St. Louis Cardinals: Looking at the Paul Goldschmidt trade one year later

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after striking out in the first inning of game three of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after striking out in the first inning of game three of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals acquired first baseman Paul Goldschmidt on Dec. 5, 2018. But his first season wasn’t quite what fans had hoped for.

Superstar slugger Paul Goldschmidt arrived in St. Louis with sky-high expectations thrust upon his shoulders. Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals were hungry for a power bat in the middle of the lineup, and Goldschmidt seemed to fit the bill. But while his 2019 season wasn’t a failure, it didn’t come close to achieving what fans had expected.

At this time last year, the St. Louis Cardinals were searching for a big bopper. Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna could hit home runs, but they weren’t feared sluggers. It was a hole the Cardinals had struggled to fill since Albert Pujols’ departure.

Then the Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to a blockbuster deal that sent Goldschmidt to the Cardinals for catcher Carson Kelly, pitcher Luke Weaver and minor league infielder Andy Young.

The trade looked to be a heist for the Cardinals at the time. Yes, Goldschmidt was 31 years old when the team acquired him, but even if he fell off a little, surely he’d still be a well above average player.

As for the players the Cardinals gave up, Kelly was blocked by Yadier Molina for playing time and hadn’t shown much with the bat in limited opportunities. Weaver had shown flashes of stardom, but he fell out of favor after a shaky 2018. And you’d have to be a real farm system extraordinaire to have heard of Young, who was decent but not spectacular in the Cardinals’ lower levels.

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Incumbent first baseman Matt Carpenter was shoved across the diamond to third base to make room for Goldschmidt, who was known as one of the most sure-handed first baseman and had won three Gold Glove awards.

In Goldschmidt’s second game, he went 3 for 4 with three home runs. It seemed the savior had come. But baseball is a long season, and while it was a tantalizing sample, it wouldn’t last. At the end of the season, Goldschmidt had accumulated a batting average of .260, the lowest of his career except for his rookie year. He hit 34 home runs, which was right around his career norm, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy most fans.

However, if we look strictly at Goldschmidt’s second-half batting profile, he looked much more like the player fans were expecting. He hit .267 in the second half compared to .254 in the first. He also slugged 18 home runs in the second half and 16 in the first half despite 72 fewer plate appearances in the second. He also cut down his strikeout rate, whiffing 69 times in the second half compared to 97 in the first.

If one looks deeper into the statistics, they can see there is still hope for Goldschmidt to rebound even more than he did in the second half. A BABIP of .303 was by far the lowest in his career outside his rookie season, which points to some bad luck at the plate. His contact rate actually improved, as did his strikeout rate. However, there was also regression in his exit velocity and walk rate, pointing to a possible decline in his strength and batting eye.

Still, Goldschmidt was far from a complete disaster. He continued to play sparkling defense and was likely a major contributor to the Cardinals’ going from the most errors in the league in 2018 to the fewest in 2019. And his 34 home runs was still enough to lead the Cardinals.

Goldschmidt was under a microscope during his first year in St. Louis, and he could have put some extra pressure on himself to perform. While age-related decline is likely, he could have somewhat of a resurgence in 2020.

Meanwhile, on the Diamondbacks’ side, Kelly and Weaver both had career-best seasons. Kelly hit .245 with 18 home runs when he finally escaped the shackles of extremely limited playing time in St. Louis. While the average doesn’t pop off the page, it isn’t bad for a catcher. He also threw out 32% of basestealers.

Weaver also had a good year, with an ERA of 2.94. He cut down his walk total to 14 in 64.1 innings, a career-best rate of two batters per nine innings. Unfortunately for Weaver, his season was cut short with a UCL strain.

Young split time with Arizona’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, where he hit .271 and 29 home runs. He was protected from the Rule 5 Draft, and he could make his debut in 2020.

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While Goldschmidt had his worst year as a pro and Kelly and Weaver had their best, it’s far too early to call the trade a steal for the Diamondbacks. If Goldschmidt can show some of his pre-2019 form, the front office’s decision could look a lot better next year.

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