Paul Goldschmidt, baseball’s most underrated superstar, is going to the St. Louis Cardinals. Their fans will love him and adore him, and there will be bobbleheads and incredibly earnest signs on poster board around the ballpark and standing ovations, and it’s all going to convince him to sign a six-year extension before the end of the season, and he’s going to hit 200 home runs in those six years. It’s going to make you sick, unless you’re a Cardinals fan, which means you won’t understand why the rest of us are rolling our eyes and making gagging sounds.
This is how it is going to be. And I know that you know this, too. Talking about it helps us all.
The Cardinals are adding a perennial MVP candidate to a lineup that had already thumped 205 homers last year, and they did it without losing a key cog from their 2019 plans. That’s the most impressive sleight of hand, here. Even though Goldschmidt is a pending free agent, which lowered his value, the Cards were also fighting off a dozen teams. It’s impressive for them not to lose someone they were counting on next season.
Take a look at what they gave up: Luke Weaver wasn’t guaranteed a rotation spot after his disappointing season, and while he still has star potential, it’s possible — likely? — that he was always going to be most valuable to the Cardinals as a trade piece. Carson Kelly is a nod to all of those Diamondbacks fans who were upset that Paul Bako never played for them. And while Andrew Young profiles as an EXTREMELY Cardinals kind of player, gritty like a 37th-rounder, the organization knows they can always grow players like him in a petri dish.
That’s it. That’s what the Cardinals had to give up* to get one of the best players in baseball.
* Well, that and a competitive-balance pick, which the Cardinals still get, even though they’ve finished under .500 once since 2000. That will never not be hilarious.
That’s not to pooh-pooh the deal from the Diamondbacks perspective. Weaver looked like a future ace as recently as April. Kelly is a glove-first, bat-second catcher, but those kinds of players can occasionally have a ton of value, even if they never hit. And Young allows Arizona fans to get some immediate return on their investment, which helps ease their pain. A tiny, tiny fraction of their pain. There are a lot of ways this can still work for the Diamondbacks.
But the Cardinals didn’t want to cross their fingers and hope that Young was going to be an organizational Zobrist, or that Weaver was going to rebound so forcefully that he was going to knock an established pitcher out of the rotation. They wanted to scan the catalog, point to one of the best players in baseball, and have him delivered right to their door. You can’t blame them, after all. Everyone should have wanted Goldschmidt.
If there’s a cautionary tale to whisper into the Cardinals’ ear, it has nothing to do with the young players going to the Diamondbacks. It has to do with the organization’s unfortunate tradition of a spring surprise. If there’s any team that knows that it’s silly to be content with how a roster looks on paper, it’s the Cardinals, which means we should still see a flurry of activity this winter. In an offseason that is absolutely saturated with second basemen — just completely overwhelmed with them — they have a chance to explore an upgrade from Kolten Wong. They probably aren’t ready to move on entirely from Dexter Fowler, considering he still has nearly $50 million left on his deal, but they can certainly explore the idea.
And, whoa, their catcher is already 36? Might be time to make a change there, he said while making a Jim-from-The-Office face at the camera.
The point is, this might not be it for the Cardinals. They have the happy problem of a roster that doesn’t have many obvious trap doors, so it might be tricky to fit another name-brand player, but this is the move of the offseason so far.
As for the Diamondbacks, well, they tried. They had a team filled with All-Stars, and they spent some money to complement them. Don’t forget about the Shelby Miller trade, which was extremely, er, bold. But their response to A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin leaving in the same offseason was to join the growing Ponzi scheme of teams trying to accumulate all the best young players and compete indefinitely. In three years, there will be 16 teams with a 96-66 record and a roster filled with underpaid youngsters. Because that’s what happens for every team that tries to rebuild, right? Right?
That’s probably right. Trade all of your good players for young players who are at the top of the “pyramid” of young players, so to speak. It’s a flawless plan that’s going to work for everyone.
Even if several of these rebuilding teams are going to stink for much longer than expected, that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to work for the Diamondbacks. Still, I’ll always think there was a missed opportunity here. Here was the best player the franchise has ever developed, a true star, a reason to watch a team out of contention. He did everything well, like a Jeff Bagwell in his prime, and his face could have been on a banner outside the stadium for decades.
Instead, here’s Luke Weaver and some other guys. It could most definitely work out! We’ve all seen gambits like this fail, whereas a decision to let Goldschmidt have a Todd Helton-like career with the same team would have been much harder to nitpick. That would have made sense. That would have felt right.
It’s the Cardinals who are feeling pretty, pretty good right about now, though. They have an inner-circle All-Star on their roster, and they’ve probably improved by four or five wins without removing anything from their major-league roster. And don’t forget the part where Goldschmidt is definitely signing an extension and aging gracefully beyond belief, just to bug everyone who isn’t a Cardinals fan. You know this will happen. Goldschmidt has “young player skills” (he’s faster than you think, and his glove is sound, too), which bodes well for his 30s. And the Cardinals are going to enjoy it all.
Sometimes baseball is a Captain Beefheart song, all skronky and weird, and sometimes it’s as natural as a I-IV-V chord progression. This is definitely the latter. Goldschmidt to the Cardinals just makes sense, and he’s made a formidable team, uh, formidabler. Keep a thought for the Diamondbacks fans who just lost the best slugger the team has ever introduced to the world, but do take a moment to fear the Cardinals. They’re going to be loaded.