Drastic Change #4 - Exploring a Nolan Arenado trade in the offseason
At this point in the exercise, I think it's important to acknowledge once again that I do not believe we will see some kind of full teardown this year, and that it would take a really bad season once again to even make the Cardinals consider some of these moves. Trading Nolan Arenado specifically would be one that takes a lot of variables to make it happen.
First, Arenado has committed to being a Cardinal in a significant way two different times now. First, he made it very clear he wanted to be a Cardinal when he was traded from the Rockies, which is why he ended up in St. Louis in the first place. Second, he decided to opt into his contract last offseason and commit to the organization for virtually the rest of his career. Arenado would have opted out and gotten more money from the Cardinals or another organization but decided this was where he wanted to be.
While it is easy to think the right answer is to just trade every veteran if an overhaul is coming, Arenado's commitment to St. Louis is something the Cardinals should not be quick to move on from. If he wants to remain in St. Louis, it's hard to imagine deciding to move him anyway, but crazier things have happened.
From the Cardinals' perspective, if they were tearing things down, they do have natural third-base replacements in Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, and Thomas Saggese. I doubt they'd move Jordan Walker back there, but they certainly could if they wanted to.
The second piece of this is the money, especially if Arenado isn't back to his board-line MVP-caliber play again. Arenado is set to make $35 million this year, $32 million in 2025, $27 million in 2026, and $15 million in 2027. The declining nature of the dollars per season makes this contract a lot easier to stomach, but that's still about $75 million the Cardinals could save between 2025-2027 if Arenado was traded.
From Arenado's perspective, he's a competitive guy, and if St. Louis is about to go into a full-blown youth movement, does he really want to spend the final phase of his career there? Maybe this is the time when he finally ends up with the Dodgers like many have speculated over the years, or another potential suitor emerges that Arenado is comfortable with.
A big piece of this puzzle is going to be Arenado's health and on-field performance. It's no secret his back was an issue in 2023, and if it's going to be a nagging issue for years to come, that will hurt his trade value. If Arenado proves that 2023 was just a weird year and he's back to his elite play, the Cardinals could fetch more in a trade for him in the process. A lot will also depend on how much money they are willing to eat on the deal, and if Arenado is open to multiple teams or just a few.
All of these complicated factors would lead me to believe that an Arenado trade would not happen until the offseason, but I'm not ruling it out at the deadline if a team really wants him and the Cardinals have accepted a rebuild coming.