After missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals appear to be pushing some chips into the pot for next season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. Derrick Goold reported the sides were closing in on a deal, while Jon Heyman first reported the deal as done. The Diamondbacks appear to be the first to report their return. Here’s the trade.
- Paul Goldschmidt
We probably don’t need to talk a ton about Goldschmidt. He’s arguably been the best player in the National League since 2013, with a .301/.406/.541 hitting line good for a 149 wRC+ and 33 wins above replacement. Over the last three years, he’s put up a 140 wRC+ and five wins per season, and last year was no different. He struck out an unusually high amount the first two months of the season and had a terrible May (46 wRC+), but boasted a strong recovery on his way to typically excellent numbers. There’s nothing fluky in his Statcast numbers. He’s one of the top 10 hitters in baseball, and going into his age-31 season, he’s projected to be one of the top 15 hitters in baseball again. Steamer projects Golschmidt for 4.1 WAR while ZiPS puts him at 3.7. It’s pretty safe to say he’s a four-win player, which even with the higher expectations of offense at first base, makes him one of the top 25 or so players in the game, and the new best player on the Cardinals.
The downside to trading for Goldschmidt is his looming free agency at the end of this coming season. He’ll join fellow Cardinals Marcell Ozuna, Miles Mikolas and Michael Wacha as pending free agents. The first three players make up roughly a quarter of St. Louis’ projected production in 2019. That would seem to create a greater sense of urgency to succeed entering the season, and shouldn’t preclude more additions to try to catch up to the Cubs, at least on paper. More moves seems almost assured, even they are largely to move some depth and redundancy.
As a practical matter, bringing in Goldschmidt likely means Matt Carpenter will play third base next season, pushing Jedd Gyorko to the bench or into a possible platoon role with Kolten Wong. The Cardinals are paying Gyorko $8 million this year, with $5 million more coming from San Diego. Gyorko has a $13 million option for 2020 with a one million dollar buyout. Moving Gyorko to another team, while adding Goldschmidt’s $14.5 million salary, would mean only $6.5 million in additional spending for next season. That would put the club at around $140 million in payroll, $20 million short of what they were a year ago and a full $60 million short of the competitive balance tax threshold, which is likely to serve as an artificial cap on their spending. Last week, I wrote that even with the potential addition of Goldschmidt, the club would still be well-served to chase Bryce Harper. I still think that’s true.
If the team were to add a rental like Goldschmidt, it becomes even more important to add the best player available to maximize the current window. Few expect the Cardinals will actually land Harper given their past and his other potential suitors, but the Cardinals’ president (and owner’s son) acknowledged the possibility to Derrick Goold. It’s worth noting the last time the Cardinals won the bidding war for a premier free agent, it was for a Scott Boras client four years older than Harper. Matt Holliday’s $17 million per year salary equates to $30 million when MLB’s payroll inflation is taken into account. Holliday lived up to his deal and was a big part of one of the most successful runs in franchise history, with five playoff appearances in seven seasons along with two World Series appearances and one title. The team hasn’t been the same since his bat left two years ago. If the Cardinals don’t make Harper (or Machado) a reality, it’s difficult to see them breaking out of the cycle of good-but-not-good-enough they’ve found themselves in the past three seasons. The moderate move has hamstrung the Cardinals, so now they’re being pushed to make the risky one. It’s called the winner’s curse for good reason, but when the alternatives are lacking, putting all your eggs in a single basket may be the only way to carry them.
As for the players the Cardinals gave up, the team could be said to have moved excess pieces, yet they still gave up quality players who have the potential for success. In Luke Weaver, Arizona is gaining a pitcher who pitched very well for stretches in each of the past two seasons, but has faded as the season wore on each time. There were concerns when he was coming up that Weaver’s delivery might mean he would have to move into a bullpen role at some point, but his strong play in 2017 earned him a rotation spot last season. By the All-Star Break, he had pitched over 100 innings and his 4.72 ERA wasn’t as bad as it looked, with a more average 4.04 FIP. His velocity didn’t tick up in relief at the end of the season, further indicating he was a bit worn down. He still has five more years of team control and has starter potential but might also excel in a multi-inning relief role. He reached the majors just two years after he was drafted so at 25, he has room to grow and develop a third, useful pitch that would help him remain a starter.
Carson Kelly isn’t technically a prospect, having amassed just short of a full season in the big leagues over the last three years, but he’s still just 24 years old. He’s only had 131 PA in 63 games during that time so there isn’t much to make of his poor batting line given how little he played behind Yadier Molina. Eric Longenhagen indicated Kelly’s glove is still plus, but wondered if the bat would ever make an impact. He’s posted an above-average batting line in Memphis the last two seasons with a high walk rate, the latter of which could continue in the majors when hitting in front of the pitcher. He’s ready for the big leagues, and he’s got six more years before he reaches free agency.
The two principal players might be spare parts for the Cardinals, what with the club’s rotation depth, Yadier Molina having signed for another two years, and Andrew Kninzer being a good catching prospect in his own right, but they could also step in right away for the Diamondback and be average players. Andy Young, on the other hand, is more of a wild card. He was 12th on the recent Cardinals top 40 prospect list. Longenhagen said he was “[f]ine at 2B, above-average pull power, reasonable contact, knows to attack pitches he can drive.” He is a stereotypical Cardinals’ success story, having signed out of college as a senior for just $3,000 before putting up monster numbers in Double-A last year. As for the draft pick, it gives Arizona a slightly worse pick a year early compared to what they would have received had they kept Goldschmidt and made him a qualifying offer.
Both sides did well in this trade. The Cardinals got a really good player without severely hurting their prospect depth or major league prospects. By doing so, they avoided overpaying for a player they will have for just one season. On the other hand, the Diamondbacks got two major league-ready starters, another decent prospect, and added another top-100 pick to their potential haul next season, where they will have eight picks in the top 100 so long as they don’t bring back A.J. Pollock. It has to hurt to see Paul Goldschmidt go, but this trade should accelerate the team’s window for contention even if they don’t go for it this year.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.