St. Louis Cardinals: How contract trends could shape Cardinals

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John Mozeliak (L) and Bill DeWitt, Jr. managing partner and chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals talk in the dugout prior to a game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 4-0. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
John Mozeliak (L) and Bill DeWitt, Jr. managing partner and chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals talk in the dugout prior to a game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 4-0. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals’ extending of Paul Goldschmidt’s contract is part of a baseball trend, but how that trend will affect the Cardinals in the long run is anyone’s guess.

When Paul Goldschmidt put the ink to the paper and signed the dotted line in order to stay with the St. Louis Cardinals for the next six years, he was the latest in a line of players who decided to commit to a team long term instead of test free agency.

Nolan Arenado, Aaron Nola, Aaron Hicks, Mike Trout, Luis Severino and the Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas all signed extensions this year to stay with their current teams, a practice that is becoming more common around baseball.

While players can still be traded or opt out of a contract after so many years, the growing number of long-term extensions means a player is more likely to stay with a team for a long time or even his entire career.

What this could mean for the Cardinals is that they might be more effective in retaining players they want to keep, as was the case with Goldschmidt. But because this trend is league-wide, other teams will also likely extend their players’ contracts more often, ideally keeping their best players under team control.

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With fewer players electing to go the route of free agency and more young stars signing hefty contracts, it is more important than ever to find homegrown talent. And that is something the Cardinals have excelled in for years, especially when developing pitchers.

Dakota Hudson, Alex Reyes, and Jack Flaherty are three highly touted arms for the Cardinals, and if they live up to their billings, the payoff could be massive. Add the extension possibility, and this could be a pitching juggernaut for years. But what if it’s not that simple?

If one, two or all three of these players fail to meet expectations, it could be harder than in the past for the Cardinals to fill the holes in their rotation. Free agent studs will be more difficult to come by, and the team might need to resort to a trade to acquire the needed talent, thus having to give up players of equal value.

The pool of position-player prospects for the Cardinals isn’t quite as strong. Nolan Gorman and Andrew Knizner are two players who have the chance to be excellent, but they are far from sure things. Goldschmidt was certainly a massive addition, but the Cardinals did have to sacrifice some potentially strong players to get him.

Players are still free to reject contract extensions and dive into free agency. But if some players had stayed with the Cardinals instead of declining the team’s offers, the Cardinals could be very different now.

A notable extension rejection was that of Albert Pujols. The Cardinals offered him a 10-year contract for $210 million after the 2011 season, which he turned down. While painful for many fans at first, the rejection likely saved the Cardinals to an immense degree.

Pujols, as most know, has never matched his Cardinals contributions while in an Angels uniform, and the fact that he wouldn’t be able to serve as a designated hitter in the National League would have made his decline even more apparent and burdensome.

Other players who recently rejected offers to stay with the Cardinals include Jason Heyward, Lance Lynn, and Tommy Pham. These players have had varying degrees of success after leaving the Cardinals, but the team appears to have made up for their departures for the most part.

Heyward’s leaving has opened opportunities for young outfielders such as Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill to show what they can do. And while Heyward’s last year was his best as a Cub, he hasn’t set the world on fire as many thought he would.

Pham broke out with the Rays after the trade last year, and if he had performed at that level with St. Louis, he would have been a definite upgrade over Marcell Ozuna. But as Ozuna likely wouldn’t have accepted a reserve role, the outfield would have been a logjam.

Lynn also hasn’t performed at quite the same level with the Twins and Yankees as he did with the Cardinals. If he had stayed with the team, though, it’s possible that he would have filled the fifth rotation spot.

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Extensions can be risky, as some former Cardinals have shown, but if the prospects pan out and Goldschmidt plays like his normal self, the extension trend could be one of the best things that ever happened to the Cardinals. But if they don’t, and if the Cardinals can’t find what they need on the market, there could be some tough years ahead.

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