goldschmidt and sign him to a four year, $75 million extension with some team options, but I would think a one-and-done is the more likely outcome.

The Gold standard

Back on topic, how does that trade value translate to prospects? If we go back to our napkin math, Goldschmidt’s 2019 season is likely worth a 50 FV prospect with some lotto tickets, much like what Manny Machado commanded at the 2018 deadline. Swap in that Comp A draft pick’s 45 FV for one of the three lotto tickets from that deal, and you’re looking at a total trade package as follows:

  • 50 FV
  • 45 FV
  • 40 FV
  • 40 FV

Using that structure, you could see a prospect like 2B Vidal Brujan, 2B Brandon Lowe, or even 1B Jake Bauers anchoring a deal for Goldschmidt as the 50 FV prospect. After that the deep Rays farm system offers plenty to choose from, all depending on what Arizona needs in their (hurting) system.

But not all 50 FV are the same. If you consider using dollar values, Brujan and Bauers are both Top-50 caliber prospects, so I’d assign their value at something higher than FanGraphs suggested $20 million value for a 50 FV prospect, perhaps something like $37.5 million as The Point of Pittsburgh assigns for that placement in the Top-100.

Austin Reimann at Rays Colored Glasses recently suggested a trade of 1B Jake Bauers (50 FV on FanGraphs), 2B Nick Solak (45+ FV), OF Joe McCarthy (45 FV), and RHP Austin Franklin (40 FV). That seems a little rich for my liking, particularly because I see Solak as closer to 50 FV in value, but given some injury concerns spread across the trade it’s probably not far off from what Arizona would request. If I were the Rays, I’d probably then counter with 2B Brandon Lowe and LHP Resly Linares to anchor the deal and let the haggling begin.

Bottom line: If Goldschmidt is truly for sale, Tampa Bay has the depth to get this deal done. There will be plenty of suitors in line, and the cost won’t be cheap, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit for a team looking to upgrade for playoff contention in the near term.