If you told me yesterday that the St. Louis Cardinals could trade for Paul Goldschmidt without giving up Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson and Austin Gomber, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Goldschmidt instantly transforms the Redbirds offense, giving the team back-to-back sluggers with left fielder Marcell Ozuna for the first time since the days when Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday anchored the middle of the lineup. Maddeningly streaky last year, the Birds can now count on one of the most consistent hitters in the game to get on base (he has a .398 career on-base percentage) and drive in runs (he knocked in 120 two years ago.)
The rumor mill claimed that St. Louis and Arizona were a Goldschmidt agreeing to a contract extension away from sending prized pitching prospects Dakota Hudson and Austin Gomber along with enigmatic but talented second baseman Kolton Wong to the Diamondbacks to land the six-time All-Star. But when an agreement on an extension couldn’t be reached, the price in talent went down considerably. St. Louis gave up only young pitcher Luke Weaver, fading catching prospect Carson Kelly, a minor league infielder and a draft pick for Goldschmidt. Higher rated young pitchers Jack Flaherty, Hudson, Gomber, Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks and emerging catching prospect Andrew Knizner remain in the St. Louis organization.
I was opposed to giving up three or four valuable pieces for a one year rental. But, as far as I am concerned, surrendering a pitcher likely ticketed for Class AAA Memphis — or at best, the St. Louis bullpen — a backup catcher and a low minors infielder, Andy Young, is practically getting Goldschmidt for free. It’s a package that would have earned undying ridicule if a random fan suggested on social media that it was good enough to land a player of Goldschmidt’s caliber. If St. Louis can sign him to an extension later, it’s a bonus.
So, where do the Cardinals go from here?
While I’d be shocked if they did so, the Birds are still in position to make a major free agent acquisition. There is no reason that being committed to one year of Goldschmidt would prevent the team from inking Manny Machado or Bryce Harper to a mega contract. St. Louis could trade Jedd Gyorko and save $13 million to all but offset the cost of their new acquisition, should it choose to go that route. Meanwhile Gyorko, Michael Wacha, Ozuna, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Matt Carpenter, if the team chooses not to pick up his option for 2020, could leave as free agents after the upcoming season. St. Louis is committed to spending $76.4 million in 2020, and only $33.4 million in 2021. So, the club could quite obviously sign any player it wanted and build around him.
If the Cardinals inked Harper and put him in right field, he’d be the foundation of the team and the club could chose who to keep from the group of Ozuna, Goldschmidt and Carpenter to compliment him. The one flaw with the Wednesday trade is that it’s a temporary fix. I’m not rushing out to buy a Goldschmidt jersey to watch him walk away after one season in St. Louis.
More likely than passing out a decade-long contract, the Cardinals will look for a reliable left-handed bullpen pitcher to complement Chasen Shreve and replace Brett Cecil, who has shown no signs in the first two years of his four-year contract that he’s going to be trustworthy in the second two. Then there is the issue of the closer role. Gone is Bud Norris who did a decent job ending games for the first half of 2018 only to lose the closer title to a committee including Hicks and Carlos Martinez late in the year. If I was in charge, I wouldn’t spend a bunch of money on an established closer when Hicks looks like he’s growing into the role. I’d rather see the Birds leave Martinez as the closer to start the season and use some of their young arms to round out the rotation before the All-Star break. Martinez has seemed a bit tired and beat up the last year and a half. Working in the bullpen would likely help him to stay healthier and, if needed to do so, he would be fresh to transfer to the rotation later in the year. Also, the Cardinals could choose to protect the fireballer Reyes by using him in a bullpen role, at least for the first half of the season. Hicks or Reyes could assume the closer job in July or August if Martinez needs to be moved back to the rotation.
If the Cardinals don’t chose to sign a mega star, they could add a lesser outfielder like Avisail Garcia or Micheal Brantley to fill the second spot in the batting order and be a table setter for the big guns. At some point, St. Louis is likely to have to make the painful decision to eat the contract of Dexter Fowler. I can’t imagine not making a move to improve the outfield for his sake, should an opportunity present itself.
Regardless of what the club does next, St. Louis is a much better team tonight than it was this morning. But I still hope the club’s front office has a trick or two up its sleeve before it’s time to report to spring training. The Cardinals seem like they have a fighting chance to compete for the division title in 2019. But a deal for Harper would make them arguably the best team in the National League at the start of the season.