There's a new superstar in the National League Central. The fact that he isn't on the Chicago Cubs ought to worry them enough to take action.
Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly are former top prospects who can slide right into Arizona's rotation and lineup, respectively. Andy Young isn't considered a top prospect, but he's fresh off putting up an .858 OPS in the minors last year. All of this is for a 31-year-old who's only guaranteed to be in St. Louis through 2019.
One silver lining for the Cardinals is that they held on to two notable right-handers, top prospect Alex Reyes and rising star Jack Flaherty.
Another, of course, is that a team that won 88 games in 2018 has gotten significantly better for 2019.
The Cardinals had enough solid depth around Matt Carpenter and his MVP-caliber numbers to finish tied for fifth in the National League in runs this past season. In comes Goldschmidt, who's averaged a .947 OPS and 30 home runs per year since 2013. And after a slow start in 2018, he finished with a 1.023 OPS and 28 long ones over his final 110 games.
The Cardinals could still use an outfielder, and they definitely need relief pitchers. But for now, they're good enough to cause more trouble for the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers in 2019 than they did this year.
This is a wake-up call for the Brewers, who've lost quite a few pieces—Wade Miley, Joakim Soria, Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop and Curtis Granderson—from a roster which produced 96 wins and a division title in 2018.
The Cubs, too, ought to be hearing the call to wake up.
Things haven't gone badly for the Cubs since their magical 2016 season, but they have gone south. They slipped from 103 wins in 2016 to 92 in 2017. Though they ticked back up to 95 in 2018, they ended the year with back-to-back losses in the NL Central tiebreaker and NL Wild Card Game.
It didn't help that Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood went bust in the first years of big-money deals. Nor did it help that the team's bullpen missed Brandon Morrow while he was out with a biceps injury in the second half.
What helped least of all, however, was how much the team's offense degraded.
It went from 223 homers in 2017 to 167 homers this past season, and the team's OPS slipped from .771 in the first half to .705 in the second half. Only Javier Baez had a great season. Everyone else either regressed or failed to progress, and Kris Bryant is the only one who can pin his struggles on a significant injury.
None of this is news, but it's worth going over again because the Cubs are set to trust the same roster to produce different results in 2019. They've yet to make any major additions this winter.
This seems to have everything to do with their payroll. According to Roster Resource, it's projected at more than $219 million in 2019. In the eyes of the luxury tax, it's nearly $232.5 million. That puts them in range for second-tier penalties, with third-tier penalties (starting at $246 million) not far away.
Sans any seismic activity elsewhere in the NL Central, continuing to leave good enough alone would have been a viable option for the Cubs. Maybe not a good one, but viable. They did just win 95 games, after all, and they haven't lost as much in free agency as Milwaukee.
But now, any and all options must be on the table, including the nuclear ones.
They lack blue-chip prospects, but Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell are five young, controllable major leaguers who might be dangled for superstars on the trade market. Namely: ace right-hander Corey Kluber or All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Failing that, the Cubs could try for some bad contract swaps or outright salary dumps. To these ends, Darvish, Chatwood, Jose Quintana and especially Jason Heyward are prime candidates.
If the Cubs can clear some salary, they'll have much more leeway on the free-agent market. That's where they could pursue an impact reliever, starter, hitter or all three.
Alternatively, the Cubs could say "screw it" and spend with reckless abandon even if they clear nothing.
There will be fits aplenty if the Cubs adopt that attitude. Dallas Keuchel's ground-ball magnetism would go well with their stellar infield defense. Craig Kimbrel or Adam Ottavino would tighten up the back end of the bullpen.
Or the Cubs could just put it all on Bryce Harper.
Neither his close friendship with Bryant, a fellow Las Vegas native, nor his fondness for Chicago are big secrets. And whereas fellow free-agent superstar Manny Machado would be an awkward fit in the Cubs infield, Harper would fit right into the outfield. From there, he, Bryant, Baez and Anthony Rizzo could spend the next few years jockeying for position in NL MVP races.
As things stand now, the Cubs can't sign any big-name free agent without destroying the franchise's previous payroll record ($182 million) and incurring heavy luxury-tax penalties as a result.
But if ever there was a team that had reason to do so, it's these Cubs.
No matter what they do, they'll be spending a ton of money to try and win in 2019 and beyond. They might as well leave nothing to chance.