Car­di­nals have a sea­son to con­vince Gold­schmidt to stay

The Welland Tribune - - Sports - TYLER KEPNER

Paul Gold­schmidt was a high school se­nior, watch­ing from the up­per deck in Hous­ton, when Al­bert Pu­jols blasted a ti­tanic home run for the

St. Louis Car­di­nals in the 2005 Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries. The Car­di­nals had been one out from elim­i­na­tion, but the great Pu­jols saved them. St. Louis would lose that base­ball se­ries, but Pu­jols went on to lead them to two World Se­ries ti­tles in later years.

“I had a good view,” Gold­schmidt said in an in­ter­view a few years ago. “It was crazy. I was like ev­ery fan there. I was up­set.”

Gold­schmidt rooted for the Astros then, and be­fore long he would be­come an all-star first base­man for the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs. But with one year to go be­fore he hits free agency, the down­siz­ing Di­a­mond­backs traded Gold­schmidt on Wed­nes­day to the Car­di­nals, who fi­nally found a fear­some slug­ger to re­place Pu­jols in the mid­dle of their lineup.

In ex­change for Gold­schmidt, the Di­a­mond­backs ac­quired starter Luke Weaver, catcher Car­son Kelly, mi­nor-league in­fielder An­drew Young and a com­pet­i­tive-bal­ance round B draft pick in 2019. Weaver was 7-11 with a 4.95 earned run av­er­age last sea­son, and while Kelly has hit only .154 in the ma­jors, he was blocked by Yadier Molina in St. Louis and has ranked among base­ball’s best prospects.

The Car­di­nals’ last ti­tle came in 2011, Pu­jols’ fi­nal sea­son be­fore leav­ing for the Los An­ge­les An­gels in free agency. Last sea­son was the Car­di­nals’ third in a row with­out a play­off ap­pear­ance, and they have badly needed an of­fen­sive force.

Pu­jols played 11 sea­sons for the Car­di­nals, al­ways hit­ting at least 30 homers with an on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age of .900 or bet­ter. Since then, no Car­di­nal has reached those lev­els in the same sea­son. Gold­schmidt has done it four times, in­clud­ing last sea­son, when he had 33 homers and a .922 OPS.

Even so, the Car­di­nals had a fairly pro­duc­tive of­fence last sea­son and ral­lied from a slow start to go 88-74, the best record of any non-play­off team in the Na­tional League. The Di­a­mond­backs had an op­po­site itin­er­ary: Af­ter lead­ing the NL West at the start of Septem­ber, they lost 19 of 27 games in that month to fin­ish 82-80.

The Di­a­mond­backs lost J.D. Martinez in free agency to the Bos­ton Red Sox last win­ter, and this week lost an all-star starter, Pa­trick Corbin, to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als as a free agent. Cen­tre-fielder A.J. Pol­lock, a for­mer all-star who is also a free agent, may be the next to leave.

Di­a­mond­backs gen­eral man­ager Mike Hazen

called Wed­nes­day a bit­ter­sweet day, suggest­ing that Gold­schmidt was “pos­si­bly the best player in the Na­tional League” and ac­knowl­edg­ing that he was the fran­chise’s most vis­i­ble star.

He said the Car­di­nals’ pack­age would help for­tify a thin base of tal­ent.

“We’ve worked pretty hard to try to build that tal­ent in­fra­struc­ture,” said Hazen, who was hired in Oc­to­ber 2016. “We don’t feel like it’s where it needs to be. I think we’re still talk­ing about a bot­tom-10 farm sys­tem in base­ball. That’s some­thing we’re work­ing ag­gres­sively to try to im­prove to be able to sus­tain suc­cess, not just get there for any one year.”

The Di­a­mond­backs never ad­vanced past the divi­sion se­ries with Gold­schmidt in the lineup, de­spite adding the ace starter Zack Greinke for six years and US$206.5 mil­lion be­fore the 2016 sea­son. That deal gives Greinke the high­est av­er­age an­nual salary in the ma­jors ($34.4 mil­lion), and while Hazen said he did not envision “a rash of trades,” it stands to rea­son he will try to move Greinke.

As for the Car­di­nals, they have tried and failed in re­cent years to lure su­per­stars for the long term. While they could not per­suade Hey­ward to stay af­ter a one-sea­son cameo, they once had a knack for re­tain­ing stars who ar­rived with­out a long-term con­tract, such as Mark McGwire, Jim Ed­monds and Matt Hol­l­i­day. Keep­ing Gold­schmidt will be their next chal­lenge. But for next sea­son, at least, the Car­di­nals should fi­nally have the run pro­ducer they have been miss­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Paul Gold­schmidt has av­er­aged 32 homes a year with a .410 on-base per­cent­age over the past four sea­sons.

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