Here’s why the St. Louis Cardinals should wait 2 years for Nolan Arenado

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 16: Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies hits an eighth inning solo homer against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field on August 16, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 16: Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies hits an eighth inning solo homer against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field on August 16, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

A deal for Nolan Arenado has too many moving parts. Fortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals are not devoid of third-base options like some teams are. They can afford to wait until 2021 to capture this prize and thereby avoid a mass sell-off of young talent.

The idea of the St. Louis Cardinals trading for third baseman Nolan Arenado, the face of the Colorado Rockies franchise, was first suggested on September 11, 2019, by a reporter. And he was not quoting any sources but merely ruminating. Ken Rosenthal’s headline (“After the team’s second-half collapse, would it be preposterous for Colorado to trade Nolan Arenado? Well…”)  was as equivocal as it was breathless.

Yet here we are four months later with Arenado trade rumors turning the hot stove league into an inferno. This, despite the fact that Arenado was just signed by the Rockies last April. This, despite the fact that there is a major roadblock in any deal because of the need to get Arenado to renegotiate the deal to prune it of its opt-out clause.

Colorado may sincerely want to trade Arenado sometime between tomorrow and the end of the decade. And who knows, it may have been spurred by a famous TV analyst’s speculation that just made so much good sense that general manager of the Colorado Rockies Jeff Bridich read it and said, “Yeah, let’s!”

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Nevertheless the preposterous has turned in to the expected now. Unless this is all just a publicity coup that fell into the laps of the Rockies and Arenado that they sort of “went with” in order to build up his value for a future deal or future free-agency.

2021 is the key date because that is when Arenado can opt-out of his current contract with the Rockies. And it is the date the Cardinals and Arenado should absolutely bide their time for if they truly want to make the much-ballyhooed reunion of Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt happen.

In the meantime, Arenado can continue his role of being the face of the Rockies franchise and putting butts in the seats at Coors Field and pounding the Los Angeles Dodgers for us. And not hurting the Cardinals, who beat the Rockies 5-2 last season with a 43-19 run differential.

Arenado will be only 30-years old at that time. He and Goldy will have three good years together.

By 2021 Brett Cecil‘s and Dexter Fowler‘s salaries will be off the books. And we will only have one more year of Matt Carpenter‘s salary at most ($2 million buyout if he fizzles). The Cardinals will be in a better position to pay Arenado’s contract, which according to Forbes is “record-breaking.” The latter years of Arenado’s contract are lower than the front-end years, appropriately.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Rockies, neither one known for being super-wealthy big-spenders, may want to “split-up” the risk of Arenado’s contract with the Rockies taking the first three years and saying fare thee well to Denver and the Cardinals taking on the last five years of what he expects, assuming his market value stays constant.

The Cardinals should wait because they can do a lot of interesting things at third base the next two years that other teams can’t do. For example:

  1. They can play Matt Carpenter. Indeed there is nowhere else for him to play and his contract value is not likely to be one the Rockies want to take on. The plusses and minuses of Carpenter are well-known to most readers.
  2. They can play Tommy Edman. He amassed an amazing 3.8 bWAR in a little over half the season. Yet it is not even clear where he will play in 2020. He is slated to be a swiss-army knife, playing multiple positions. Third-base seems to be his best position. He is a slick fielder like Arenado.
  3. They can move Paul DeJong there and play Edmundo Sosa at shortstop. DeJong has hit at least 19 home runs in each of his three seasons and is an All-Star. He is a plus defender at shortstop. Yet third base is thought by some to be his natural position.Sosa will be 24-years old Opening Day and had cups of coffee with the Cardinals in each of the last two years and impressed. He hit for an .801 OPS for AAA Memphis last year with 17 home runs, although he must improve his strikeout to walk ratio. It may be time to see what he can do at the big-league level.
  4. They can get Nolan Gorman some reps there as a September call up in 2021. If he impresses as a 21-year old in September (which would be right about the same age as Dylan Carlson is expected to get an opportunity for some major-league at-bats) he will be a much more valuable trade-bait then than he is now.

This 2021-2022 timing that I am proposing works well because if the Cardinals want to move on from Carpenter after 2021, they will owe him at most $2 million to do so. Or Carpenter can be a super-sub spelling starters at third-base, second-base, and first-base plus be a left-handed bench power threat.

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I know this is all very optimistic for Carpenter who is coming off the worst stretch of his career going back to around Labor Day 2018. But Carpenter’s contract “is what it is.” Might as well make the best of it.

Arguments rage about Carpenter’s defensive abilities at third-base. Much of the concern is around his arm which eye-test, has mostly mended/improved. But the arguments, when they rage, range between “terrible” to “mildly-plus.” Everyone agrees that he is no Nolan Arenado, who may be the best defensive third baseman in the league.

But Arenado is no Matt Carpenter with the bat when the latter is at his best.

Carpenter is a mere season removed from having a season where he was a 1.000 OPS hitter for three-quarters of a season and on a pace to break Johnny Mize‘s all-time record for home-runs from a left-hander. Carpenter has turned in seasons of wRC+ 140 and 146 during his career.

On the other hand, Arenado’s career-high wRC+  is 132 and he fell back to 128 last year. He’s also streaky like Carpenter is.

The Cardinals solved their defensive issues last year. The Redbirds are offense-starved at the moment, especially if Marcell Ozuna is not signed. Is this even the opportune moment to increase the defense at the expense of greater potential offensive upside?

There are many moving parts on the Cardinals side of the proposed Arenado trade, too.

Carpenter would have to approve a no-trade clause. One of the proposed pieces of trade bait for the Arenado deal is Dakota Hudson. This is crazy in my opinion because it could mean as many as 95 starts in 2020 have to come from somewhere else than where they came from in 2019.

Here’s how I figure. Hudson was co-leader on the staff with 33 starts. Michael Wacha had 24 starts. He is gone. Daniel Ponce Deleon had eight starts. But it is not clear that manager Mike Shildt will continue to use the 28-year old in high leverage situations. He was only used once, and for mop-up work, in the playoffs.

Adam Wainwright will turn 39 during the season this year and – although we wish for and hope for the best for Adam – nobody can be surprised if his clock runs out at some point during the season and is relegated to the bullpen from whence he came or retires. He provided 31 starts.

Dealing Hudson now, with so many question marks on the pitching staff, is bad timing. Starting in 2020, a “moving piece” would have to swing into Hudson’s spot … and the spot of maybe a few others. This is a bad idea because pitching is the core of everything.

And then there is the absurdity of a mass prospect sell-off. Without a sure nixing of Arenado’s buy-out, we are talking two years of control vs. 15-20+ total years of control for the young talent involved (depending on how many players the Cardinals include in the package).

The final question is whether the Cardinals decide to “play these” for two-years and wait for Arenado, will someone else snap him up before?

I would only be worried about divisional rivals. The Cubs being the foremost. But the Cubs are not likely to move because of the uncertainty of the Kris Bryant situation. The latest report is that it is the Cardinals, Rangers, and Braves who are in the running for Arenado. If Arenado likes the Cardinals as he’s rumored to, he will keep his options open and not commit longer than two years to those teams.

dark. Next. Arenado trade talks are progressing according to reports

But for the reasons aforesaid, it is best if the Cardinals wait until the hot-stove of 2021. Orson Welles used to do an ad for a wine company with the tagline “We sell no wine before it’s time.” As sommelier for the Cardinals, I recommend Nolan Arenado be uncorked in 2022.