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Cardinals still have work to do to catch Cubs, Brewers

The St. Louis Cardinals found the middle-of-the-order bat they sought this winter, acquiring six-time All-Star and two-time NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals parted with three players, including pitcher Luke Weaver, and a draft pick to acquire Goldschmidt, but have no assurances he’ll be with them beyond the 2019 season. Goldschmidt is slated to be a free agent next winter.

Future business aside, it’s definitely a landscape-changing deal for next season. The trade will impact the makeup of two National League divisions. Of course, St. Louis just bettered its chances of competing with the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs in the top-heavy NL Central. Meanwhile, Arizona, one day after losing Patrick Corbin to the Washington Nationals in free agency, is seemingly acknowledging it’s time to rebuild. That gives the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies a clearer path, while opening up opportunity for the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres in the NL West.

The headlines have understandably centered around the Cardinals. They’re the team adding an elite bat to the lineup with the hopes of making a postseason push. But with those hopes come questions. Questions about how much work is left to be done with Milwaukee and Chicago setting a high standard in the division. And questions on if a potential short-term rental could hurt the Cardinals long term.

We won’t have concrete answers to those questions for several months, but we can fairly analyze where St. Louis currently stands.

The St. Louis Cardinals have a long way to go to catch the Brewers and Cubs even after landing six-time NL All-Star Paul Goldschmidt. (AP)

How much work is left for the Cardinals?

Adding a perennial 30-homer hitter to the lineup is a good start. Along with MVP candidate Matt Carpenter, anchor Yadier Molina and proven producer Paul DeJong, Goldschmidt gives St. Louis a solid foundation to build on. But there are still questions here. Like how will last offseason’s big additions, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler, bounce back after seasons riddled with injuries and extended slumps It seems one or both have to be present and productive all season for this offense to flourish. Beyond that, adding another reliable middle infielder seems essential as well.

It’s the bullpen, though, that might be the Cardinals’ biggest area of need. Greg Holland busting as a free-agent signing last spring left the team scrambling for answers all season. Young flamethrower Jordan Hicks was a bright spot, but he was one of the 17 pitchers to make at least 15 relief appearances. Only two, Hicks and Bud Norris, made more than 50 appearances. The lack of stability led to a lack of consistent production. Cardinals relievers finished with the 11th-worst ERA, and left St. Louis at a severe disadvantage compared to the Brewers and Cubs top five bullpens.

The rotation could use some depth too. Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas and rookie Jack Flaherty make up a strong core. But with Luke Weaver now traded and Adam Wainwright a question mark, there’s not much margin for error or injury within the top four. 

In other words, there’s still a lot of work to be done if St. Louis hopes to challenge Milwaukee and Chicago. But Wednesday’s trade tells us they’re determined to meet the challenge.   

Is this a trade St. Louis will regret?

That question is based on the assumption Goldschmidt leaves in free agency next winter. It’s obviously too early to know those details, but it does leave St. Louis in an interesting position if this season doesn’t pan out. If the Cardinals falter early enough, perhaps Goldschmidt goes right back on the trade market. If they succeed and Goldschmidt loves St. Louis, perhaps he decides to stay long-term.

That’s a lot of ifs and moving parts. On the surface though, it seems to be a deal St. Louis will feel good about regardless of Goldschmidt’s future. They gave up some quantity, but the pieces moved weren’t obvious fits in St. Louis. It seems safe to label Luke Weaver a backend starter after posting a 4.79 ERA over his first 52 games. Catcher Carson Kelly would have remained blocked by Yadier Molina. St. Louis turned a surplus of players into an elite player, who even in one season could have a monumental impact. That’s always a deal worth doing, and the shot at having first dibs to re-sign Goldschmidt and solidify the future is a nice kicker.

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