The St. Louis Cardinals, in 2018, missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year for the first time since the 1997-99 seasons, years when the fans were mostly all right with being postseason-free considering Mark McGwire was hitting 193 homers over those three years. Suffice it to say, the fans
The St. Louis Cardinals, in 2018, missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year for the first time since the 1997-99 seasons, years when the fans were mostly all right with being postseason-free considering Mark McGwire was hitting 193 homers over those three years. Suffice it to say, the fans are not mostly all right with this particular three-year skid. So the Cardinals had to do something a little outside their comfort zone. Now we'll see if they're willing to keep straying this far outside of it.
With the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt on Wednesday afternoon, the Cardinals have the slugger they have been looking for since Jose Pujols left. Goldschmidt fits perfectly at first base -- giving the Cardinals two Gold Glove-caliber fielders on that side on the infield, and the ability to move Matt Carpenter to third base -- and is a middle-of-the-lineup bat that will elevate the rest of the lineup.
• Cardinals trade for Paul Goldschmidt
It is an obvious fit, but it is still out of character for the Cardinals, because Goldschmidt will be a free agent at the end of the 2019 season, and the Cardinals are loath to trade for one-year guys, particularly in the wake of Jason Heyward leaving in their last trade for a one-year player. This is a team that wants to contend every season and blanches at the idea of "competitive windows." But with this trade, the Cardinals are making it clear: Missing the playoffs four straight years is unacceptable.
And they still might not be done.
Here's how the Cardinals' lineup potentially stacks up with Goldschmidt:
1. 3B Matt Carpenter
- RF William Fowler/Jose Martinez/Tyler O'Neill
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt
- LF Marcell Ozuna
- SS Paul DeJong
- C Yadier Molina
- 2B Kolten Wong
- CF Harrison Bader
It's possible that manager Mike Shildt will bat Molina second, as he did much of last year, and the right-field logjam still needs to settle, but that's a scary lineup, with two top-10 MVP finishers in the first three spots in the order. But what's perhaps most fascinating is that the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters are both free agents next offseason. The Cardinals are putting a whole bunch of chips on 2019. This is as "win now" a move as the Cardinals have made in years.
As much hope as the Cardinals had for Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver at various points in their careers, the team did not give up anything they will miss in trading them to Arizona, immediately or in the long term. Weaver had a terrific spring in 2018 but never put it together during the season, and it's honestly possible he would have been 10th or 11th on the Cardinals' rotation depth chart had he stayed. Kelly has been a top 100 prospect the last few years, but he has never hit in the Majors, the Cardinals have another hot catching prospect in Andrew Knizer and, besides, Molina never takes a day off anyway. (The third player sent to the D-backs, Andy Young, is a 24-year-old Triple-A infielder.)
These are solid players, players who will likely contribute to the D-backs next season. Considering how little rental players are valued in today's market -- even fantastic ones like Goldschmidt -- the D-backs probably shouldn't have expected much more in return for their franchise icon. They're good players, but the Cardinals found them easily expendable. St. Louis has spent the last decade concentrating on building up depth for this exact reason: to deal from a position of strength.
There has been much talk about the Cardinals' "convincing" Goldschmidt to sign with them after the season, as if the Cardinals will simply show him all the fans cheering for him at Busch Stadium and he'll just suddenly sign away all his bargaining power. That might have worked with Matthew Holliday, Scott Rolen and McGwire a decade ago, but it hasn't worked much recently: Ask Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom chose not to play for St. Louis, about how far the cachet of the Cardinals fanbase will take you. The Cardinals will have to pony up if they want to keep Goldschmidt around past 2019.
Which is another reason they might not necessarily be done. The Cardinals would seem to remain firmly in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes -- that right-field situation is still defiantly unresolved -- and it's Harper, not Goldschmidt, who fits the Cardinals' "contend forever" timeline. (You can probably eliminate them from the Manny Machado chase now, though.) And even if they don't get Harper, they might take their chances with the Fowler/O'Neill combo -- Martinez seems likely to be dealt to an American League team, perhaps for bullpen help -- and see which outfielders shake loose during the season, or they can wait to see if Fowler bounces back or O'Neill can emerge. (Or even look at a Michael Brantley or Nick Markakis.) It's also possible they don't pay for Goldschmidt and look at, say, Nolan Arenado after next season instead. They, as always, have options.
The Cardinals rarely have seasons like the one they have coming up: a win-or-else season. With Ozuna's and Goldschmidt's contracts expiring -- not to mention those of Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas -- the Cardinals are putting everything on winning in 2019. They are unlikely to shell out for both Goldschmidt and Ozuna, and might not end up with either, but for now they have both. They might still spend on a Harper to make certain they have a centerpiece slugger for the next half-decade or so. But now, at last, they have one, maybe two, for 2019, which is suddenly the most important, vital season in recent Cardinals history.
Paul Goldschmidt is an acquisition unlike almost any in recent Cardinals memory: a rental power bat to win, right now. He changes the lineup, immediately. And, at last, that's the key word for the Cardinals:
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.