The Arizona Diamondbacks were in first place in the National League West for 125 of the 186 days of the 2018 season. They finished the season at 82-80, nine games out of first place. That led to an offseason where rumors began to swirl about the team trading their pricey pitcher and franchise cornerstone. On Tuesday, they dealt Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Carson Kelly, pitcher Luke Weaver, and utility man Andrew Young.
Goldschmidt has a career .297/.398/.522 and, since becoming a full time player in 2012, his 140 wRC+ is sixth best in baseball. If you’re a Rockies fan, it’s likely your first reaction to hearing him getting traded out of the division was something along the lines of “good riddance.” How could it not be good news that the Rockies will go from facing Goldy 19 times next season to just seven?
Moving Paul Goldschmidt is a clear sign that 2019 was not going to be the Diamondbacks year. Even before Tuesday’s trade, Arizona seemed to be a team in decline. After that precipitous drop from first place to end the season, the Diamondbacks were looking at the departures of Patrick Corbin (4.5 bWAR in 33 starts) and AJ Pollock (2.5 bWAR in 113 games) in free agency. With Greinke eating up $100 million over the next three years, the team didn’t seem to be in a position to improve via free agency, so it was difficult to imagine them being able to improve on a 82-80 record in 2019. What’s a Princeton educated baseball exec to do but turn one year of a superstar into a package of major league ready prospects?
Had the Diamondbacks kept Goldschmidt it’s still unlikely they would have been much of a factor in the Wild Card race. Before the trade went through, FanGraphs had them projected to win 82 games in 2019. Their outlook looks worse minus Goldschmidt’s 4.3 projected WAR, even considering the contributions from the players they received in return. They have gone from longshot contender to “Wait ‘til next year.”
Having an weaker Diamondbacks squad makes the path to the playoffs a little less crowded for the Rockies and gives them a third division rival in rebuild mode to beat up on in 2019. The problem is, because the Dodgers don’t seem to be going anywhere, the path to the playoffs likely involves the Wild Card, and Goldschmidt just moved to one of the strongest Wild Card contenders.
Only in St. Louis (and probably the Bronx) is an 88-win season a disappointment. But a three year playoff drought is nigh unacceptable (it’s been 20 years since they had a streak that long). Still, entering the offseason the Cardinals looked to be trending in the opposite direction as the Dbacks, with a roster full of talented young players and no albatross contracts in sight. The question was how could they build a more consistent and reliable offense.
Adding Goldschmidt allows the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to his more natural third base position and boot Jedd Gyorko to the bench, thereby strongly improving the offense without giving away much on defense. Using FanGraphs’ depth charts, that probably represents a net three win improvement from 84 wins to 87, one behind the would-be Central kings, the Cubs, and fourth best in the National League. That puts a lot of distance between fellow Wild Card hopefuls New York (84 wins), Atlanta (83 wins), and Colorado (81 wins), not to mention the Phillies and Brewers, who both seem poised to make more moves at the Winter Meetings.
It helps that the Rockies are the only one of those teams in a division with a majority of rebuilding teams. But the six-time division winning Dodgers will also reap that benefit (and won’t have Goldschmidt to worry about, either) and they’re already projected as one of the best teams in baseball. That division title may be just out of reach, which means the Rockies will have to find a way to climb at least as high as the Cardinals to assure themselves of more Rocktober glory.
One less team in the picture, even a division rival, doesn’t make it any easier for the 2019 Rockies when the bar is raised higher. The Cardinals traded for Goldy. The Nationals just added Corbin, the Phillies All-Star shortstop Jean Segura, the Mets Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz, the Braves former-MVP Josh Donaldson. And while the Brewers have a lot of question marks, they did come a few innings away from the 2018 World Series.
Meanwhile, the Rockies have yet to make an acquisition that would affect their 25-man roster. Perhaps all this activity will prompt general manager Jeff Bridich to acquire some players so they don’t throw away their shot in 2019; perhaps that activity is already taking place. If the Rockies want more locker room celebrations, they’ll need all the help they can get.