MLB

D-backs’ Lovullo mourns loss of Goldschmidt

LAS VEGAS — Maybe it softens the sting of the Paul Goldschmidt trade a bit for Arizona Diamondbacks fans knowing that manager Torey Lovullo is just as sad as they are to lose the franchise icon.

The six-time All-Star and two-time MVP runner-up was traded last week to the St. Louis Cardinals, a deal that netted the Diamondbacks pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, minor league infielder Andy Young and a draft pick.

Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen met with Goldschmidt at Lovullo’s house to tell the first baseman about the trade.

“It was different than anything I’ve been associated with in this game,” Lovullo said Tuesday at the winter meetings. “And inside of my baseball life, it was probably one of the hardest days I ever had.”

Trades are part of the game, but Lovullo and Hazen wanted to inform Goldschmidt in person.

“It was a sad moment for me,” Lovullo said. “I didn’t talk a lot because I probably couldn’t. And I had a little bit of a conversation with him once Mike left that I’d like to keep private, but it meant a lot to me, and I got a little more color to the picture.

“One of the things I did share is that he felt like there was so much unfinished business in Arizona. He felt bad about that. So I had to reassure him that he left everything he had on the field. The culture that he helped us and me create will be carried on, and one day, when we do win a world championship, he’s going to be a part of that, even though he won’t be there physically.”

Goldschmidt was an eighth-round pick by the Diamondbacks out of Texas State in 2009 and reached the majors in 2011, helping the Diamondbacks to a division title that year and a trip to the division series in 2017. He’s second in franchise history behind Randy Johnson in career WAR, and since his first full season in 2012, he’s second in the majors behind only Mike Trout among position players in WAR.

He hit .290/.389/.533 with 33 home runs in 2018 and finished sixth in the MVP voting, but with just one year remaining on his contract, the Diamondbacks decided to flip him for some younger players with more years of team control.

Lovullo understands why the trade was made, but that didn’t make it easy.

“I think you fight to get over those things, you have a once-in-a-generation type of player in front of you,” he said. “For a lot of reasons, physically and fundamentally, he’s off the charts. He’s just such a special human being. When that steps out of your environment, it’s a hard thing to get used to. But we know that it’s post-Paul now and we’ve got to start pressing on for 2019, which is what we’re doing right now. The last things we were talking about was wishing each other luck. And he’s going to win a World Series, no doubt in my mind, because he’s very forward thinking and that’s what he wants to do.”

Goldschmidt moves to a Cardinals team that finished 88-74 in 2018, third in the NL Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. St. Louis missed the playoffs for a third straight season for the first time since 1999, but Goldschmidt’s powerful bat should improve a lineup that finished fifth in the NL in runs scored.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon had a reaction to the trade as well: “I don’t like the Diamondbacks right now at all, I really don’t,” he joked.

Maybe Maddon has seen the numbers. Goldschmidt has hit .353/.471/.699 in his career against the Cubs, his best OPS against any NL team. He also has hit .366/.478/.652 against the Brewers, his second-highest OPS against an NL team.

“I have a total appreciation for this guy’s game,” Maddon said. “You put him in the lineup, and [Marcell] Ozuna is another guy. [Matt] Carpenter had a great year last year. [Harrison Bader] is ascending right now also. … When he sashays into the clubhouse and everybody sees him walking in there, they all become better. That definitely makes them much more difficult to beat next year.”

Lovullo said he’s already talked to Weaver and Kelly about replacing Goldschmidt and the pressure of replacing a great player.

“They know who they’re traded for. It’s obvious. One of the best players in the National League,” Lovullo said. “And they gotta block that out and just be themselves as quickly as they possibly can. Not try to validate things. You try to validate things in this game, you get into the have-tos in this game, you’ll back up.”

Jake Lamb is the likely replacement for Goldschmidt at first base. The team re-signed Eduardo Escobar, so Lamb will slide over to first. He was an All-Star in 2017 when he hit .248 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs (including .279 with 20 home runs in the first half). After struggling in the second half in 2017, he hit .222 with six home runs in 56 games in 2018 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in late July.

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