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Trading Paul Goldschmidt: A necessary evil

We’re incredibly sorry to see Paul Goldschmidt go. But in terms of the future for the team, it’s probably for the best.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the dust having somewhat settled on the Goldschmidt trade, Michael and I both independently had the same idea: write a piece making the case FOR the trade. We decided it made sense to combine them, so below, you’ll find both our thought. They’re unedited, so there may well be some overlap of arguments, or possibly even contradict each other. But together they represent something of a counter-point to Charlie’s piece, making the case that Goldschmidt should have been a D-back for life. I want to stress there’s room for both views on the SnakePit, and we should respect all opinions.

The Diamondbacks have executed the nuclear option on their 2019 season by trading their one superstar player away to the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be a very sad day for Diamondbacks fans as Paul Goldschmidt was a pillar of the team both on and off the field. However, baseball moves on as the Diamondbacks had played 11 seasons before even drafting Goldy and they’ll continue to exist after he retires. It’s a business, players come and go, no matter what they did during their time with the team.

In the 2015 offseason, then Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart put all his chips in the 2016-2018 contention window. That was the time period in which the team had control of core players such Goldy, A.J. Pollock, Patrick Corbin, David Peralta, Robbie Ray, Shelby Miller, Jean Segura, and Nick Ahmed. That did not ultimately pan out as the team won 69, 93, and 82 games over that timespan and zero division titles. Since we’re now past that window and almost all of those players are now gone, the team has to pay up for those moves in the long term and that means a lengthy rebuild is likely.

The reality is the Diamondbacks had a lot of roster holes, both in 2019 and long term. Paul Goldschmidt himself was in the final year of team control after his team option was exercised last month. The team had already lost Jeff Mathis, Chris Owings, and Patrick Corbin to free agency with A.J. Pollock, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, and Clay Buchholz likely to leave as well. Even if they had kept Goldy, the 2019 roster had more holes than swiss cheese due to a weak farm system with no MLB-ready prospects at those positions who can come close to replacing those players’ production. So instead of hoping for one last hurrah with Goldschmidt only to finish with 75-80 wins and miss the playoffs for the 7th time in Goldy’s 9 seasons with the team, the team elected to start the rebuild a year early by trading their best trade chip. Unlike the Orioles last year, the Diamondbacks elected to move him while the potential qualifying offer was a possibility. Baltimore made a major mistake for not attempting to take the best offer in the offseason, they would have gotten more than what the Dodgers paid them at the deadline.

Did the team get the best talent return for Goldy? They probably could have gone for impact talent, but for a 1-year rental and a draft pick in the late 70s/early 80s slot, I think they did decent. The team ultimately chose volume over quality in this case, especially considering how bad the roster holes are on today’s team prior to the trade. The obvious target was controllable players that could help the team in 2019 and beyond at arguably the two weakest spots on the roster in terms of depth. Carson Kelly is controllable for 6 years behind the plate and Luke Weaver 5 years on the mound. Those guys will be around when the next wave of prospects (Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener, Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy, Jazz Chisholm) reach the majors around 2020-2022.

Goldy should not be the only player the Diamondbacks should look to move during this potential rebuild. David Peralta, Nick Ahmed, and Robbie Ray all only have two years of control left and the team is unlikely to contend in either season barring some unforeseen circumstance such as Weaver making a 3rd year jump similar to Ray or Kelly proving he’s a legitimate starting catcher in the opportunity the Dbacks gave him. Since all three players I mentioned aren’t 1-year rentals, the team can afford to hold onto them if the right deal is not available. Those players the Diamondbacks should look to maximize the talent return for as while they aren’t as valuable as Goldschmidt for a single season, the extra amount of control is worth more.

Michael McDermott

The news that Paul Goldschmidt will not be a member of the Diamondbacks this season, can hardly have come as a total surprise to many. It has been somewhere on our collective minds for at least two years, since Steven Burt wrote a piece in October 2016, entitled Thinking the Unthinkable. As the time remaining on Goldy’s contract wound down, the issue loomed ever larger. Personally, when the team failed to make the playoffs this year, added to the imminent loss of top pitcher Patrick Corbin, among quite a few others, it seemed that the current window of contention had closed. As a result, it felt more a matter of when, rather than if, Goldschmidt would be traded this winter.

To some extent therefore, I feel like I have perhaps already run through most of the classic stages of grief, because yesterday’s news left me feeling not in denial, angry, willing to bargain or depressed. I was as much relieved that it had happened quickly. I’ve been through long-drawn out epics before, such as the Justin Upton trade saga in 2013, which ran on through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, before finally being consummated in late January. It’s no fun for anyone. Getting this out of the way at the beginning of December does, at least, rip the Band-Aid off, rather than letting it fester and get on everyone’s nerves.

I certainly understand those who are angry with the team for the deal. Paul Goldschmidt was my favorite player too, and has been so, almost since the first time I saw him live. That was the first game ever played at Salt River Fields, in spring 2011, where he swatted a game-tying home-run in the ninth inning. Since then, it has been a pleasure and an absolute privilege to watch him on an everyday basis, blossoming into a perennial MVP candidate, and the best position player ever to pull on a Diamondbacks uniform. The fact he carried himself with such quiet grace at all times, was a bonus. If anyone could have been forgiven a little arrogance, given their talents, it was Paul. But that never happened.

So this is me “getting it”. But I was a fan of the Diamondbacks before Paul Goldschmidt was drafted, and will still be a fan now that he is no longer part of the team. To be blunt, I support the name on the front of the shirt, not the one on the back. Trading Goldschmidt now is, to borrow a line from Triple H, what’s “best for business”. The team gets something for his services, which they wouldn’t get if he played out this season - likely on another non-playoff team, given the loss of Corbin, Pollock, etc. - and then became a free-agent at the end of 2019. Odds are he’d sign somewhere else and we’d be having much the same feelings of angst and loss, just without any benefit beyond a June 2020 draft pick.

It would, I certainly admit, be nice to have Goldschmidt become the first “Diamondback for life”. But it’s easy for fans to want this, when it’s a hundred-plus million of someone else’s money which is being spent to achieve it. By the end of next year, Goldschmidt would be 32, and long-term contracts for players starting at that age rarely work out well for the team. You need only look at Albert Pujols, and the free-agent contract, covering his age 32+ seasons, to see how quickly a superstar first baseman can become a huge liability. Keeping a player around, simply because you like them, when it will quite possibly hurt the team to do so, doesn’t make sense to me.

Goldschmidt should have been a Diamondback for life, wearing those colorful, snake-covered jerseys until Paul Goldschmidt Day at Chase Field in September 2026, when he played his final game and doffed his cap for the final time to the only crowd that ever called him its own.
— Zack Kram, The Ringer

It’s a nice thought. Not so nice is the almost inevitable, slow decline. Goldschmidt was roughly a five-win player this year. If we assume a mere half-win drop-off due to age per season, then in that 2026 campaign, he’d be worth just one win, probably consigned to a bench role, and getting paid $25 million or more for it. He’d be an absolute albatross to any hopes of the team contending, probably over the last three years of the contract. To me, in some ways it’s better we will only have superlative memories of Paul in a D-backs uniform. In the sixties, Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe were almost equally famous. One died young and became an icon; the other is a mad old French woman, largely forgotten.

There’s a thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus. Over time, the various components of a ship - the sails, the planks, the nails - all eventually get replaced. The philosophical question is, at what point - if at all - is the ship no longer the original? The same goes for sports teams: turnover of personnel is always going to be a thing, for good and for bad. My passion for the Diamondbacks was fully-fledged, while Goldschmidt was still in high-school, and so is not contingent on him, or any other person. He was a great player, but we’ve let great players go before, such as Randy Johnson, who subsequently got his 300th win and retired as a Giant. The team survived that, and they will survive this.

The next few years will, almost certainly, suck in terms of W-L record. But they were going to anyway, with or without Goldy, because of the obvious weaknesses elsewhere on the team. Let’s face facts: it’s not as if the team has enjoyed a lengthy spell of Goldschmidt-powered success. Indeed, over the six seasons when he was an everyday player, the 9.5 games we finished back of the Dodgers this year is the closest we have come to them. And for all the complaints about this move impacting attendance, it’s not as if the presence of the NL’s best player appears to have done much good from 2012-17.

The trade indicates a clear intention by the Arizona front-office to build for the future, at the expense of the present, for the first time in a very long while. After 11 seasons where the D-backs managed to surpass 82 wins only twice, and whose only playoff success was a one-game wild-card victory, I am fine with this, because year after year of “retooling” obviously wasn’t doing very much. Tear it all down, go full Houston Astros and then win the World Series in 2025. Do that, and I don’t think anyone will give a damn about the absence of “Paul Goldschmidt Day” at Chase Field the following October. But for that to happen, this trade has to be the first step, not the last.

Just do not half-ass this, Hazen.

Jim McLennan