1:30pm: ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweets that while the Rockies and Cardinals have indeed exchanged some names, their talks on Arenado “haven’t gone anywhere” and the exchange of names “hasn’t been productive.”
11:29am: The Rockies and Cardinals “have begun exchanging names” of players of interest as they attempt to structure a potential deal that would send third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports. The Colorado organization is said to want both MLB and minor-league players to move their franchise cornerstone.
It’s a bit difficult to know what to make of this latest update. On the one had, it’s presented as a step forward. Morosi reported over the weekend that the sides had struck up “preliminary trade negotiations.” He now states that the chatter has “advanced beyond a preliminary stage.”
On the other, it seems hard to imagine that the sides had really been engaged in dialogue of much substance if no names of players other than Arenado even came up. As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently explained, the Cards have had “longstanding interest” in Arenado but have “found the Rockies’ asking price prohibitive.” So, it would appear the sides are only now returning to a level of discussion at which they’ve previously engaged without seeing eye to eye.
The real question here remains how motivated the Rockies are about taking advantage of the opportunity to move Arenado’s contract and get something in return. If so, then perhaps it is indeed notable that they are back to swapping possible names with the Cards. It’s obviously not the Rockies’ preference to move their biggest star, but there’s huge risk in holding pat given the roster’s 2019 backslide and a slate of contractual commitments that is straining the payroll that the organization has established.
Morosi does go on to name a few names, though again it is not clear how the information is best interpreted. The Rox have both interest and some misgivings in Dakota Hudson, says Morosi, who echoes Goold’s characterization of the Cards being utterly unwilling to discuss Jack Flaherty. In addition to contemplating Hudson, who certainly has his warts but also has thrown over 200 MLB innings of 3.25 ERA ball and won’t turn 26 until September, the Rox are said to be eyeing up the Cards’ top prospects as well.
This is where the skepticism really enters the picture, because that’s quite a haul of talent. Arenado is obviously well worth it from an on-field perspective, but his contract — which, as already written to death, gives him huge downside protection ($234MM guaranteed) with the upside of opting out after 2021 — is less than a straightforward asset to price. It would be a bit odd to see the Cardinals part with that kind of surplus value for the right to take over such a deal, particularly since the team wasn’t notably connected to free agent Anthony Rendon.
Morosi’s report takes a curious turn when he gets to Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter. While the highly compensated veteran is said to be under consideration in talks, Morosi writes that “the Rockies don’t appear to be mandating his inclusion.” That’s a befuddling way to characterize a 34-year-old player who just wrapped up a subpar season and is owed a hefty $39MM over the next two years (including a buyout on an option). Clearly, the Rox would rather not have that contract; Carpenter would be included to help offset the Arenado obligations.
Once more, it’s tough to know what to make of that curious bit. There’s no chance the Rockies are clamoring for Carpenter, but it’s equally true that the club wouldn’t want the deal to seem publicly like a salary dump. So, perhaps this strained characterization constitutes evidence that the Colorado organization is preparing to sell an all-but-assuredly unpopular trade to a skeptical fan base. Or maybe that’s just reading into things.
Two things seem safe to say at this point: First, that there are reasonably serious discussions involving Arenado, with the Cardinals at least one of the teams engaged with the Rockies. (The Rangers and perhaps others are also seemingly still at least kicking around the periphery.) And second, that there remain a number of significant obstacles that must still be cleared to move an Arenado trade scenario from the realm of hypothetical plausibility to one approaching actualization.