Rolen With Nolan

Back in 2002, I was a big Scott Rolen fan.  His offense for the Phillies was great, especially back in those days when I was playing fantasy baseball, but his defense is something that struck me.   Which, when you think about it, isn’t surprising.  After all, I came to baseball in the late ’80s in part because I loved Ozzie Smith.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved seeing spectacular defensive play.  A good 6-4-3 double play can be more exciting to me than a home run.  I love seeing remarkable things happen in the field.

So, as I said, I liked Rolen probably more than any non-Cardinal at the time.  As the trade rumors started to circulate around him in June of that year, I made sure to trade for him in my fantasy league, because I was sure they were going to come to fruition.  I was sure he was going to be a St. Louis Cardinal.  Everything just fit, you know?  He was an Midwestern boy who played hard and loved the game.  He wasn’t showy or trying to attract attention.  He just overall felt like he would snap seamlessly into place as a part of the Redbirds.

And, as you know, the trade happened and he pretty much did.  He was part of still one of the greatest nicknames in Cardinal history, the MV3, teaming with Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds to give a formidable middle of the order for one of the best teams St. Louis has ever seen.  He was beset with injuries, but still produced even if it wasn’t at the levels people were expecting.  I will always contend that he, not David Eckstein, really should have the MVP of the 2006 World Series.  There’s a reason he’s in the Cardinal Hall of Fame already and, hopefully, in the next year or two will take that Cardinal cap into Cooperstown.

The ending of the Rolen era wasn’t what we would have liked, as he clashed with Tony La Russa and basically told John Mozeliak to send him anywhere but here.  I hated to see a guy that grew up a Cardinal fan be so disillusioned that he had to get out, but both La Russa and Rolen were passionate about the game, so perhaps it’s not surprising they could only exist in the same sphere for so long.

As I said on Twitter Friday night, the Nolan Arenado trade is like John Mozeliak playing a cover version of Walt Jocketty’s Scott Rolen trade.  It’s possible that this is going to be even better than the original.

First off, as everyone has pointed out, the similarities are astounding.  A Gold Glove third baseman, considered the best of his era in the field?  Check.  Grumpy (with good reason) with the team that drafted him and the only one that he’d ever played for?  Check.  An offensive force that has people talking about Cooperstown?  Check.

There are some differences, of course–Rolen was a free agent who wound up signing an extension soon after arriving in St. Louis but, in theory, could have tested the market.  Arenado comes with a large contract, the biggest reason why this deal is still “reported” and “proposed” instead of “final”, because of all the logistics that have to be worked out.  (That said, if what we hear is accurate, Arenado could opt out after 2021 and 2022, so the potential for a short stay is still there, I guess.)  Overall, though, this feels like a reboot of a series that was a big hit a generation before and I am here for it.

Friday felt like a day when something was going to happen.  From Ken Rosenthal’s initial report saying the Cards were in the mix to the reports from Denver confirming that, even if they didn’t think something was imminent, to John Mozeliak not throwing cold water on those reports when announcing Adam Wainwright‘s return.  It was one of those days, much like the leadup to the Paul Goldschmidt trade, when it felt like it really was going to happen and going to happen soon or not at all.  When the news broke, it was the most astounded and excited I’ve seen Cardinal Twitter in a long, long time.

You don’t need me to tell you how good this makes the Cardinals.  You don’t need me to tell you that this move takes them from “maybe favorites in the NL Central” to “a serious October contender”.  We can talk about how you structure the lineup, what this means for Matt Carpenter (who, barring a return of the DH, isn’t going to get anywhere close to the plate appearances he needs to trigger that option).  We can daydream about what this infield would look like if they somehow brought back Kolten Wong–I mean, there might not be a ground ball that gets through all year.

What we need to do, though, is take our collective baseball caps off to the front office and ownership.  After spending a winter listening to fans complain and gripe about nothing happening (well, really a couple of years), they didn’t get spiteful, they got busy.  We’ve always said that this front office is disciplined and can stay on task.  That task, for at least a year, seems to have been Arenado and they weren’t going to do anything to jeopardize an opportunity should it come up.  They believed that Arenado was the franchise-changer they wanted, not Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or anyone else, and they stuck to that.  Finally, it paid off for them.

To be able to get Arenado is one thing, remarkable in and of itself.  To be able to do that and still count Andrew Knizner, Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman (now consigned to “the other Nolan” status), Zack Thompson, Jordan Walker, and Ivan Herrera as prospects in your organization seems impossible.  To be able to do all that and get the Rockies and Arenado to basically give you $50 million of salary relief in the process?  That sounds like one of those trades you find on less-than-sophisticated message boards and sports talk radio.

For all the grief he gets, it’s pretty clear John Mozeliak knows how to do his job and to do it well.  (Jeff Bridich, that’s a different story.)  While some of why Mo has been in a position of power, first general manager and then promoted to president of baseball operations, for over 13 years is because he does what Bill DeWitt wants, a larger portion is because he’s good at what he does and I don’t know but I imagine the relationship between him and the owner is one that allows for discussion and argument.  While DeWitt always has the final say, I believe he listens to what Mo suggests and can be persuaded.  In this deal, I think all parties wanted Arenado.  DeWitt just gave boundaries and Mozeliak got it done.

I wrote on Friday that we might be just “creating a narrative” to think that the Cards are going to put together one more legacy push for Wainwright and Yadier Molina, who–if rumors from Friday are true–will be re-signing with the Cardinals as soon as the Caribbean Series is over.  There’s no doubt that Wainwright and Molina weren’t the major reason this deal got made, but you do wonder if they didn’t play the smallest of roles.  After all, it seems that the front office let Wainwright in on the secret that a trade was being made, given many of his comments from his press conference Zoom on Friday afternoon.  There had to be something besides loyalty to the organization that brought Wainwright back to St. Louis when he was being courted by serious Series contenders such as San Diego.  Knowing that the Cards were working on their own contention had to seal the deal for him and, once you have one legend in the fold, it’s easier to get the other, especially since Yadi hasn’t found the market to his liking.

After a COVID year that was just weird and not really satisfying and a winter that was so deathly quiet, it was getting hard to be excited about the return of baseball this month (assuming all stays the way it is now).  One move later and I’ve gotten Playing Pepper started and am wishing we could hear Danny Mac today with pictures and a game.  What a difference a move makes!

Around these parts–and by these parts, I mean Arkansas, not this blog–the first Nolan that comes to mind is Nolan Richardson, who coached the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team to its only NCAA Championship (and back to the title game the next year).  I’d be very happy to see another Nolan raise a trophy at the end of the season.  Now, for the first time in quite some time, I believe the Cardinals have the team that could do it.

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