On one of his first days calling the shots for the Arizona Diamondbacks, former general manager Dave Stewart, who earned a reputation as a steely-eyed, no-nonsense starting pitcher, beamed as he talked about the first baseman he inherited. Stewart described how every morning he could wake up and “know the sun is brighter because Paul Goldschmidt is on my team.”
That same glow is now set to ignite St. Louis.
In a move several weeks in the making and several years in the chasing, the Cardinals acquired six-time All-Star Goldschmidt from Arizona in a four-player trade finalized Wednesday afternoon. Goldschmidt, 31, will anchor the infield as a Gold Glove-winning first baseman and add the desired name-brand fear factor to the Cardinals’ lineup as a perennial MVP candidate. Goldschmidt, who will be introduced and presented with a Cardinals’ jersey in St. Louis on Friday, brings the best credentials to first base of any player the Cardinals have had there since Albert Pujols left for California after the 2011 World Series championship.
To complete the deal, the Cardinals sent pitcher Luke Weaver, a former first-round pick; rookie Carson Kelly, one of the top catching prospects in baseball; and Class AA infielder Andy Young to the Diamondbacks, along with a compensation draft pick in 2019.
“While I will miss my brother Luke Weaver and my good friend Carson Kelly, I know who we are getting in this trade is a total game-changing type of player,” pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “Goldy is one of the best players our game has to offer and a great person. He brings so much to the table that will help our team.”
Goldschmidt has one year remaining on his contract and can be a free agent 12 months from now. The Cardinals did not request an opportunity from Arizona to talk to him about an extension, a source confirmed, as they preferred to use the coming season to allow both sides to get to know each other. The team will sell Goldschmidt on the city as it also considers a commitment to him into his late 30s and determines if he’s a long-term fit. Cardinals ownership has stressed this winter that it preferred to acquire a strong hitter for the middle of the order via trade and to try later to negotiate a long-term deal as the Cardinals did with Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Matt Holliday, but not Jason Heyward.
Goldschmidt’s acquisition intensifies the importance of 2019 for the Cardinals, who will have Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas all potential free agents by November. There is a team option for 2020 on Matt Carpenter’s contract, leaving the team with plenty of flexibility after the coming season and possibly numerous holes to fill this time next year.
Discussions began with Arizona a month ago at the general managers’ meetings, and the Cardinals entered this week intent on accelerating negotiations before next week’s winter meetings in Las Vegas, sources said. Having Goldschmidt in place with his $14.5 million salary for the season now gives the Cardinals payroll elasticity and a chance to pursue an elite (and pricey) lefthanded reliever for the bullpen. The team has had discussions with the agent for Zach Britton, who has closing experience, and they have explored the cost of Andrew Miller, a lights-out lefty who has shined in October. They will also seek a lefthanded-hitting utility player for the bench. The trade of Kelly leaves them in need of a backup catcher and could lead to a reunion with Francisco Pena.
The arrival of Goldschmidt shifts the Cardinals to the periphery of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, watching as that market develops. Harper is seeking a record contract that could be in excess of $330 million. The Cardinals would have to make subsequent moves to create an opening for Harper, something they had discussed before securing Goldschmidt.
The 6-foot-3 Goldschmidt is widely lauded in the game as one of the finest all-around players at first base and, as several players texted to the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday, a first-class teammate.
“He’s truly a humble superstar,” said former Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso, who played this past season in Arizona beside Goldschmidt. “The guy does everything well on the baseball field. As good of a player as I’ve played with. Even better person off the field.”
Goldschmidt finished sixth in the voting for the National League MVP award this past season and won his second consecutive Silver Slugger at the same position Joey Votto, Carpenter and Anthony Rizzo played. He has had a top-three finish in MVP voting three times in the past six seasons, and he was twice the runner-up for the award. The righthanded-hitting All-Star has four consecutive seasons of at least 24 home runs and at least 80 RBIs. His career OPS is .930, and in the past six seasons he’d only once had an OPS lower than .900.
He has four Silver Slugger Awards and three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, and he is the only player in the National League to be an All-Star in each of the past six seasons. Since 2013, Goldschmidt’s .947 OPS ranks second in the majors behind only Mike Trout’s 1.000. His .541 slugging percentage since 2013 is the highest of any National League player. And, he romps in National League Central ballparks with a .578 slugging percentage and a 1.011 OPS in 22 games at Wrigley Field and a 1.307 OPS in 23 games at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
With the exception of Kelly, earmarked to be Yadier Molina’s backup, the Cardinals completed the deal without taking from their planned 2019 roster. Weaver would have helped the bullpen or started the year as insurance for the rotation at Class AAA Memphis. Young, 24, reached Class AA this past season with a .289 average and 21 homers overall.
For the past several winters, the Cardinals have sought an intimidating presence for the middle of their order, and a year ago they acquired Ozuna to be that beast at cleanup. Shoulder issues contributed to his sluggish season and sent the Cardinals shopping again. Goldschmidt represents the “all-around upgrade” the Cardinals desired and a face of the franchise that Arizona had to stomach trading. Stewart’s time as GM ended a few years ago, and the Diamondbacks’ fade in the standings this past season prompted the team to cut payroll and look toward the future.
That gave the Cardinals daylight for a transformative deal.
“I couldn’t be happier about the trade,” said Carpenter, who will shift to third base. “When you get a player of Paul’s caliber it instantly makes everyone around him better.”