St. Louis Cardinals infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado aren’t quite of the same ilk as Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.
When the media announced the trade of superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals, fans salivated over the pairing of him with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. One can’t help but think of the corner infield duo of Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen from 2002 to 2007, but Cardinals fans shouldn’t hold Arenado and Goldschmidt to those lofty standards.
The most obvious reason people should tamper their expectations is the players’ ages. Goldschmidt is 33 and Arenado is 29. If the players follow the standard aging curve, it is natural to believe at least Goldschmidt’s prime years are likely behind him. That isn’t to say that the two won’t contribute in a meaningful way; after all, even a small drop-off in production will still elicit excellent results.
The bigger issue regarding age is how long the players will be together with the Cardinals and be able to play at a high level. Pujols was drafted by the Cardinals and debuted in the major leagues at age 21. Rolen was traded to the Cardinals when he was 27 and in his prime. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays at age 32, and he had predictably regressed in skills by that time.
Both Arenado’s and Goldschmidt’s contracts go until they are 36, and the Cardinals had better hope they age gracefully lest they turn out like…Albert Pujols. We all know how his tenure with the Angels has gone.
The window for Arenado and Goldschmidt to perform is therefore much smaller than that of Pujols and Rolen. Realistically, the Cardinals will have two, possibly three years of contention with these two manning the corners.
An Arenado caveat that can’t be overlooked is his splits. As with nearly all Rockies, his numbers took a dip outside of Coors Field. His .263/.322/.471 numbers away from Denver are a far cry from the .322/.376/.609 he put up in Coors. Busch Stadium is also notoriously homer-suppressant, which will likely push Arenado’s power down even further.
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Arenado and Goldschmidt also might not have another big bat to complement them. While two thumpers are certainly better than one, Pujols and Rolen also had Jim Edmonds to round out the sluggers. These Cardinals are far less offensively potent, although if Dylan Carlson shows his 2020 breakout after his second spin with the Cardinals was no fluke, he could serve as a third threat in the lineup.
Defensively, however, Arenado and Goldschmidt are easily comparable to Rolen and Pujols. Arenado and Goldschmidt have 11 Gold Gloves between them, while Rolen and Pujols accumulated 10. Although Kolten Wong is unlikely to return to the Cardinals, the team’s infield defense should still be elite.
But it is worth questioning if this excellent defense is worth as much as it used to be. It is well known that recent years have seen record numbers of strikeouts and home runs, putting less emphasis on defensive production. It will still benefit the Cardinals defensively, of course; it’s just something to keep in mind if the game continues to morph into a three-true-outcomes sport.
While I don’t think these two will be as potent as Pujols and Rolen were during their prime years with the Cardinals, Arenado and Goldschmidt will still be forces in the lineup. The Cardinals are going for it all this year, and these two should make the expedition fun to watch.