At some point in their first month together as teammates, Albert Pujols told Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman to first baseman, how thrilled he was to return to St. Louis to finish his career, how “thankful” he was to have this coda with the Cardinals. He used the word “joy” to describe how he felt, and Goldschmidt took that word and added what he could do more, too.
“I think that definitely rubbed off on me,” Goldschmidt said. “He affected me in that way, and he helped me in that way, and I think that joy of playing the game — it led me to play better and also have more fun doing it.”
It also led Thursday night to another conversation with Pujols.
This one broadcast on MLB Network.
MVP to MVP.
For the first time in his career, Paul Goldschmidt won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, receiving 22 of the first-place votes from 30 ballots. Goldschmidt appeared first or second on all 30 submitted by writers in the 15 NL cities, including the two from Post-Dispatch baseball writers. His is the 18th MVP won by a Cardinal since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America began presenting the award in 1931. No National League team has won as many MVPs, and only the New York Yankees have won more with Aaron Judge claiming the 21st American League MVP in pinstripes on Thursday night. Goldschmidt is the first Cardinals player to win the MVP since Pujols won his third, in 2009. And it was Pujols who announced on MLB Network that Goldschmidt had won.
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“The first of many more to come,” Pujols said.
Their teammate, third baseman Nolan Arenado, finished third in the voting, appearing in the top four on 29 of the 30 ballots. That ties the highest he’s finished for the MVP award in his career. He appeared on the broadcast as well and was caught grinning and pumping his first when Pujols announced Goldschmidt had finished ahead of him and San Diego’s Manny Machado.
“I would have had more RBIs if he didn’t drive in all the runs,” Arenado joked during their interview together.
Goldschmidt has spent the offseason so far in St. Louis with his family, and he's been seen at Blues games, sporting the team's new "reverse retro" jersey. During Thursday's Blues win at Enterprise Center, Goldschmidt was shown on the video board shortly after receiving the NL MVP award, and that received an ovation — one that included the Blues’ players clapping their sticks against the boards in tribute.
Goldschmidt, 35, led the league with a .578 slugging percentage and a .981 OPS. Entering September, he teased a run at the NL’s first Triple Crown since the New Deal, and though he struggled through that month and the Cardinals’ brief playoff appearance he still finished with 35 home runs and 115 RBIs. He ranked top five in most significant offensive categories. Multiple times Thursday he referred to this past season as his “best season.”
He made an early claim to the award with a .404 average and .817 slugging percentage in May. He reached base in every game he played that month, all 27, and his streak reached 46 consecutive games safely on base.
“That was nothing that was even in my dreams,” Goldschmidt said. “You’re not thinking that’s possible — a streak like that. Those four months in the middle were as good as I could have played. That’s how I look at it.”
Capturing how he finished 2021 — with a second-half surge that put him sixth in the MVP voting — became his guide for how he wanted to spend 2022.
“That was my whole offseason goal,” he said. “You want to build on it and get better, but I felt like I kind of found something in that year. … As you start getting older, you’re thinking, ‘Can I replicate what I did in — quote unquote — my prime?’ I think last year (2021), OK, I can definitely do that if I can keep that going. Physically I feel like I can. Mentally, I can. There’s no reason I can’t.”
Goldschmidt is the fourth National League player to finish second in the MVP voting at least twice before winning it. He did so in 2013 and 2015, at age 26 and 28. Pujols was the most recent multi-time runnerup to win. The MVP punctuates weeks of honors for Goldschmidt that included a Silver Slugger, Hank Aaron Award, and two honors from his peers, the NL Outstanding Player and the Heart & Hustle Award. Not to mention all the text messages and calls from people who he credits with shaping him and launching him as a ballplayer.
Too many to list he said.
“I was able to tell a lot of people, ‘Thank you. Hey, I wouldn’t be in this position without you,’” Goldschmidt said. “Those are very true words. I’m not just saying that to make someone feel good. They’re very true.”
He received texts of congratulations from Cardinals executives, chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak, and Goldschmidt said he replied that he was proud to win in this jersey, the same jersey as Pujols, as Stan Musial, as the first NL MVP in 1931, Frankie Frisch.
“That is something we don’t take lightly here in St. Louis, the fans don’t take lightly,” Goldschmidt said. “The tradition has been set here. There are expectations of greatness and of championships. You feel it every day. You want that expectation that good is not good enough. You want to be great. The expectation of greatness is something I love.”
Which is why a conference call adorned with references to “joy” and “greatness” and his “best” year also included reminders of its disappointing ending. Goldschmidt said he was down for a few days after the Cardinals were swept from the postseason and he went hitless in the two losses to Philadelphia. And then, he started preparing for 2023, studying how to extend the best parts of 2023 into the best finish.
That he’d enjoy.
“It was probably the most fun year I had as well,” Goldschmidt said. “Those are two different — your best year and your most fun. For those to line up is very special. Hopefully there’s an even better year, more fun year, and definitely a more fun ending. That’s the goal.”
Cardinals sign Stratton
Ahead of the week’s final roster-related deadline, the Cardinals signed reliever Chris Stratton to a one-year deal worth $2.8 million, according to a source. The right-hander joined the Cardinals at the trade deadline as part of the deal that brought lefty Jose Quintana from Pittsburgh. Stratton, 32, picked up five wins in relief with the Cardinals and had a strong second half to go with a 2.78 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings.
Stratton would have been eligible for salary arbitration this winter and agreeing to a one-year deal eliminates any dilemma the Cardinals had about keeping on the roster through Friday night’s deadline. By Friday evening, the Cardinals must present (or “tender,” in baseball terms) a contract to their 10 arbitration-eligible players. That list includes pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, and Ryan Helsley, outfielder Tyler O’Neill, and infielder Tommy Edmans — all of whom will be tendered a contract and can negotiate or use arbitration to set their salary.
The Cardinals lingering internal discussion is whether to present a contract to right-hander former All-Star closer Alex Reyes, who will make close to $3 million through arbitration after missing the entire 2022 season due to shoulder injury and surgery. If the Cardinals non-tender Reyes he will become a free agent.