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Arizona Diamondbacks All Time Top 50: #2, Paul Goldschmidt

The franchise cornerstone. The chosen one. The golden son.

National League Wild Card Game Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 2.71 (1/6/2)
  • Seasons: 2011-Present
  • Stats with Arizona: 934 games, .299/.399/.532, 146 OPS+, 144 wRC+, 34.8 bWAR, 31.6 fWAR
  • Best season: 2015- 159 games, .321/.435/.570, 168 OPS+, 163 wRC+, 8.8 bWAR, 7.3 fWAR

Paul Goldschmidt is the greatest position player to ever put on a Diamondbacks uniform.

The end.

For the sake of not being called into the Snake Pit office, let’s expand on that assertion shall we? Would you break out in a cold sweat if I told you that the man who has led the Diamondbacks on the field for most of this decade could have potentially been a Los Angeles Dodger? It’s true. He was drafted by them in the 49th round of the 2006 draft as a senior at The Woodlands High School in Texas. Let’s all just take a moment and let out a sigh of relief we do not live in that alternate timeline. Fortunately for the fans of this franchise he didn’t enter the league until the Diamondbacks selected him in the 8th round of the 2009 draft while he was attending Texas State University in one of the best draft classes of all time. Some of the players selected ahead of him in that draft include: Stephen Strasburg, A.J. Pollock, Mike Trout, Shelby Miller, Nolan Arenado, Jason Kipnis, DJ LeMahieu, Patrick Corbin, Kyle Seager, Wil Myers, and Brandon Belt. You get the point. If it is any consolation, he was selected before J.D. Martinez.

How could so many scouts miss out on this generational talent? It was not because of the wealth of ability selected ahead of him, but rather because he was never truly heralded by scouts. Paul Goldschmidt’s tremendous work ethic has brought him to where he is today. Make no mistake about it he was not a slouch at Texas State, but scouts were concerned over his skills outside of his hitting ability. After all, heavy slugging first baseman who cannot do much else are a dime-a-dozen in the majors. He set school records home runs (36), doubles (45), walks (110) and RBI (369), and was the Southland Conference Player of the Year in 2011. Fate was truly favoring the Diamondbacks, who were one of two teams to send a scout, Trip Couch, to his final conference tournament game to watch him.

Throughout his progression in the minor leagues, critics continued to offer reasons as to why he wouldn’t succeed at the major league level from a swing that was too long to being too clunky and stiff as a defender. Neither of those even remotely apply to the Paul Goldschmidt of present.

Jeff Moore had this to say after the 2010 season for The Hardball Times:

Then there are the series of well documented Kieth Law takes on our beloved Goldy, but for brevity’s sake we’ll provide you with only the best after Paul had already entered the scene:

In fairness, these were all very legitimate concerns considering the history of bat heavy first basemen that had come before Paul. However, Paul Goldschmidt is a prime example that we should never lose sight of the player outside of the numbers. People who knew him personally, and fans who have watched his entire career here, will tell you that there is no player with a better work ethic than Goldy.

“What I didn’t see, or know, about Goldschmidt is that he’s one of the highest-aptitude hitters in the game -- boasting an outstanding work ethic, according to several sources I spoke with who know Goldschmidt personally, but also the intelligence to take instruction and make adjustments as needed. He’s among the best in the game at addressing holes or weaknesses, whether in his swing or on defense or on the bases, such as closing the hole he’d showed on the inner half in his first half-season in the majors, where right-handers especially could beat him with velocity.” - Keith Law Sept. 2013

The fact of the matter is that Paul Goldschmidt made changes to his game enabling him to rocket through the minor leagues. Sure, perhaps in retrospect he was slightly more advanced than the competition he was facing, but it did not change the fact that he did have some holes in his game. Holes so significant that if not corrected, as he did, could have limited his future as a big leaguer. Through 315 games in the minor leagues, he hit .317/.407/.620, 83 home runs, 90 doubles, and 264 RBI. He shortened up his long path to the ball closer towards the more direct swing we see today and really dedicated his efforts to being a better defender.

En route to winning the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year Award in 2011, fans in the Valley had their first glimpse of Paul at the MiLB Futures Game hosted in Phoenix during All Star Week that same year. A few weeks later Goldy was called upon during the stretch run to aid the Diamondbacks in winning the National League West Title, their first since 2007. His major league debut was on August 1st, 2011 against the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants and Matt Cain. The very next game fans witnessed the power he was never questioned to possess when he blasted his first major league home run off of Tim Lincecum (the good version), a two run shot to left field. It was the 84th home run Paul had hit since 2009 as a professional between the minors and his major league debut, and the beginning of a comedic domination he had over Timmy “The Freak” the next few seasons. In 34 career plate appearances against Lincecum, he has hit .536/.559/1.357(!) with 7 home runs, 17 RBI, 4 walks, and only 5 strikeouts.

His second major league home run was of the more dramatic fashion and embodied the 2011 version of the Never Say “Die”mondbacks. With the D’backs trailing the Houston Astros 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth and down to their final out, Goldy smacked another two run blast off of Mark Melancon in a game the D’backs would later walk-off in the 10th. Goldy finished his first regular season in the majors at .250/.333/.474 in 177 plate appearances with 8 home runs, 9 doubles good enough for a 118 wRC+/117 OPS+.

Of course, his season did not come to an end there with the Diamondbacks reaching the postseason for the first time since 2007 set to face the Milwaukee Brewers and the ever so honest Ryan Braun. Goldy being a rookie sat out the first game with mid season signee Lyle Overbay, who began his career with the D’backs in 2001, getting the start at first base. Instead, Paul earned his first career postseason start in game two of the series against future D’back Zack Greinke and promptly hit a lead off solo home run in the 2nd inning to put the D’backs on the board. Paul Goldschmidt. A rookie. His first postseason at bat. Off of Zack Greinke. Cy Young Award winner. Are we really shocked at how special this man is?

The Diamondbacks wound up losing that game and would head back to Phoenix down two games to none facing elimination. It would have been enough for Goldy to hit an RBI single in the first inning of game three to give the D’backs a 2-0 lead, but the baseball gods had destined him to craft one of the greatest .gif’s in D’backs history. With the bases juiced in the bottom of the 5th on a 1-2 count and 2 outs, before the “Goldy” chants were nearly as dramatic as they are today, he blasted an 87 mph nothing ball the opposite way to right field, and 48,000+ fans went berserk. The worst part about that situation is that the Brewers intentionally walked Miguel Montero to load the bases and get to Goldy! Their bad. It was the first grand slam in Diamondbacks postseason history, and only the third time in the history of the game to come off the bat of a rookie in the playoffs.

The Diamondbacks were not able to pull off an improbable comeback after tying the series 2-2. The Brewers, with the aid of Ryan Braun’s syringe, defeated the D’backs in the 10th inning of game 5. Goldy finished that series with 7 hits in 16 at bats including 2 home runs, 6 RBI, 2 walks, and a stolen base. Not too shabby for a rookie. After a successful debut, some still did not know what to make of Paul Goldschmidt and what the future held for him including the Diamondbacks front office. Jim, ISH95, and Shoewizard were all rightfully concerned with his 30% K rate up from 20% in AA. That concern resulted in the Diamondbacks again signing Lyle Overbay to serve as a safety net and mentor in the chance that Goldy struggled in his sophomore campaign.

Quite the contrary, Paul Goldschmidt began to tighten his death grip as the starter at first base in 2012, like a snake after it captures its prey. See what I did there? It was nearly impossible for Kirk Gibson to remove him from the lineup as he played 145 games and started 136 at first base. His onslaught against Tim Lincecum continued on Opening Day with another home run. The Diamondbacks struggled as a team to keep pace with the dreaded even year magic of the San Francisco Giants largely resulting from a combination of injuries and regression, but Goldy remained the beacon of hope and would eventually overtake Justin Upton as the cornerstone of the franchise. A special feature of Goldy’s style of play that began to shine through in 2012 was his base running ability. He has never been the fastest player in the league or even on the team, to be expected with his frame, but he rarely makes poor decisions on the path. He was 18 for 21 in stolen base attempts and hit 43 doubles beginning to draw comparisons to Jeff Bagwell, a player he grew up watching in Houston. Paul ranked in the top 5 among National league first baseman in batting average, doubles, slugging percentage, hits, home runs, and RBI. He did not make the All Star Game playing behind the shadow of Joey Votto, but was quickly putting his name on the map.

When the 2013 season rolled around, Paul Goldschmidt was firmly cemented at first base, and as the leader of the franchise with Justin Upton being traded in the offseason. The recently departed Kevin Towers wisely signed the young star to a five year $32 million extension with a team option for a 6th season. That deal quickly proved to be one of the most team friendly in recent memory, and quite possibly one of the best in the league this decade.

“What’s not to like,” [Kirk] Gibson said. “I mean, everything he does from the time he gets to the park until the time he leaves every day. He’s very good at preparation, before, during the game, after, a great teammate, works really hard. He has high aspirations to be a world champion. He wants to win a Gold Glove. And he would never change. It will never change until he stops playing. We talked about the ‘Diamondback way’ the last couple of years and he’s a model of a Diamondback guy.”

He would come tantalizingly close to winning the National League Triple Crown in 2013 by tying for the league lead in home runs with Pedro Alvarez (36), dominating in RBI (125), but fell just short in batting average (.302). The performance earned him his first selection to the MLB All Star Game as a reserve. Rather surprisingly he finished a distant 2nd place to Andrew McCutchen in the NL Most Valuable Player vote by failing to receive even a single first place vote. Goldy led Cutch in OPS, RBI, HR, and runs, but McCutchen was more valuable in terms of fWAR, bWAR, and WAA. Perhaps the tiebreaker, and where much of the debate lied, was that Andrew was a member of a playoff team whereas Paul was not. Nevertheless, it was the best finish by a Diamondback player since Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams finished in 3rd place in 2001 and 1999 respectively. His additional hardware included his first Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and Hank Aaron Award.

Determining his most valuable performance of the 2013 season would be quite difficult after the year he had, but the Snake Pit voters selected his game on August 13th, 2013 against the Baltimore Orioles in which he tied the game in the bottom of the 9th with a home run and later walked it off with another in the 11th off of T.J. McFarland. He also became the first player in franchise history to hit three grand slams in a season, two of them coming just four days apart, and the third off of J.J. Hoover (that sucks) who was then a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

2014 was painful all around for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt, and myself. Paul was my first selection, third overall, in fantasy baseball. He was carrying my team towards complete domination, and was one of the only reasons to watch the 2014 Diamondbacks earning his second selection to the All Star Game and first as a starter. It ended abruptly on August 1st against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game he nearly did not even play in to begin with. He entered the game as a defensive substitution in the top of the 9th with the D’backs down 5-1 at the time. In his only at bat of the game, Ernesto Frieri uncorked a fastball that hit Paul in his left hand, fracturing it and putting him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season.

“You always want to get back as quickly as possible and play, but you need to be safe about it, too,” Goldschmidt said. “If it’s ready and they’re going to let me, yes, I want to play, play every day, as much as I can. I’ll work hard at the rehab, and if there’s a way to speed it up as much as I can while being smart about it, I’ll do anything that they’ll allow.”

Holding true to form under the leadership of skipper Kirk Gibson, Randall Delgado drilled Andrew McCutchen in the back in the top of the 9th the following game with the 3rd pitch of the at bat. Gibson had already been ejected earlier in the game, but the Pirates were convinced nonetheless the act was retaliatory in nature.

“They had all game to retaliate,” [McCutchen] said. “They had the first inning to retaliate, they had that first pitch to retaliate, missed. You throw a slider the second pitch, and then you throw up and in on the next pitch. Are you trying to hurt me too? That’s the question.”

Andrew missed the next two weeks himself after that incident with the Pirates in the thick of the NL playoff race.

Goldy came back with as much of a vengeance as he could muster given his calm demeanor during the 2015 season putting together his best campaign in a Diamondbacks uniform to date. That season he slashed .321/.435/.570 with 33 home runs, 110 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and a 168 OPS+ / 163 wRC+. Unlike 2013, the players in the running with Goldy for the NL MVP, Joey Votto and Bryce Harper, also failed to reach the playoffs. However, a strong season from Bryce Harper resulted in Goldy finishing a distant 2nd place in the voting failing to earn a single 1st place vote yet again. Unsurprisingly, he was named the starting first baseman for the National League All Stars becoming the first Diamondbacks position player to start multiple times. Paul was awarded the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger for the second time in his career.

In a truly rare display of frustration that season, with the Diamondbacks hovering around .500 and losing 4 of their previous five games, and the birth of his first child just a few days away likely weighing on his mind, Goldy destroyed his bat in the dugout after a strikeout on August 29th against the Oakland Athletics in the 8th inning with the game separated by 1 run.

Paired with a strong season from teammate A.J. Pollock, who also garnered MVP mention in 2015, this prompted ownership to “go for it” the following offseason. Zack Greinke was shockingly signed as a free agent, and Shelby Miller was brought in via trade at the expense of Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair. Ownership was determined to capitalize on the contention window with both Goldschmidt and Pollock under team control together until 2018. On the contrary, that entire strategy was called into question after a poor performance by the 2016 team. For the first time in his Diamondbacks career, some wondered if it would be in the best interest of the team to trade Paul Goldschmidt, who would return a tremendous haul, along with others in order to rebuild for the future. Goldschmidt did not have a poor season himself, but it was a step below his lofty career performance prior to that point. He ended the year batting .297/.411/.489 with 24 home runs and a career high 32 stolen bases, but finished outside of the top 10 in MVP voting finishing in 11th place. Paul became the only first baseman since Jeff Bagwell in 1997 to hit 20+ home runs and steal 30+ bases.

Mike Hazen was hired as the General Manager to replace Dave Stewart prior to the 2017 season and faced a difficult decision. Hazen could have opted to trade away most of the team’s assets, including Goldschmidt, with an eye towards success in future seasons. Alternatively, he was patient with the roster he was given and opted for a few minor tweaks as opposed to a massive overhaul. Mike was determined to give the team an opportunity to succeed, and evaluate their performance prior to making any franchise altering decisions.

That strategy proved to pay dividends, and Paul Goldschmidt was once again the spearhead of the offense. In the month of August, he was in the midst of the MVP discussion with even a few convinced this was his best opportunity to win the award as the Diamondbacks marched towards their first playoff berth since 2011. Over a span of 132 games from Opening Day to August 31st, he was batting .319/.428/.607 with a 159 wRC+ and 33 home runs. Perhaps one of the best games in his career to date came on August 3rd, 2017 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. That game started an hour and a half later than it was supposed to because of weather and had two subsequent rain delays of at least thirty minutes. Goldy opened the contest with a three run homer in the 1st inning off Jose Quintana. He put the team up 6-1 against the defending World Champions with another two run shot in the 5th. After the pitching staff allowed the Cubs to tie the score at eight by the 8th inning, it appeared that this unusually long contest would be headed to extra innings. That was until Goldy stepped in against closer Wade Davis in the top of the 9th, and promptly deposited his shortest home run of the contest into the left field bleachers. It was the first three home run game of his career.

When the calendar month turned to September, he cooled off considerably. Manager Torey Lovullo withheld Paul from the lineup on September 4th against the Dodgers with what was described as right elbow soreness. Goldy started feeling the discomfort during a homestand that began on August 25th. I specifically remember him getting hit on the right elbow on a pickoff attempt against the Colorado Rockies on the road on either September 1st or 2nd, but only Paul would be able to confirm if that worsened the issue. An MRI demonstrated no structural damage, but his performance during the final months of the season led some to believe that it was a more significant issue. (Ironically, Goldy was asked during yesterday’s Fan Fest if the elbow was to blame for the September slump. He quickly dismissed that and stated that he simply was not having good at bats.) The final 22 games of his season were easily the worst of his career which saw him hit .171/.250/.305 with a 37 wRC+. He wound up finishing in third place in the MVP voting and earned first place votes for the first time in his career, so it is quite possible he could have won the award for the first time provided with a strong finish. He made his fifth All Star team, this time as a reserve, and won his third Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

All of that paled in comparison seeing him have the opportunity to suit up for the Diamondbacks in the Postseason for the first time since his rookie season in 2011 bringing us full circle to what he has meant to this franchise. The setting was the National League Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies at a sold out Chase Field. I was standing, along with 48,802 fans in attendance, somewhere close to the visitor’s bullpen, when he came to the plate in the bottom of the 1st with runners on the corners and no outs. By this time the “Goldy” chants were almost deafening, a far cry from the last time he stepped to the plate in a playoff appearance 6 years ago. This time was drastically different. All eyes were glued to him, and very few fans were surprised by the outcome when he swung the bat at that first pitch. Jon Gray missed high and inside with a curveball, and Paul made sure he paid for it.

It even caught the attention of old friend Andrew McCutchen.

The Diamondbacks would fail to advance past the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, but not before another two run home run off the bat of Goldy in the 1st inning of game one.

It would be remiss to fail to mention the person outside of the baseball uniform. Together with his wife Amy, who he met in college, he has volunteered hundreds of hours at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Their charity, Goldy’s Fund 4 Kids, donates proceeds towards the construction of a new facility for the hospital.

“As an honorary chair of the Hope Lives Here campaign at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Amy and I have made it our mission to raise as much money and awareness as possible for this amazing cause,” Goldschmidt said.

Paul Goldschmidt has defined a generation of Diamondbacks fandom through his quiet leadership over the past decade. I am certain that many would be willing to admit their love affair towards him. Most of us already have. It does not matter what the score of the game is when Paul steps to the plate because I am watching every pitch of the at bat. Imagine the audacity of a San Francisco Giants fan telling any of you to sit down during his at bat on Opening Day 2017 in the bottom of the 8th inning. It happened to me, and Goldy promptly obliged with an RBI single to tie the game after I refused to appease the rival, much to my disbelief that they would even bother to ask. He has created that type of fandom in all of us.

Among the franchise leaderboards, he trails only Luis Gonzalez in games played, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and walks, and should surpass him in all categories provided the opportunity to play out his entire contract here. He is second to Tony Womack in stolen bases which is truly remarkable as a first baseman. Paul leads all Diamondbacks position players in terms of bWAR, but trails Gonzo by a narrow margin in fWAR.

Ownership and the front office staff face a polarizing decision in regards to his contract status. As stated above, he has played under one of the most team friendly contracts, and the present status of the free agent market makes his situation all the more interesting. He has a $14.5 MM team option for the 2019 season that is nearly a lock to be exercised. That would make him an unrestricted free agent by age 32. There is a growing belief that like minded front offices are becoming increasingly wary of doling out multi-year nine figure contracts to players on the wrong side of age 30. Look no further than the performance of Albert Pujols before and after he signed his massive age 32 contract to see why. Eric Hosmer, while not the same caliber first baseman as Paul Goldschmidt, is experiencing his own difficulty securing a contract to his liking at age 28 just signed an eight year $144 MM contract with the San Diego Padres. His contract will pay him a $5 MM signing bonus, $20MM per year for the first five seasons of the deal with an opt out after the 5th season, and $13 MM should he opt in to the final three seasons. That would allow Hosmer to enter free agency again at age 32.

The Diamondbacks will face payroll constraints with rising salaries through arbitration and the outstanding contracts owed to Zack Greinke and Yasmany Tomas, but Greinke’s deal expires in 2021 and Tomas’ in 2020. Should the Diamondbacks reward Paul Goldschmidt for performing admirably under a team friendly contract? It seems that a reasonable starting point in contract negotiations with Goldy is in the neighborhood of $25 MM in average annual value because he has provided more value than Eric Hosmer, but keep in mind that Paul will be four years older than Hosmer was when he enters free agency. Will the Diamondbacks have any competition with other clubs if front offices truly are becoming more prudent with their free agent signings? Will Goldy’s performance decline as sharply as Pujols? If you believe that to be the case, then I will argue that it would be in the team’s best interest to front load a Goldy extension and model the structure close to Hosmer’s deal. Does he follow the career trajectory of Jeff Bagwell and ride that performance into Cooperstown? If you are in that camp, perhaps $25 MM in AAV does not quite get the deal inked and forces ownership to take a long look in the mirror to decide just how far they are willing to go. If you cannot tell by now, I am absolutely in the camp that the face of the franchise needs to be signed to an extension by any reasonable means necessary.

But a lot can change in two years. [Insert your deity] forbid, he could have a career ending injury and this entire conversation could be a moot point. Just take a look at Sean’s piece on Brandon Webb or the career of Prince Fielder. Maybe we should just sit back and marvel the player while we still can. We should be so fortunate to ever see a Diamondbacks position player as special as him again.

Paul Goldschmidt is the greatest position player to put on a Diamondbacks uniform.

The end.