Major League Baseball
Why the Cardinals should trade Paul Goldschmidt, as much as it hurts
Major League Baseball

Why the Cardinals should trade Paul Goldschmidt, as much as it hurts

Published Jul. 31, 2023 12:48 p.m. ET

The 2023 Cardinals have officially pulled the plug. 

They have given up on the now in favor of (maybe) a brighter tomorrow. After 93 wins and an NL Central title a year ago, the Redbirds came crashing down to earth this year in spectacular fashion. And so, for the first time since before the iPod existed, the Cards are selling at the deadline.

Over the weekend, they shipped off three impending free-agent hurlers for a horde of prospects. Lefty starter Jordan Montgomery and righty reliever Chris Stratton went to Texas, flamethrowing reliever Jordan Hicks to Toronto. And while Jack Flaherty and Paul DeJong are still technically Cardinals, both are expected to move in the next 24 hours.

For a team unfamiliar with dumping at the deadline, it's been a straightforward approach: free-agents-to-be sent off to contenders for prospects. St. Louis' leadership has remained adamant that this is not a full rebuild, but rather a turbo reset designed so they can contend as soon as next season.


But if St. Louis is serious about improving their chances for 2024 and beyond, it might behoove them to think outside of the box. The organization's success over the last two decades warrants respect and admiration, but many around the game believe the Cardinals' approach to team-building has grown stale and overly conservative. And while a total overhaul of the roster — the offense in particular — might seem unnecessary, drastic times call for drastic measures.

That's why the Cards should trade Paul Goldschmidt before Tuesday's deadline.

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There was some buzz around Nolan Arenado and the Dodgers a few days ago; buzz that Cards GM John Mozeliak squashed out almost immediately. He made no such statements about Goldschmidt, who, unlike Arenado, is only under team control through the end of next season. Sources from opposing teams told FOX Sports that while the Cardinals are not actively shopping Goldschmidt, they haven't completely shut off teams who inquire about the 35-year-old first baseman.

Goldschmidt was the best hitter in the National League last season. His adjusted OPS was 79% better than league average. He hit .317, whacked 35 homers and eked out his very first MVP award. But while he remains a fearsome middle-of-the-order force capable of carrying a contending lineup, Goldschmidt's production has tailed off this season (129 OPS+ with just 18 bombs).

Is it a blip or the beginning of a decline? That's the concern with any player inching toward 40. If Goldschmidt's glimmer truly is starting to dwindle, the Cardinals risk him underwhelming yet again in ‘24 ahead of him reaching free agency.

But despite concerns about a statistical dip, Goldschmidt remains an incredibly valuable trade chip in part because there are so few impact bats available. The upcoming class of free-agent hitters is so weak that the rental market was uninspiring, to begin with. Add to that the Cubs' recent surge, which means they've pulled Cody Bellinger off the block, and you have a historically soft group of bats.

The Cardinals could get a haul of controllable starting pitching.

St. Louis is in this unsavory mess because they haven't been able to develop enough pitching in-house. While other teams taught their arms to build velocity and collect strikeouts, the Cards went for a more retro, strike-focused approach. That hasn't worked.   

To win next year, they need arms. Young arms. Controllable arms. Arms that can pick up a baseball and throw it by opponents. Goldschmidt would bring back just that. The Mariners, Guardians, Brewers, Marlins and Astros are all loose fits. A package that includes two young big-league pitchers and a pitching prospect or two could drastically improve St. Louis' 2024 big-league rotation while positioning them better for the next half-decade. 

And while the Cards would obviously miss Goldschmidt's bat, it's not like this club lacks offense. Arenado remains one of the sport's best offensive players at the hot corner. Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donavan and Nolan Gorman have solidified themselves as good to very good MLB hitters. All are 26 or younger. Despite all the chaos, Willson Contreras has remained one of the NL's better-hitting catchers. 

And then there's Jordan Walker. The 21-year-old has tantalized during his debut season, showcasing the raw power and hitting ability that made him one of the game's top prospects. He has a .774 OPS since rejoining the big league club in early June, a totally respectable mark for someone barely old enough to buy a Schlafly. It hasn't always been pretty, but Walker is holding his own at the big-league level and learning along the way. He looks like a star... at least at the plate.

Defensively, Walker has been a catastrophe, the worst outfield defender in the sport. Developed primarily as a third baseman, Walker was relocated to the outfield full time this season because he certainly wasn't displacing Arenado. According to Baseball Reference, Walker has been worth -1.2 WAR this season despite a 107 OPS+. If he continues at this pace, he'll become just the 13th player ever to be an above-average hitter and contribute more than -1.0 WAR in a single season.

Trading Goldschmidt would open up a spot for Walker at first.

Now look, none of these reasons on their own are good enough to deal away a fan-favorite reigning MVP, but together, they make a pretty compelling case. Most likely, the Cardinals hold on to Goldschmidt. St. Louis' reputation as a conservative, risk-averse organization doesn't lend itself to a deal like this, one that could seriously aggrieve the fan base. What's more, the team clearly doesn't have a great feel for pitching. Is jettisoning Goldschmidt worth the risk if you don't trust yourself to properly identify the correct players?

Goldschmidt probably begins next season with the birds and the bat on his chest, but if his decline is for real, the Cards could be kicking themselves this time next year if they don't pull the trigger.

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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