This was supposed to be a very different article for me this week. It was all written out, featuring a description of team needs, a Lebowski quote from the underrated Stranger (aw, shoosh), an invocation of Occam’s razor, and the conclusion that the perfect fit for the Cardinals was... not Paul Goldschmidt. My, how things can change in 48 hours. Now that Goldschmidt is in the fold, just about every angle of the deal has been covered. Tyler Kinzy broke the news, Ben Clemens reviewed the players in the deal, Tanner Puckett asserted that the Goldschmidt move shouldn’t be the only one, and A.E. Schafer gave his always-insightful analysis. There will be plenty more articles about Goldschmidt to come, complete with soul-shredding wordplay on his name, but I want to look at a different side of this deal today. There are going to be aftershocks all over the roster.
Let’s start with the obvious. The acquisition of Goldschmidt means first base is now locked up by an every day star-quality player. That means the previous star-quality occupant of first base, Matt Carpenter, will now shift to third base for full-time duty. Carpenter’s defense at third provides one hell of a Rorschach test. His DRS (defensive runs saved) this season at third base was +6, good for 8th among semi-regular third basemen even though he played the 28th most innings at the position. Other metrics were nowhere near as kind, and his history at third prior to 2018 is ugly. He looks ugly out there, too. Having a skilled first baseman like Goldschmidt should help, but it’s hard to imagine Carpenter’s value won’t take a hit by having to provide defensive value over a full season at third base.
It seems unlikely that the Cardinals will hold on to Gyorko now that both corners are taken. Three of four infield slots are stocked with regulars, and the fourth- second base- is mostly locked up. Gyorko could pair well in a second base platoon with Kolten Wong, facing only lefties. Liberally sprinkle in pinch-hitting duties and occasional spot starts at third base and shortstop and you can probably get Jedd to 300ish high-leverage plate appearances. That’s all well and good, but it renders Yairo Muñoz useless, and it seems like a waste of Jedd’s talents. Some team out there could use Gyorko as a cromulent infield regular at very reasonable prices. Dealing Gyorko could bring back some marginally useful pieces, a little salary relief, and a chance to spin Gyorko’s skills into something more useful to the roster.
Cafecito was already a trade candidate even before the acquisition of Goldschmidt. Now, one of the positions where the Cardinals could try to hide Martinez’s glove (first base) is completely locked down. Much like Gyorko, Martinez’s role is suddenly limited. The Cardinals could certainly keep him around, like Gyorko, to gobble up 300ish high-leverage plate appearances as a spot-starter in outfield corners, pinch-hitter, injury insurance, and in a pinch of playing time on the 5 days a year that Paul Goldschmidt takes a day off. There are better uses for a guy with $15-25 million of surplus value, particularly if you can spin a deal- again, like Gyorko- that helps fill other needs on the roster.
Dexter Fowler and Tyler O’Neill
It’s possible the Cardinals might still pursue Bryce Harper even after the Goldschmidt trade. It’s also possible I’ll win the lottery next week and move to Baja to start my new life as a perma-drunk beach rat. The Harper idea is more likely, but you get my point. Tacking a $30M+ Harper on to the Goldschmidt acquisition would fly in the face of everything we’ve seen the Cardinals do for decades.
With that in mind, Dexter Fowler can rest easier that he’s going to get his shot at reestablishing his value, and Tyler O’Neill can feel better that he’ll get a chance to fill in as the fourth outfielder. If Fowler struggles again, O’Neill is the first man up pending a Jose Martinez trade. The odds of either Fowler or O’Neill being traded now have cratered. There are a wide range of outcomes for both of these players. For now, we can be reasonably sure we’ll figure out which outcome is accurate while these two are still playing in St. Louis.
John Gant, Austin Gomber, and/or Daniel Poncedeleon
Filling the need for an impact hitter at such a minuscule price means the Cardinals now have more money to spend in the bullpen. If they don’t want to spend on the bigger names on the bullpen market, they have the aforementioned Gyorko and Martinez who can be dealt for relief help. Come hell or high water, there are going to be some new names pitching in relief this year. For Gant, Gomber, and Poncedeleon, it means there are fewer relief innings they can take. If they don’t make the rotation, there’s less of a safety net.
On the other hand, Luke Weaver’s inclusion in the deal means that 25 starts from 2018 are now up for sale. Some of that will go to healthier seasons from Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, knock on wood. And we’ve officially entered the era where progressive teams build their entire pitching staff with a 200 inning starter or two, a relief ace/closer type, two or three situational relievers, and then an army of 75-100 inning guys who never face a lineup a 3rd time.
In short, this trio will still have a role of some sort. They slide right in to the 75 Inning Army™. They’re just less likely to have the reliable situational bullpen role as a safety net if there are fewer starts to go around.
Andrew Knizner and Francisco Peña
In the epic battle for catcher of the future supremacy, Andrew Knizner emerges victorious over Carson Kelly. It was always going to be interesting, a litmus test of what the franchise valued most, in a few years when the catcher slot became available. Now, we’ll never truly have that question answered because the Cardinals kicked the question down the line until Knizner is ready.
In the meantime, Francisco Peña now has a clear path to a second season as the game’s least-used backup catcher. He gets to be Yadier Molina’s caddy while keeping Knizner’s future seat warm, and providing me a chance to mix the hell out of some metaphors.