PHOENIX — Perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt has talent and one of the most team-friendly contracts in the baseball, a combination that has proven irresistible where speculation about the Diamondbacks’ future is concerned.
Trading Goldschmidt has been mentioned as a possible nuclear option in case new general manager Mike Hazen and the D-backs decide to blow up and start all over again.
That is not their plan.
Goldschmidt is not going anywhere.
As the D-backs prepare for the upcoming winter meetings, first baseman Goldschmidt is among a core group of the players that is not for sale or barter. The untouchables include center fielder A.J. Pollock, third baseman Jake Lamb and infielder/outfielder Brandon Drury, according to a source with knowledge of the team’s intentions.
The D-backs are not looking to move any starting pitchers at this point, according to sources, although trading Zack Greinke and the $197.5 million remaining on his contract also has been speculated as a way to reallocate resources to address the stated goals of improving the bullpen and outfield defense.
New manager Torey Lovullo did not name names, but he did suggest that the D-backs’ will move forward around a spate of young talent this year, and that dire predictions about the season to come are misplaced.
“There’s a tremendous nucleus of core players here that are very offensive and very strong,” Lovullo told MLB on TuneIn Live on Wednesday. “We have some solid starting pitching. We all know Zack Greinke … we have several other very capable starters that had decent years last year.
“I think we’re a lot closer than people think. I don’t want to downplay the idea that we’re a throw-in team. We’re in a very competitive West division. We know what’s in front of us with the Dodgers and Giants, and we’re trying to set a standard within our own organization that’s going to go out there and have championship concepts to it.”
Goldschmidt has exemplified that standard in his time here, a solid clubhouse leader as well as a strong two-way player.
It is easy to understand how Goldschmidt fits the “trade-him-now” narrative, and easier to see why the D-backs would be foolish to even consider it.
Goldschmidt has averaged 38 doubles, 26 homers, 96 RBI and 90 walks in his first five seasons. That included an abbreviated 2014, when he missed the final two months with a fractured right wrist suffered when he was hit by a pitch. He has won two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and finished second in the MVP voting twice.
He has done much of that while on a five-year, $32 million contract extension signed two days before the start of 2013 season, the most prescient move in general manager Kevin Towers’ reign that included a bullpen retooling and a 2011 NL West title. Goldschmidt will make $8.75 million in 2017, $11 million in 2018 and $14.5 million if the D-backs accept his 2019 option, remarkably affordable by star standards. Former general manager Dave Stewart said he would considering renegotiating the deal, and it seems likely the new regime will do the same for a core player, the leader of the pack.
Lovullo was hired to replace Chip Hale after the injury-depleted D-backs went 69-93 last season. One of the major losses was Pollock, who played only 12 games after suffering a fractured right elbow in spring training.
His return as a top two-way player in itself suggests the D-backs will naturally take a step forward next year, and Fangraphs kind of agreed, projecting that the D-backs will finish 79-83 in 2017, the same projection it made entering last season, before Pollock went down.
The D-backs will enter the winter meetings looking primarily for bullpen help. Former D-backs setup man/closer Brad Ziegler has said he is leaving all doors open as the D-backs continue to sift through the candidates.
“You got to hand it off to the next guy in the bullpen,” Lovullo said. “You got to have somebody that’s going to lock down the ninth inning and secure the victory. When the position players see that, when the starting pitchers see that, nobody’s afraid to hand it off to the next guy. That’s going to be our theme.”
Drury is likely in for another position change. As a rookie last year, he was used primarily in the corner outfield spots, a particular challenge since he had never played the outfield in his professional career. All he did was slash .282/.329/.458 with 31 doubles, 16 homers and 53 RBI in 134 games.
A natural third baseman blocked by Lamb, Drury will be in the mix at second base after the trade of Jean Segura to Seattle. Chris Owings, newcomer Ketel Marte and handyman Phil Gosselin also have played second, although Owings and Marte can play shortstop and Gosselin has seen time at third.
Right-hander Taijaun Walker, who projects in the starting rotation, and Marte were the spoils in the Segura deal, and Lovullo sounded glad to have them. Walker is 24. Marte will play all of 2017 at age 23.
“We know what they’re going to grow into, and we feel strongly that they’re ready to compete and excel at this current time,” Lovullo said.
“Taijuan is a guy with great promise, great stuff, great guy, with a desire to be a championship style pitcher. That fits right in to what we’re talking about. Marte, an up-and-coming young middle infielder. He played well in spurts last year, still was kind of coming into his own. Young players take a little bit of time.
“Both guys, in this situation, you got to have some patience. We all know when we were young players, if you didn’t have somebody backing you, believing in you and having patience with you, than nobody would be a big league player. It takes time to get to that level. So we feel very strongly about these two guys with huge upsides, but they’re ready to step in right now and contribute on a championship level.”