ST. LOUIS, Mo. — It was a painful and heart-breaking trade for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, and if anyone knows the feeling, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Diamondbacks traded the heart and soul of their franchise, All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, almost seven years to the day the Cardinals watched the face of their franchise, Albert Pujols, leave for the Los Angeles Angels.
The D-backs, who drafted and signed Goldschmidt in 2009, knew they would have to fork out a whole lot of money to keep him as a free agent after the 2019 season.
Goldschmidt is a six-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glove winner in his eight seasons with the club. He has hit 30 or more homers in four of his last six seasons, including 33 homers with 83 RBI this year.
They simply weren’t prepared to do it, not when they’re about to go into a rebuild. So they traded him Wednesday to the Cardinals in a strong package for catcher Carson Kelly, starting pitcher Luke Weaver, minor-league infielder Andrew Young and a competitive-balance pick.
The Cardinals got the power-hitting first baseman they’ve missed since Pujols’ departure, and the D-backs got a start on their rebuild.
“Certainly it’s a bittersweet decision on our part,’’ D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said. “I don’t think I could overestimate the impact Paul has had on this franchise, this team, the organization and the community.
“It was certainly a difficult decision just going through this process.’’
Really, it was gut-wrenching. The D-backs are braced for a severe backlash from their fanbase. Goldschmidt and Arizona Cardinals All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. are icons in the community. Goldschmidt was perhaps the best position player in D-backs history.
“He was arguably the best player in the National League,’’ Hazen said.
The D-backs already watched starter Patrick Corbin walk away for $140 million to join the Nationals. Center fielder A.J. Pollock soon will leave for greater riches. They’re trying to trade ace Zack Greinke. Outfielder David Peralta and starter Robbie Ray may be next.
Yet, nothing stings more than Goldschmidt’s departure. Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo showed their respect by breaking the news to him in person at Lovullo’s home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The fans, just as they were in St. Louis seven years ago, are absolutely irate. “We completely understand,’’ Hazen said. “We certainly took into consideration when we were thinking through this decision extensively.’’
Yet, they weren’t going to compete in 2019 for a World Series with Goldschmidt, so they figured they might as well build for the future now.
“We need to get to a place where we’re hoisting a World Series trophy,’’ Hazen said. “It was getting tougher with losses in free agency [Corbin and Pollock]. It’s hard to lose that much talent, and be able to re-imagine the team in the same exact way without making changes.’’
The D-backs, who had preliminary contract extension talks with Goldschmidt that didn’t go anywhere, said they were prepared to keep him unless they got the deal they wanted. The Cardinals delivered. They have missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons for the first time in 20 years, and have been searching for a power bat in the middle of the lineup since the day Pujols left.
The Cardinals tried to acquire slugger Giancarlo Stanton a year ago, but he rejected the trade before moving to New York. They expressed initial interest in free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but decided to pass. Now, they’ve got just the man they need to give them a shot to win the NL Central, without giving up any integral piece to their lineup.
Goldschmidt is ideal for St. Louis. He may have only one year left on his contract, but he’ll fall in love with St. Louis, and the Cardinals and their fanbase will fall in love with him. It will be no different than when Mark McGwire came to St. Louis. Or Jim Edmonds. Or Matt Holliday. They all signed long-term contracts within a year to stay.
It could be a magical summer again in St. Louis, and it certainly will be quite a scene June 21-23 at Busch Stadium.
That is when Pujols and the Angels will be making his first trip to St. Louis since his departure on Dec. 8, 2011.
Finally, the torch officially can be passed.