Look, I am in no way going to tell anyone how to fan. If you get excited about the potential of Nolan Arenado joining the Cardinals, putting that Gold Glove to work at the hot corner and bringing some thump this lineup desperately needs, go for it. Heaven knows I am! I would caution, though, that the odds of the Cards pulling off a trade like that are probably greater than successfully navigating an asteroid field, and we all know that’s 3,720-to-one. Remember:
- The Cardinals are not an aggressive organization. They understand what they are and probably get more excited about their players than the rest of us do, especially after 2019. The front office seems to believe that more time with Jeff Albert and a year of his teaching under their belt will pay a lot of dividends this season. We’ll see whether that’s true or not, but you have to figure that’s their starting position.
- The Cardinals are not an emotional organization. They don’t feel the need to make a splash. They don’t feel the need to “keep up with the Jones” (this season, that’s the Reds, but it’s been the Cubs and Brewers before). Being held in high regard by the fans isn’t quite enough to get them excited.
- The Cardinals are a value-focused organization. There is no universe where Bill DeWitt even approaches the luxury cap and the payroll is already at a spot where they aren’t terribly comfortable, I don’t believe. While some contracts will roll off the books soon, Jack Flaherty is going to cost much coin to keep in a Redbirds jersey and if there’s anything the Cards like more than value, it’s home-grown value staying in the organization.
- The Cardinals have publicly committed to Matt Carpenter. I don’t know that Carpenter is going to play third base all season long, but I am sure the club expects him to be the everyday starter there at the beginning of the season. While there’s been talk about him playing some outfield, that only exchanges one problem for another. With Tommy Edman available, they at least have some insurance if Carpenter doesn’t rebound (and they do love their insurance).
- The Cardinals don’t necessarily have exciting trade assets. Harrison Bader might look great in Colorado, but he is coming off a season where he looked very exposed. The minor leagues outside of Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman don’t necessarily get people drooling. The Cardinals would have to give up some quality to get Colorado to eat some of that salary and that could be a sticking point.
OK, we’ve gone through the downsides. If you are still believing in the Arenado possibilities, then let’s look on the other side. What is it I’m sending you? Hope.
- The Cardinals have often been tied to Arenado. For a number of years, it seemed like the Cardinals might be organizing their books to make a run at Arenado when he became a free agent. Derrick Goold has often talked about their interest in him. I don’t think it’s a myth to say that he’s on a short list of players in the big leagues that they’d seriously like to have wearing their uniform.
- The Cardinals love their cost-certainty. People talk about the organization as being cheap, but I don’t think their lack of pursuit of some people like Bryce Harper is completely due to the cost of the contract. Remember, the Cards were heavy on Giancarlo Stanton and he had two years before he could opt out. They knew what they were getting into (and were probably prepared for him to walk after that opt out.) Marcell Ozuna had two years when they traded for him. Paul Goldschmidt only had one, but there seems to have been a pretty solid idea of what an extension would look like and how that would work out. Arenado has two years before he can opt-out (we’ll get to that) and that would allow them to budget appropriately.
- Arenado feels like a Cardinal player. The general comparison has been when the Cardinals went and got Scott Rolen and I believe that’s a legitimate comparison, at least in some ways. Of course his defense will fit right into the storied St. Louis tradition and (assuming they are still there after a trade) an infield of Arenado, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Goldschmidt would have Dave Duncan chomping to come out of retirement and find some sinkerballers. Arenado hasn’t been a media darling by any means and seems to be one of those guys that just likes to go out and play the game. That’s something that the Cardinals have leaned on for a while. He won’t necessarily make the team more exciting in the personality department, but that’s a feature, not a bug.
- The Cardinals may have the pieces that would work. The rumor mill added Dexter Fowler into this trade possibility and if the Rockies would take him, that would go a long way toward offsetting salaries. Fowler started in Colorado, of course, and that could really be a place he’d waive his no-trade clause to go to. The Cards could send Fowler, Bader, Gorman–if Arenado is going to stay, third base is going to be locked for a while and Gorman would be outstanding in Coors–and a pitcher. Whether that’s a prospect like Jake Woodford (or someone farther away from the bigs) or a piece like Dakota Hudson (whose ground ball tendencies could be helpful in Colorado), the Cards could cover that without feeling a terrible pinch. Caveat: I’m terrible at trade construction.
- For St. Louis, it’s possible Arenado would rework the opt-out. Apparently the opt-out was the suggestion of the Colorado GM, not Arenado’s camp. We saw Harper talk about wanting to be in one place for a long time. Given the uncertainty of the next collective bargaining agreement for both sides, moving or removing the opt-out could be on the table, increasing St. Louis’s cost certainty.
I don’t really believe that the Cardinals would make this move, but if the reports that they are actively checking in on him is true, that’s already a step more than we expected from this front office. There are other aspects to whether the Cards should make this move or not–most notably what he looks like out of Coors Field and into a pitcher-friendly park–but that’s separate from whether you should really get your hopes up about the deal. (I will note that he’s a career .848 OPS in Busch Stadium, which would beat what we got out of Marcell Ozuna the last two years.) I’m a big fan of Arenado and it’s nice to see the Cards at least tied to him, but I’m not going to get my hopes up.