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Since June 1, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has been arguably the best position player in baseball not named Bryce Harper or Juan Soto.
In that span, Goldy is slashing .326/.398/.592 with 25 homers, 70 RBI and a 165 wRC+. His 4.8 fWAR trail only the aforementioned Harper and Soto.
Goldy, at 34 years old, has found it again.
It is no coincidence that the once written-off Cardinals are now a lock for the second National League Wild Card spot.
Perhaps we should have seen this resurgence coming, but it was only a year ago that well-meaning Arizona Diamondbacks analysts were making striking stat comparisons between Goldy and current first baseman Christian Walker.
Since that tweet, Christian Walker is slashing .231/.307/.367 and has been worth –0.2 fWAR. In the same timeframe, Paul Goldschmidt is slashing .294/.369/.506 and has been worth 6.0 fWAR.
Clearly, this is my fault.
On Dec. 5, 2018, the Diamondbacks announced they were trading long-time franchise icon Goldschmidt to the Cardinals in exchange for right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly and infield prospect Andy Young.
In the words of general manager Mike Hazen at the time, “There are decisions you want to do, and there are decisions you know you have to do.”
This decision was the latter for the D-backs.
In nearly 1,100 games from 2011-18, Goldy slashed .297/.398/.532 during his stint in the desert. He posted 39.9 bWAR in his eight-year D-backs career, which is far and away the highest mark of any position player in franchise history.
The six-time All-Star also won four Gold Glove awards and placed in the top three in National League MVP voting in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Aside from being arguably the best first baseman in baseball in the 2010s, Goldy was the face of a franchise that had few other constants during his tenure in the desert.
Despite the controversy surrounding Hazen’s decision, the rationale was simple in theory.
Goldy was 31 years old at the time and entering the final year of his contract. The D-backs still had Zack Greinke’s $34.5 million on the books for 2019, as well as Yasmany Tomás’ $15.5 million. That’s already $50 million in salary between two players — only one of whom was an actual major league contributor.
Goldy’s 2019 salary of $14.5 million was an extraordinary value, but there was no doubt it would take at least $25 million per year to bring him back after that. As is often the case for small-market teams, the D-backs couldn’t afford to let their star player walk for nothing and decided to deal him. They got three players in return.
Coming off a 4.95 ERA season in 2018, Weaver was certainly still a work in progress — and let’s face it, he still is. But his electric four seamer and deceptive changeup were enough to make the 25-year-old the centerpiece of the deal.
Hazen has talked numerous times about the importance of acquiring young, controllable starting pitching during his tenure. The D-backs acquired five years of Weaver in the deal.
Co-headlining the Paul Goldschmidt trade with Weaver was Kelly, a highly-touted catching prospect with 131 major league plate appearances scattered from 2016-18. He was blocked by some guy named Yadier Molina.
Questions swirled about how Kelly’s bat would transfer to the majors, but he was very well-regarded defensively. In Baseball America’s mid-2017 Cardinals prospects rankings, Kelly placed second in the organization behind only flamethrower Alex Reyes.
Young, the final piece of the deal, was a 24-year-old infielder in Double-A with surprising raw power and a lot of questions about his defensive home.
Since the trade, Weaver has posted a 4.45 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 37 starts with the D-backs. He’s essentially been a league-average pitcher, but he’s struggled to stay on the field and pitch deep into games.
Kelly, meanwhile, has slashed .235/.331/.433 with his new club while living up to the hype as an above-average defensive catcher. With 3.7 fWAR over 244 games, Kelly is clearly the D-backs’ catcher of the present and future. He is under team control through the 2024 season.
Finally, Young has seen very limited time in the big leagues because of his defensive limitations. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that changing, unless the designated hitter comes to the National League in the new collective bargaining agreement.
On the surface, given Goldy’s recent performance, it seems like the D-backs did pretty poorly in the trade. That’s probably not a fair assessment.
The D-backs only traded away one year of control of Goldschmidt, and the Cardinals certainly weren’t going to pay for more than that.
As it turned out, that one year was actually Goldy’s worst season since 2012. It’s hard to argue that six years of an above-average catcher and five years of a league-average starting pitcher weren’t worthy of that exchange.
Hazen certainly didn’t knock the deal out of the park, but he didn’t embarrass himself either.
The real tragedy here is the Diamondbacks’ unwillingness to bring Paul Goldschmidt back in the first place.
What initially looked like a well-timed pivot to more affordable first base options has left D-backs fans watching the best position player in franchise history on another team in the playoffs.
Of course, Goldy won’t be the only former Diamondback wearing other colors this postseason. It’s become the norm around here.
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