The Dodgers have engaged the Cardinals in trade talks for Nolan Arenado, reports Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times. The third baseman has a full no-trade clause but Castillo reports that Arenado, a Southern California native, is willing to waive that right only if it means going to the Dodgers. It’s unclear if those talks made any progress or if a deal is close but the Cardinals are under no obligation to move Arenado, since he has four more years on his contract and they plan on contending again next year, but the Dodgers do have young pitching that they need. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com relays word from Arenado’s agent Joel Wolfe, who says that the report Arenado is only willing to waive his no-trade for the Dodgers is “inaccurate.”
It’s hardly surprising that the Dodgers would be interested in Arenado, who has been one of the game’s premier players for quite some time. He’s launched 321 home runs in his career and has produced a batting line of .288/.345/.534 for a wRC+ of 122, dating back to his 2013 debut. He’s done that while providing elite defense at the hot corner, having racked up 151 Defensive Runs Saved in his career, as well as 90 Outs Above Average and a 73.7 grade from Ultimate Zone Rating. He already has a career tally of 48.3 wins above replacement from FanGraphs and 54.1 from Baseball Reference.
The Cardinals are having a disappointing season, having fallen to 46-57 and 9.5 games back of a playoff spot. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted a couple of weeks ago that the club would have to make moves aimed at improving the 2024 club. However, he also maintained that moving a key player like Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt wasn’t in their plans. “I don’t have any intentions of trading anybody like them,” he said, before leaving the door open to an offer that could change his mind. “If you’re willing to listen on anything, you have to understand (anything’s possible), but I doubt that would happen.”
To be clear, the Dodgers having interest in Arenado doesn’t mean the Cards are under any obligation to make a deal. As Mozeliak mentioned, they are willing to listen on anything. All indications have pointed to the Cardinals planning on moving short-term pieces and reloading for 2024 around a similar position player core but with a retooled pitching staff. Perhaps the Dodgers have enough young pitching talent to make a deal happen, but that’s still not clear at this point.
The Dodgers are 58-43, holding a three-game lead in the West and are clearly in buyer position. They’ve already added a couple of complementary pieces in Enrique Hernández and Amed Rosario but a big push for Arenado would obviously be a move in a different stratosphere.
The club has used players like Max Muncy and Chris Taylor at third base for much of this year, though both players are also capable of playing other positions and Castillo reports it’s possible that one or both of them could end up going to St. Louis in the potential deal. Muncy has long been a three-true-outcomes leader, hitting plenty of home runs while frequently walking and striking out. He’s continuing that this year, hitting 25 home runs while slashing .197/.329/.478 for a wRC+ of 118. However, he’s more of a bat-first option at third, having produced subpar defensive grades this year. The Dodgers hold a club option for his services in 2024 set at $10MM with no buyout.
Taylor spent many years as an above-average hitter who could play just about anywhere on the diamond. He reached free agency after 2021 and re-signed with the Dodgers on a four-year, $60MM contract but has seen his offensive performance slip. He hit .265/.343/.461 from 2017 to 2021 but just .219/.297/.399 since the start of last year. Despite the diminished production, he’s still been able to slot into every position except for first base and the battery. He still has two years and $26MM remaining on his deal after this year.
Arenado would undoubtedly be an upgrade over either of those two players, though the Dodgers would have to part with something to make it happen. The Cardinals have long been known to be in need of long-term starting pitching since Adam Wainwright is set to retire while both Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery are impending free agents and likely to wind up traded in the coming days. Steven Matz is a question mark after getting bumped to the bullpen earlier in the year, only recently retaking a starting job. Depth options like Dakota Hudson, Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson and Connor Thomas haven’t had great years either, leaving Miles Mikolas as the sole building block in next year’s rotation.
Young and controllable pitching is the something the Dodgers could offer, even some with some major league experience. Multiple injuries to their starting staff this year have forced them up push prospects up to the majors, including Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan and Michael Grove. That group would have also included Ryan Pepiot, though he suffered an oblique strain on the verge of Opening Day and has been on the injured list since, only beginning a rehab assignment this month.
Miller, 24, has a 4.28 ERA through 10 starts, striking out 23.2% of hitters while walking 7% and getting grounders at a 45.5% clip. Sheehan, 23, has a 6.75 ERA through his six outings while Grove, 26, is at 6.19 this year. Each of those three and Pepiot were generally considered among the club’s 30 best prospects coming into the season and they all come with years of cheap control. Castillo’s report suggests the Cardinals have interest in all four. Moving them would leave the Dodgers with diminished pitching depth, but perhaps they could patch that over by acquiring veteran rentals for the stretch run, with Clayton Kershaw potentially returning at some point later in the year. The Dodgers reportedly had interest in rental starter Lucas Giolito prior to him being traded to the Angels yesterday, and Castillo’s report speculates they could be interested in getting Flaherty or Montgomery from the Cardinals as well.
The Cardinals surely have some level of interest in each of those, given their dire need for pitching, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re willing to move on from Arenado in order to acquire them. The two sides have long seen committed to each other, with Arenado even forgoing an opt-out opportunity at the end of last season. He likely could have topped the five years and $144MM remaining on his deal but decided to stay in St. Louis instead. He will still have four more years and $109MM left on that deal at the end of this year.
That would be a hefty salary for the Dodgers to take on as they are already over the competitive balance tax and will likely be trying to sign Shohei Ohtani to a record-breaking deal this winter, like many other teams. Perhaps they could balance some of that out by including Muncy or Taylor in the deal, though that would depend how much the Cardinals value those veteran players compared to the younger starters.
Arenado departing St. Louis would leave a hole at third base in St. Louis going forward, though Muncy or Taylor could theoretically help fill that. Leaving those two aside, the Cardinals have many multi-positional players like Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman, who have each played some third this year. Tommy Edman hasn’t played there this year but has in the past. He might be needed at shortstop if Paul DeJong winds up traded this week, though prospect Masyn Winn is in Triple-A and could slot in there in the near future.
It’s worth reiterating that teams often discuss all kinds of trade scenarios and there’s been nothing to suggest anything is close to completion here. Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat straight up denies that Arenado is being traded and, as mentioned up top, Arenado’s agent has denied the report about his no-trade clause. The Cardinals and Dodgers make sense as potential trade partners since one has short-term pitching but needs long-term, and the other the opposite. It would be natural for the Dodgers to at least ask about other players in those talks. Mozeliak has said in the past that the Cardinals, despite doing some selling, weren’t looking to move key players like Arenado. He did say they are willing to listen on anything, so perhaps the Dodgers have enough young pitching to make them think about it, but time will tell.