Thanks to extensions signed this offseason during the wave of extension mania, the St. Louis Cardinals converted two would-be free agents after 2019 into players they’d control through 2023. Those two players are the only players owed significant salary in 2022 and 2023, and thus they would seem to be pretty big bets by the Cardinals to age well.
In what would have been their final seasons under team control, however, Paul Goldschmidt and Miles Mikolas are so far not making good on those big bets.
Goldschmidt, 31, was acquired this offseason from the Diamondbacks for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, minor leaguer Andy Young, and a draft pick. Both Weaver and Kelly have broken out for the Diamondbacks, which would already make the swap for one year of Goldschmidt look dicey. But you throw on top the five-year, $130 million extension he was given before he’d even taken a swing in a Cardinals jersey?
Well, let’s say Cardinals fans might be nervous to consider how Goldschmidt has performed so far: .246/.336/.405, 98 wRC+. Pick a metric, any metric, and Goldschmidt is having the worst season of his career by a country mile. Maybe he rebounds in the second half, and maybe it’s just been an adjustment process. But given his friendly home park in Arizona, his age, and his size, you wonder whether he’s not actually a great bet to age well – especially if the decline has already set in.
Mikolas, 31 in August, was the steal of the offseason in 2017, having been plucked out of Japan by the Cardinals on what was seen then as an aggressive, two-year $15.5 million contract. But he was a stud in 2018, posting a 2.83 ERA over 200.2 innings, with good contact-management, no walks at all, and very few homers. It’s a risky profile to miss so few bats (his strikeout rate was barely 18% and his swinging strike rate was under 10%), but on a two-year $15.5 million deal? Who cares. That’s a bargain.
… and then the Cardinals extended him for four years after 2019 at $17 million per year.
Sure enough, the walk rate has climbed, the strikeouts have dropped even further, the hard contact increased, and the home run rate bounced up. None of the differences necessarily would have sunk him on their own, but when you have a thin margin for error, if all those areas regress, the damage to your results can be significant – hence the leap in his ERA from 2.83 to 4.34.
Hey, that’s still a nearly league-average ERA, but that’s hardly what the Cardinals were paying for with the extension – which, again, doesn’t even kick in until next year.
Ultimately, there’s talent there for these two to right the ship a bit in the second half, and then for a few years thereafter as they age into the priciest bits of their extensions. But if you’re evaluating these deals so far – deals that did not have to be signed at all – you can’t like how things are looking for $43 million worth of payroll in 2020-23.