7:56pm: St. Louis is “pushing hard” for Arenado and “very determined” to get him, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
10:20am: While Arenado has been oft-connected to the deep-pocketed Mets on a speculative basis, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that the two sides are not in talks at this time.
9:15am: Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post also reports that while there have been talks, there’s no trade close at this time. He adds that Arenado’s shoulder “has fully healed” after bothering him throughout much of the 2020 season. Those in need of a refresher on last year’s public tension between Arenado will want to check out Saunders’ piece for various quotes given by Arenado at the time, all of which add context to this new chapter in the saga.
8:10am: The Cardinals have been linked to Nolan Arenado for years now, but they’re once again in talks with the Rockies about a trade that would send the star third baseman from Colorado to St. Louis, Ken Rosenthal and Nick Groke of The Athletic report. The Braves also spoke to the Rockies about Arenado, it seems, but those talks haven’t gone anywhere.
Acquiring Arenado would be a considerable about-face for a Cardinals club that, up until yesterday, hadn’t shown any signs of spending this winter. The Cards declined a $12.5MM club option on Kolten Wong and have been in a months-long staredown with franchise icons Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright despite both having a clear preference to return to St. Louis. The first hint of a change came last night though, when the Cards agreed to bring Wainwright back on a one-year deal worth $8MM. Prior to that, reports had indicated that the Cardinals were offering Wainwright less than the $5MM guarantee he received in 2020.
An Arenado acquisition would represent a considerably more seismic shift in their otherwise reserved approach. Arenado is owed $199MM over the next six seasons and, next winter, would be able to opt out of the remaining five years and $164MM on that contract if he desires.
Among the most sensible contracts for the Cardinals to try to send back to the Rockies to help offset some of that financial hit would be infielder Matt Carpenter ($20.5MM in 2021, including $2MM buyout of next year’s option), Dexter Fowler ($16.5MM in 2021, including deferred signing bonus) or Carlos Martinez ($12MM in 2021, including $500K buyout of 2022 option). St. Louis would clearly need to send prospect value to Colorado as well, and it should be emphasized that trading either Carpenter or Fowler could prove difficult. Both have full no-trade protection.
Arenado has a full no-trade clause of his own, though Rosenthal and Groke suggest he’d “likely” waive it for a move to the Cardinals and might even be willing to push back the opt-out provision in order to facilitate a deal. Arenado has been vocal in the past about the desire to play for a contender and has publicly expressed frustration with Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, whom he has called “very disrespectful.” Were the Rockies winning, perhaps the rift between player and GM could be overlooked, but the Rox have been one of the least-competitive clubs in the NL West for the past two seasons and have done nothing to add to the club this winter.
Lining up on an Arenado trade is complicated for a number of reasons. Beyond the no-trade clause and the huge amount of money still owed to the eight-time Gold Glover, he’s also coming off the worst showing of his career at the plate. The downturn could potentially be attributable to a shoulder injury he battled in 2020, but the results were still somewhat troubling.
Arenado hit .253/.303/.434 (76 wRC+) this past season — a mark that is miles away from the .295/.351/.546 (120 wRC+) batting line that he carried into the 2020 campaign. If the Cardinals or another club believe that Arenado’s struggles were indeed due to that balky shoulder, perhaps the dip in production can be overlooked. Then again, there has to be some level of concern about the injury troubles persisting. Arenado turns 30 in April.
From a payroll vantage point, the Cardinals owe Paul Goldschmidt $26MM in each of the next four seasons, and they’ll pay Miles Mikolas $17MM in each of the next three. Those are the two main salaries on the books, however, and the rest of the long-term slate is relatively clean. Taking on the full freight of Arenado’s current salary would vault the Cardinals’ 2021 payroll up into the $165MM range, although if they can unload a pricey veteran of their own onto Colorado as part of the deal, that sum could fall more in the $145-155MM range. The Cards were willing to spend at that level each year from 2016-19, so there’s precedent, although owner Bill DeWitt Jr. has also been vocal in dubiously claiming baseball to be a less-profitable industry than most realize. The extent to which he’ll spend on the heels of a season with zero gate revenue is still up for debate.
Adding Arenado to the fray would give the Cards about $85MM in commitments in both 2022 and 2023. It’d also bump their 2024 commitments to about $61MM, all going to a pair of what will then be mid-30s corner infielders (Arenado and Goldschmidt). Whether investing that type of coin in a pair of sluggers’ mid-30s is the best use of resources is debatable, but in the short-term, the club would be better off for the move (assuming a healthy Arenado).
That’s particularly true in 2021, where the entire NL Central has been more focused on making their current rosters worse, in order to reduce payroll, than on actually making an effort to win in the upcoming season. The Cubs reportedly agreed to a deal with Joc Pederson this morning, but they’ve also traded away Yu Darvish, non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and explored trades of other key veterans. The Reds dumped Raisel Iglesias’ salary and non-tendered Archie Bradley. The Brewers have yet to add anyone of particular note, and the Pirates are of course in the midst of an aggressive tear-down as their latest rebuild kicks into full gear.
As written here before, the NL Central appears open for the taking to whichever of the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds or Brewers decide they want to be aggressive enough to seize it. An Arenado trade for the Cardinals would certainly fall into that category.