You didn't think the National League East was going to have all the fun this offseason, did you? At some point, something like this was bound to happen. And there it was on Wednesday afternoon, a sonic boom of a trade, the Cardinals acquiring six-time All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt
You didn't think the National League East was going to have all the fun this offseason, did you? At some point, something like this was bound to happen. And there it was on Wednesday afternoon, a sonic boom of a trade, the Cardinals acquiring six-time All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the D-backs for three young players.
This is precisely what the Cardinals said they were hoping to do -- that is, acquire a middle-of-the-order bat they believe can transform their entire lineup, if not their roster. So is this when the NL Central catches fire? How should the rest of the division respond? Do the other teams even feel the need to respond? This offseason began with the Cardinals and Reds promising to be active and the Brewers, Cubs and Pirates less so. Things can change quickly, so stay tuned.
• Cardinals trade for Paul Goldschmidt
The Cardinals aren't suddenly the division favorites, but they've closed the gap on the Brewers and Cubs. Yes, Goldschmidt can be a free agent after the 2019 season. No big deal there. The Cardinals are all in for 2019 after having missed the postseason three straight seasons. Bigger questions arise with their competitors.
• The latest rumors from the Hot Stove
Here's a look:
You have to look really hard to see a pressing need, so Goldschmidt's arrival in the division won't change the approach of general manager David Stearns. His one need is in the infield, presuming Trade Deadline pickup Mike Moustakas, now a free agent, will sign elsewhere. Since Travis Shaw made a smooth transition from third base to second after the Moustakas trade, Stearns can be flexible in how he fills the hole. In fact, given that prospect Mauricio Dubon is almost big league-ready, Stearns may be tempted to play things out for a while. His potential options include a long list of impressive free agents, including Daniel Murphy, Marwin Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie. Kansas City's Whit Merrifield is an intriguing trade possibility, but that appears unlikely.
Like the Brewers, the Cubs have pretty much promised a quiet offseason. If Kristopher Bryant and Yu Darvish have healthy and productive seasons, there's enough there to improve on a team that won 95 games in 2018. More likely, there'll be a consideration of smaller deals, like deepening the bullpen and deciding if Javier Baez will remain at short. Would Goldschmidt joining the Cardinals prompt the Cubs' president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, to make a run at Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? That seems unlikely. Targeting one of the top free-agent relievers -- Andrew Miller or Zach Britton -- is more likely.
The Pirates have already been busy, signing free-agent outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall and third baseman Jungho Kang to upgrade an offense that was 25th in the Majors in home runs. GM Neal Huntington is hoping other improvements will come from within courtesy of the continued development of first baseman Josh Bell and middle infielders Kevin Newman and Adam Frazier. With Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer and Trevor Williams, the Pirates have a front three that matches up with almost any in the division. Huntington will shop for bullpen upgrades and a shortstop as the free-agent market sorts itself out over the next few weeks. Overall, though, the Pirates believe they're headed in the right direction and are unlikely to react to Goldschmidt's acquisition.
The Reds have already promised a major upgrade to their rotation and have discussed a potential trade for Cleveland's Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Cincinnati would also seem to be a logical fit for Sonny Gray, who is being shopped by the Yankees, since his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, is now with the Reds. One free agent to watch is lefty Wade Miley, who had a good relationship with Johnson when both were with the Brewers in 2018. Those discussions -- or potential discussions -- tell you that president of baseball operations Dick Williams is serious about acquiring starting pitching. He has also checked in on almost all the free-agent starters.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.