Cardinals go all-in for 2019 with Goldschmidt trade
Justin Berl / Getty Images Sport / Getty

After dismissing longtime manager Mike Matheny in July as his club staggered toward a second successive third-place finish in the National League Central, St. Louis Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. explained the decision thusly.

"Continuity is desirable, but when it's not working, you feel like a change needs to be made," he said at the time, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Clearly, the Cardinals' front office was paying attention.

After all, throughout this stretch of futility - the Cardinals have now missed the postseason three years in a row, a veritable lifetime by St. Louis standards - the roster has been characterized by a strong sense of continuity.

Yes, they brought in Dexter Fowler on that ill-fated deal two winters ago, then picked up Marcell Ozuna during the Miami Marlins' shameless everything-must-go sale last offseason. But the core of the Cardinals' roster hasn't really changed since they last made the playoffs in 2015. Matt Carpenter. Yadier Molina. Carlos Martinez. Adam Wainwright. Michael Wacha. Kolten Wong. They're all still around. And it hasn't worked.

So, on Wednesday afternoon, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made a seismic addition to his roster, acquiring All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for right-hander Luke Weaver, former top catching prospect Carson Kelly, minor-league infielder Andy Young, and a compensatory draft pick.

Teams don't typically part with a trove of upside-laden long-term assets to land a player with one year left on his contract. Goldschmidt, however, is a worthwhile exception.

"Paul is possibly the best player in the National League," Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen told reporters, including MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. "We understand that, and we've understood that for a very long time."

Indeed, since becoming an everyday player in 2012, Goldschmidt has put up more WAR - according to FanGraphs - than every other NL player, combining consistently elite offense with exemplary defense at first base (insofar as first base defense can be exemplary). Goldschmidt has been an All-Star six times in the past seven seasons, slashing .299/.400/.534 over that span - good for a 145 wRC+, sixth-best among qualified hitters - while averaging 29 home runs, 37 doubles, 91 walks, and 17 stolen bases per year.

Last season, in his second-"worst" offensive campaign since 2013, the 31-year-old still finished sixth in NL MVP voting, managing a .922 OPS with 33 homers and 35 doubles in 158 games. He can singlehandedly turn a good offense - which the Cardinals possessed in 2018, largely thanks to the outsized contributions of Carpenter and Jose Martinez - into a great one.

Now, though, the pressure is on for the Cardinals. Barring an extension, they will have but one kick at the can with Goldschmidt, and are poised to lose other key contributors to free agency next winter in Ozuna, Wacha, Wainwright, and Miles Mikolas. That likely means more moves are coming. The addition of Goldschmidt alone won't distinguish the Cardinals - a fringe contender for the past three seasons - in a division featuring the teams with last year's two highest NL winning percentages in the Milwaukee Brewers (96-67) and Chicago Cubs (95-68).

Projected NL Central 2019 standings (courtesy FanGraphs)

Team Record Run diff RS/G RA/G
Cubs 88-74 70 4.71 4.27
Cardinals 87-75 53 4.57 4.24
Pirates 81-81 0 4.32 4.32
Brewers 78-84 -30 4.39 4.57
Reds 76-86 -44 4.44 4.72

Chiefly, the Cardinals need to sort out their right field situation - is an outside hire preferable to any/all of Fowler, Martinez, or Tyler O'Neill? - and beef up their bullpen, which ranked in the NL's bottom five in nearly every meaningful statistical category in 2018. They must also determine whether it's worth unloading those 25-man pieces made superfluous by the addition of Goldschmidt; his arrival renders redundant either Wong or Jedd Gyorko depending on where the Cardinals ultimately decide to use Carpenter (likely at third base). It complicates Jose Martinez's role moving forward, as well.

Each of those players has both short-term and long-term value as potential depth pieces in 2019 and as everyday players beyond. But considering how imperative it has now become to win next season, would they be better used as trade pieces to address the remaining holes on the roster? Or should the Cardinals instead augment their roster through free agency - and potentially field their highest Opening Day payroll in franchise history, eclipsing last year's $159.7 million - to bolster their chances of making 2019 a success?

Regardless, the die is cast for the Cardinals, who have historically shied away from risky propositions like this one, swapping a bevy of talented youngsters for one year of a player's services.

Like DeWitt said, though, when it's not working, you have to shake things up.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

Comments
Cardinals go all-in for 2019 with Goldschmidt trade
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news, in your inbox.