Cardinals hope Goldschmidt can lead them back to playoffs

ST. LOUIS (AP) — After missing postseason play for the past three seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals believe they’ve struck gold with Paul Goldschmidt in their quest to play into October.

“We knew we just couldn’t have a stagnant offseason. We knew we had to make some changes to our club because we felt like even though we had a good team last year, we still weren’t good enough,” said John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations.

“We looked at all the different options that might be out there, whether it be the free-agent market or what our trade options might look like. We felt that Paul checked so many boxes for us that it made sense,” he said.

St. Louis acquired the slugging first baseman from the Arizona Diamondbacks in December for pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, minor league infielder Andy Young and a 2019 draft pick.

Goldschmidt was glad to join the Cardinals.

“This organization here has had success for a really long time and sustained it and that’s really tough to do,” Goldschmidt recently said at a winter fan event. “I’m looking forward to finding ways to help us win. I’m excited about that. This division is really good top to bottom. It’s going to be a challenge.”

St. Louis finished 88-74 last season. To remedy its postseason drought, the club sought a big bat to put in a lineup that includes Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina to better compete with Milwaukee and Chicago, the last two NL Central Division champions.

The Cardinals’ postseason drought is their longest since 1997-99.

Mozeliak is hoping Goldschmidt can boost an offense that finished fourth in the NL in homers last season (205) and sixth in runs (759).

The 31-year-old Goldschmidt has made six straight All-Star Games — Mike Trout and Salvador Perez are the only other players in the majors with a current streak that long.

Goldschmidt hit .290 with 33 homers and 83 RBIs last year, his fourth time in the past six years with at least 30 homers. Over the past eight seasons, he’s averaged 31 home runs, 40 doubles, 97 walks and a .930 OPS.

A three-time Gold Glove winner, Goldschmidt also brings some baserunning skills with him. He stole 32 bases in 2016, and has averaged 18 a year over his career.

Goldschmidt’s teammates are excited about his arrival.

Second baseman Kolten Wong said he told Mozeliak the team’s defense will be much better with Goldschmidt.

“It’s going to be tough for these guys to sneak a ball past us on the right side,” Wong said. “(This) allows me to be more free and go for balls I know I can go after, and not go after balls to my left, because I know he’s going to be there.”

Adding Goldschmidt also will allow the club to move Matt Carpenter to third base on a full-time basis.

“I couldn’t be happier not only that I’m moving across the diamond but who I’m moving for,” Carpenter said. “When I got that phone call about who we were getting at first base, I couldn’t have been more excited.”

Durable, Goldschmidt has played less than 145 games just once in his last six seasons. Despite an incredibly slow start to last season, he bounced back.

“As you saw, I turned it around,” he said. “It wasn’t like I could guarantee I would go out there get hits. It was just keep working. A lot of the credit goes to the hitting coaches we had with Arizona last year. I was relying on those guys. You don’t want to struggle but I’ve had ups and downs forever. As long as this game has been going on, everyone has ups and downs.”

Goldschmidt has a $14.5 million salary in the final season of a seven-year deal he signed with Arizona. He will be eligible for free agency after next season.

Will he remain a Cardinal?

“When you look at someone like Paul Goldschmidt, that is a Cardinal, man,” Wong said. “How he plays the game, how he goes about his business, that’s the Cardinal Way.”

“To have someone like that, hopefully to re-sign and be with us long term, that’s something all these guys who are coming up or getting drafted by the Cardinals are going to be able to look at and say: ‘This is how I want to play the game,'” he said. “Even someone like me. I want to be in this guy’s ear. I want to be sitting next to him, finding out what I can.”