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Cardinals acquire Paul Goldschmidt from Diamondbacks

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The Diamondbacks announced on Wednesday evening that the club traded first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andrew Young, and a Competitive Balance Round B 2019 draft pick.

The 31-year-old Goldschmidt has been one of baseball’s best first basemen since he broke into the league in 2011. He has a career .930 OPS. This past season, he hit .290/.389/.533 with 33 home runs and 83 RBI in 690 plate appearances while playing above-average defense.

Goldschmidt has just one year remaining on his contract at $14.5 million, a club option the D-Backs exercised at the end of October. This is strictly a rental for the Cardinals, but the two sides could work out a contract extension before he reaches free agency following the 2019 season.

Goldschmidt will push Matt Carpenter off of first base. The versatile Carpenter could head back to third base, displacing Jedd Gyorko.

Adding Goldschmidt certainly makes the Cardinals a more formidable presence in the competitive NL Central. They won 88 games last year, which was only good for third place. The addition of a five-to-six win player in Goldschmidt helps close the gap between the Brewers and Cubs compared to the Cardinals.

The D-Backs, meanwhile, are starting to disassemble after losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency. Zack Greinke, David Peralta, Steven Souza, and Robbie Ray could all be traded this offseason now that Goldschdmit has been moved.

Weaver, 25, was one of baseball’s top pitching prospects going into the 2017 season. Across parts of three seasons in the majors, the right-hander has a 4.79 ERA with 238 strikeouts and 83 walks in 233 innings.

Kelly, 24, got sparse playing time behind the plate with Yadier Molina handling the lion’s share of catching duties in St. Louis. In 63 games across three seasons, Kelly hit .154/.227/.188.

Young, 24, was selected by the Cardinals in the 37th round of the 2016 draft. The 2B/3B spent 2018 between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, batting a combined .289/.379/.479 with 21 home runs and 58 RBI in 503 plate appearances.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.