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Trading for Goldschmidt indicates the St. Louis Cardinals are giving up on Bryce Harper

It looks like the bidding for top Major League Baseball free agent Bryce Harper has suddenly taken off. Is it coincidence that the St. Louis Cardinals are reportedly intensifying their efforts to land Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt?

According to the rumor mill, as of Tuesday afternoon, St. Louis and Arizona had the components of a deal figured out and the Cardinals were talking with Goldschmidt’s representatives about a contract extension necessary to complete the deal — at least in it’s current form.

I have been firmly in the camp that I would rather see the Redbirds pay Harper $350 million to Harper for his age 26-35 seasons than pay Goldschmidt $200 million for his age 32-37 seasons while coughing up three top prospects in addition to the cash. I sure hope that Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks or Austin Gomber aren’t in the deal — although it’s difficult to imagine that not at least one of them would be part of the package.

The Birds are always reluctant to part with their prospects. But the front office folks must feel that it’s a deal that they had to make after the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and others jumped into the Harper derby. LA was the team that I have been most worried about because it has shown in the past that it isn’t afraid to break the $200 million mark when it comes to payroll. It seems possible that Harper might get his asking price of $400 million or more — and the Birds simply weren’t going to bid that high. With Manny Machado’s curious behavior during the postseason making him a risky investment, Goldschmidt seems to be St. Louis’ best option for adding a middle of the order hitter they can’t live without.

In short, if they make this move, it’s because they felt like they had to do it.

I wonder what it would mean for the rest of the roster, though. Harper was going to play right field. If he’s not here, who will man the position in 2019? Will the Cardinals go to spring training hoping that Dexter Fowler can turn back the clock a couple of years and overcome an awful 2018 campaign? Will the club count on Tyler O’Neil, a guy with less than half a major league season under his belt, to be the main man?

I don’t have a lot of faith in Fowler. Besides his horrible statistics, he just looked slow last year — both in foot speed and bat speed. He said it wasn’t because of injuries, so we’re left to wonder if it was because of age. One thing we know for sure is that age isn’t going to get any better. I like O’Neill, assuming he wouldn’t be a part of a trade. But I am not a big fan of counting on unproven players to fill a vital role — especially when the club made major investments in other areas with designs of competing right now, not two years down the line.

It wouldn’t surprise me if St. Louis made a move for non-tendered Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia who was an All-Star just two seasons ago. Only 27, Garcia hit .236 with 19 home runs last year. But he was a .330 hitter with a .380 on base percentage in 2017 when he had 18 homers and 27 doubles. To make room, the Cardinals would either have to trade Fowler or eat the last three years on his five-year contract. But if they were able to clear that roster spot, Garcia could start in right with O’Neill, who can play all three outfield positions, serving as the fourth outfielder. I much prefer that sort of role for the youngster as he tries to prove he’s a major league starter after proving all he has to show in Class AAA Memphis. The only issue I see with Garcia is that he’s a right-handed batter and the Birds were hopeful of adding a lefty swinger to the lineup.

Former Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley bats from the left side and has a higher average and on-base percentage than Garcia, making him an attractive candidate to bat second in front of the big guns. But he’s probably going to be a lot more expensive than Garcia would be — and the Cardinals still need to spend a little money to find a lefty reliever and a guy who can close games.