Was 2023 a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come for Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt?
Coming off of top-3 Most Valuable Player award finishes in 2023, both Paul Goldschmidt (who won the award) and Nolan Arenado were on top of the baseball world from as individual performers in 2022, but as the club fell off significantly in 2023, so did the Cardinals' superstar talents.
Goldschmidt, leading the National League in OPS in 2022, posted an .810 OPS in 2023, the lowest since his rookie year. Goldschmidt was still a good hitter last year, there's no doubt about that, but he was far from the guy who could carry this offense and be the centerpiece of an elite lineup. Arenado really struggled at the plate, posting just a .774 OPS, the third-lowest of his career, as a result of major regression offensively in the second half.
There are multiple ways you can look at these performances. Goldschmidt was 35 and Arenado was 32, so maybe father time is just catching up to both of them and their production is now on the decline. In the case of Arenado, back issues were a major issue last year, so health can be a major deterrent as well.
You can also look at their struggles as products of a horrible season in St. Louis. Both Goldschmidt and Arenado played much better in the first half, with both posting .850+ OPS before the All-Star break. It's really not hard to see how falling out of the playoff race may have negatively impacted their performances at the plate, even as the pair continued to grind and play almost every day.
Well, which is it? Are the pair past their primes? Was it just a down year? Something in between? The Cardinals believe both are motivated to prove the doubters wrong in 2024, but once again, it's the play on the field that will do the talking.
The Cardinals and Goldschmidt are not exploring a contract extension at the moment, which is telling of where they both are at entering a contract year. While I'm sure the Cardinals believe Goldschmidt will be better in 2024, and Goldschmidt likely believes the team will be better as well, both sides want to see those things play out before they talk about another contract.
The Cardinals getting Goldschmidt and Arenado back on track in 2024 would be huge for their chances at winning a lot more games this coming season, but we may also be seeing a changing of the guard, even if both rebound. Many believe Jordan Walker is ready for his own step forward into superstardom, perhaps surpassing the production of both Goldschmidt and Arenado this season if he can tap into his crazy potential. Willson Contreras was the Cardinals' best hitter in 2023, and guys like Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Gorman are coming as well.