Though it took longer than expected, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper got their big deals – Machado for a decade, Harper for a baker’s dozen. In the time between their signings, next winter’s top free agent got his big payday as well – the Rockies locked up Nolan Arenado for 8 years, $260MM. Free agency’s treatment of this winter’s big fish was always going to somewhat inform Arenado’s path, but the ramifications of all three superstars having planted their respective flags extends beyond San Diego, Philadelphia, and Colorado.
With Arenado’s abdication of his position atop 2019’s free agent class, Paul Goldschmidt inherits the throne. The Cardinals are now pressed with increased urgency to sign their new first baseman to an extension, writes Ben Frederickson of the St.Louis Post-Dispatch. Though Machado and Harper were both presumptive fits on the Cardinals roster, they never really approached the bidder’s circle. Of course, as Frederickson points out, signing top free agents hasn’t been the Cardinal modus operandi. What is very much in their DNA is trading for superstars and extending (or re-signing) them, two prime examples being Mark McGwire in 1997 and Matt Holliday in 2009.
Frederickson urges the Cards to dive headlong into their partnership with Goldy, who might prove amenable to a long-term guarantee after watching Machado, Harper, and so many others tread water in free agency. An extension won’t come cheap for one of the more more accomplished hitters of his generation, who boasts an absurd 144 career wRC+, six consecutive All-Star games, four Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves, plus two silver medals and a bronze for MVP. And yet, there’s no ignoring the uncertainty created these past two frigid winters.
Still, the top free agents continue to make bank, and the same should be true for Goldschmidt. It was only a year ago this time that Scott Boras coaxed the Padres into giving Eric Hosmer, a far inferior player, $144MM over eight years. Frederickson cites his Post-Dispatch colleague Derrick Goold in putting forth five years, $150MM ($30MM AAV) as a potential framework for a Goldschmidt extension.
The biggest differentiator between the Machado/Harper/Hosmer trio and Goldschmidt, of course, is age. The ISE Baseball client can claim one of the most well-rounded skill sets in the league – but he will be entering his age-32 season as a free agent. Still, the smart play for the Cardinals here, Frederickson suggests, is locking in the .297/.398/.532 career hitter as soon as possible he is willing.
The Nationals have a similar conundrum on their hands with Scott Boras client Anthony Rendon. For most Boras clients, there would be little hope for an extension this close to free agency, but Boras and the Nationals have made this work before – just not in every case. The two sides have remained in contact about a Rendon extension for most of the last year, per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. Similarly to Goldschmidt, the Arenado signing has an effect here, as Rendon jumps to the top spot among free agent third basemen.
Rendon’s been a foundational piece throughout the Harper/Strasburg era in DC, batting .285/.361/.469 over six seasons in DC. He creates 23% more runs than average in that span, and he’s been even more impressive lately with a 141 wRC+ in 2017 and 140 wRC+ last year. Defensively he’s as sure-handed as they come, if not quite with Arenado’s flash. If it weren’t for Arenado’s vice-grip on the gold glove award, Rendon would likely have some hardware of his own.
Take a stacked positional class that includes Arenado, Kris Bryant, Matt Carpenter, Justin Turner, Eugenio Suarez, add to it superstar contemporaries in Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Harper, plus a flourishing next generation of Nats stars like Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and Juan Soto – and Rendon’s excellence gets lost in the shuffle. Epitomizing Rendon’s place in the current canon is this: he has zero All-Star appearances despite three top-12 finishes in MVP voting. He did, however, win a Silver Slugger in 2014 and the NL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2016.
Rendon, who turns 29 in June, is set to earn $18.8MM in 2019, his last year before hitting the open market. With Arenado securing a $32.5MM AAV, what is Rendon’s value? He’s a year older and less decorated than Arenado, but Rendon’s 25.8 career fWAR compares favorably to Arenado’s 25.3 fWAR. Turning to a rate metric, Arenado’s put forth a 127 OPS+ over the past five seasons versus Rendon’s 122 OPS+ in the same span. Still, Arenado is pretty much universally regarded as the superior player.
Given their ages, neither Goldschmidt nor Rendon are likely to surpass Arenado’s contract in terms of length, but they could reach higher AAVs if their incumbent clubs take Frederickson’s advice: “Pour on the money. Scale back the years.”