Each season, Major League Baseball nominates Sliver Slugger finalists for each position in both the National League and American League, recognizing the best offensive players around the diamond. After such a down year from the Cardinals and injuries to some of their potential finalists, it's not surprising to see the Cardinals with such little representation this year.
What is surprising to me though is who was nominated for the Cardinals and one player who missed the cut.
Nolan Arenado, who is a five-time Silver Slugger nominee himself and perennially among the top-5 offensive third baseman in the game was once again nominated for the award, but it comes as a surprise this time around. In 2023, Arenado slashed .266/.315/.459 with 26 HR and 93 RBI, good for a 107 wRC+ on the season. While Arenado was really good during the first half of the season (posting a .851 OPS), he saw a major decline in the second half due to a back injury, seeing his OPS drop to just .663 over his last 248 plate appearances.
I don't think it's crazy that Arenado was a finalist, but what really makes me raise my eyebrow is the snub that Willson Contreras received at the catcher position.
Contreras had a wild season in St. Louis. His defense behind the plate needs to improve, but the way the Cardinals handled that whole situation was closer to reality television than how I expect a professional organization to be run. Even so, Contreras handled it well and still mashed the baseball all season long. He finished the season batting .264/.358/.467 with 20 HR and 67 RBI while posting a 127 wRC+, making him arguably the best-hitting catcher in all of baseball this year.
Maybe the number of plate appearances he got at the designated hitter position disqualified him, but he still had 363 of his plate appearances at catcher (where he posted a .878 OPS) while just 127 at DH (where his OPS was just .677).
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not the Contreras contract was a mistake if he's not a primary catcher for the Cardinals. While I do believe they need to do everything they can to equip him to play that role for them, his bat has once again proven to be more than good enough to justify the contract he got. If he can bring similar offense while improving defensively as well, that's icing on the cake.
I expect Arenado to bounce back next year, assuming he can get his back problems under control. That may be a big assumption though, as you just never know how those will impact a player long-term. I wouldn't expect him to put up MVP-like numbers again, although I wouldn't count it out either, but expecting Arenado to be among the best third basemen in all of baseball again is the likely scenario. His regression at the plate certainly did not help the Cardinals during their dreadful season, but his bounce back can be a huge part of the solution for 2024.