Exit Interview 2023: Nolan Arenado

This season didn’t go like most seasons.  The Cardinals were terrible.  I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary.  However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series!  Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals.  We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same.  As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!

Player: Nolan Arenado

Stats: 144 G, 612 PA, 71 R, 26 2B, 3 3B, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 3 SB, 3 CS, .266/.315/.459, 2.4 bWAR

Statcast: 7.3% barrel, 33.0% sweet spot, 110.3 max exit velocity, .327 wOBA, .321 xwOBA, 16.5% K, 6.7% BB

Grade: B

There’s been a lot of talk basically since the Cardinals acquired Arenado that he is going to go elsewhere.  He was going to opt out in his first season and see what the market had, until he didn’t.  He was going to opt out after last year to try to get a better deal, until he didn’t.  He was going to force a trade to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, until he didn’t.  I’m not sure if St. Louis fans have an inferiority complex or what but it’s pretty clear that the legendary third baseman wants to be in Cardinal red.  He spent a lot of time, effort, and capital to get here, after all.  He doesn’t seem like someone that would want to toss that away without some real cause.

The low buzz is still going around this winter, saying that Arenado wants to win so badly that he’s willing to cut his losses here after such a terrible season.  While there’s no doubt that Arenado is a fiery competitor, I believe he’s someone that can honestly judge things and he knows that, while he wasn’t the biggest piece by a longshot, his disappointing season did not help the Cardinals at all in 2023.

My personal theory on his defense is that it takes him a little while to adjust because so much of what he does is instinctual.  He struggled the first few months in St. Louis because I think he was getting adjusted to not only a new park (and all the sights and angles that go with it) but also a different shifting philosophy.  This year, beyond the dead arm that he discussed during the season, I have a feeling that the removal of the shift, requiring relearning where to play in certain positions, affected his play as well.  It’s not the reason he didn’t win the Gold Glove for the first time in his career, but it’s perhaps a small part.

What is harder to explain is the slip in offense.  Granted, 26 homers and a .266 average isn’t the worst thing you could get out of your third baseman.  It’s just not otherworldly like we’ve come to expect from Arenado.  His first full season without 30 homers.  He missed out on 100 RBI for the first time.  There were moments this year, of course–he had two four-hit games with one of the hits being a homer–but they just weren’t as common as we’ve come to expect.

Again, there are a lot more reasons that the Cardinals finished in last place than the middling-for-him play of Arenado.  It was just another piece of the cascade failure that was 2023.

What’s in store for 2024: Arenado will turn 33 shortly after Opening Day next season.  I am sure he will be a man possessed this winter, trying to strengthen things, especially his back, and figure out ways to bounce back.  I would never count him out and while an MVP season may not be in the offing, you can’t rule it out either.

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