PHOENIX — Since the end of the 2012 season, the Diamondbacks have endured a lion’s share of criticism for a few bold moves.
First there was the trade of franchise staple Chris Young before a World Series champion had been crowned. Then came the controversial trade of top pitching (and polarizing) prospect Trevor Bauer for not-as-highly-touted shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius. No move brought more vitriol, though, than the dealing of organizational cornerstone Justin Upton, even though it brought back an excellent piece in third baseman Martin Prado.
But now, just days before Opening Day 2013, the D-backs have bookended their offseason with a move worth abundant praise, inking 25-year-old first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to a contract extension that could keep him in Arizona through the 2019 season.
“It’s an exciting day for the D-backs,” general manager Kevin Towers said Saturday. “We couldn’t be more excited for him. This is a guy that came up through the organization; probably a lot of people didn’t give him much of a shot based on where he was drafted, and all he did was prove people wrong all the way through the minor leagues.
“Hopefully this is the first contract of many, many more.”
Let’s get the potential criticism of Goldschmidt’s five-year extension with a team option for 2019 out of the way first. Goldschmidt has played just 193 major league games, and the D-backs just gave him the largest contract by average annual value for a position player (only Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner got a bigger deal) with more than one but less than two years of major league service. Yes, it’s a risk, but it’s a fairly safe one — more on that later.
Goldschmidt also hasn’t shown yet that he can consistently hit right-handed pitching. For his career, he’s batting .262 against right-handers compared with .311 against lefties. But this part of Goldschmidt’s game seems overblown. He still has solid numbers against right-handers — 48 of 82 RBI and 10 of 20 home runs came against righties last season, as did 23 of his 43 doubles. And if Goldschmidt continues to get better against right-handers, his overall numbers should see a nice bump.
Anything else? Not really. There’s really no indisputable criticism of this move. That is, pretty much any argument against this decision can be countered well.
Let’s start with the length of the contract. Five or six years is a significant amount of time to invest in a player with less than a season and half of big league service time. A lot can happen in that time span, including injuries, general regression or failure to meet expectations. But even if Goldschmidt doesn’t continue on an upward trajectory — let’s say he plateaus where he is — the D-backs still have a reliable defender turning in roughly 85 RBI and 20-25 home runs for the next six or seven seasons at a reasonable price.
And if Goldschmidt keeps getting better, as the D-backs clearly expect him to, then the deal is an incredible bargain — and here’s where the money argument comes into play. A potential 30-homer, 100-RBI player for less than $6.5 million annually on average? Hard to beat that. The 2019 option worth a reported $14.5 million is probably in line with what Goldschmidt might make annually on his next deal if he becomes the star the D-backs expect.
Sure, there exists the possibility that pitchers figure Goldschmidt out further and he regresses a bit, but that’s not something the Diamondbacks foresee based on their observations of his work ethic.
“What’s not to like?” manager Kirk Gibson said Friday. “He’s very good
at preparation, before, during the game and after. He’s a great
teammate. He works really hard. He has high expectations. He has high
aspirations to be a world champion. He wants to win a Gold Glove. He
would never change. He’ll never change until he stops playing.”
You could argue it would have been better the D-backs wait one more season to give Goldschmidt an unprecedented deal like this. But that deal then could have come at a greater cost, and as has been established this offseason, the D-backs aren’t afraid to take bold action.
Locking up Goldschmidt now says a lot about 1) the player the D-backs believe Goldschmidt is and will become and 2) how they view him as a representative of the franchise. Of any player currently with the team, Goldschmidt has perhaps the best chance to be the face of the franchise a few years from now, when he’s in the heart of the contract. With the way the D-backs have raved about Goldschmidt in his short service, it comes as no surprise they would want to get this done sooner rather than later.
“We’ve talked about ‘The Diamondback Way’ the last couple of years several times,” Gibson added, “and he’s the model Diamondback guy. The model guy.”
Added Towers: “When you enter into these long-term commitments, character is very important as well, especially for this organization. There is no better guy than Paul Goldschmidt. … I wish we could mold 24 more of him.”
It’s easy to say now what a good deal this appears to be for the D-backs, but of course it hasn’t played out yet. Perhaps we’ll look back in a four or five years and wonder why the D-backs took such a risk on such a young player. But with all Goldschmidt has shown so far, it’s hard to imagine not looking back and believing the D-backs made a smart bet at the right time.