A team finally decided to try to be the best in the NL Central.
The Cardinals were on the verge of acquiring Nolan Arenado from the Rockies on Friday night. Because $50 million would be moving from Colorado to St. Louis and because Arenado would be gaining an additional opt out after the 2022 season besides the one he has after the 2021 season, the deal will need to be approved by MLB and the Players Association. The hope is that could be done by as early as Sunday or Monday and the trade could be finalized.
If so, it would mark the first significant import of talent into the NL Central after three months of an offseason in which the talent flowed only outward.
Josh Bell, Yu Darvish, Raisel Iglesias, Jon Lester, Joe Musgrove, Jose Quintana, Kyle Schwarber, Jameson Taillon and likely at some point soon Trevor Bauer have exited the NL Central. Until Friday when Adam Wainwright re-signed with the Cardinals and Joc Pederson agreed to a deal with the Cubs, the whole division had combined to spend less than $3 million on free agency. The Reds still have not signed a major league free agent and Wainwright was the first by the Cardinals.
But now St. Louis was on the brink of a seismic move. The Cardinals would be sending five prospects to the Rockies — but none of their elite minor leaguers. Arenado is owed $199 million for the next six years and as Jon Heyman of MLB Network first reported he is having an additional $15 million for a seventh year tacked on if this deal is completed.
There is risk beyond the money. Arenado already had the right to opt out of his contract after the 2021 season and now he has the same after 2022 as well, and there has always been a feeling in the game he would love to find a way to his Southern California roots. St. Louis, though, is a baseball-crazy city and players often fall in love with playing before such a positive fan base for a regular contender.
For now, Arenado is a winner if the trade goes through because he escapes a toxic situation in Colorado. He signed an eight-year, $260 million extension after the 2018 season. He believed the Rockies were making not just a commitment to him, but to try to be perennial contenders. So Arenado grew frustrated when the team did not continue to invest in payroll to chase better players. He ended up in a feud with GM Jeff Bridich and became clear he wanted a divorce.
In the shortened 2020 schedule, Arenado had his worst season, hitting .253 with a .738 OPS while struggling with an injured shoulder. The Cardinals would be wagering that was an aberration and that Arenado is the player who finished top eight in the NL MVP voting from 2015-19. Even last year, he won his eighth Gold Glove in eight years as he has established himself as one of the best third basemen ever.
For the Rockies, they are giving up a face of their franchise. They are sending so much money to the Cardinals to escape the brunt of the contract, potentially open space to retain star shortstop Trevor Story, who is a free agent after the 2021 season, and essentially buy prospects, which is expected to include pitcher Austin Gomber, first baseman Luken Baker and outfielder Jhon Torres.
There are overtones in this deal to when the Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees after the 2017 season. Both Stanton and Arenado are represented by Joel Wolfe. Both signed mega-contracts to stay with the team that drafted them in the second round. Both became disillusioned by organizations that would not keep pushing after signing them. The Cardinals actually worked out a trade for Stanton, but he invoked his no-trade clause and — like Arenado — hoped initially to end up in his Southern California roots with the Dodgers.
Stanton accepted a trade to the Yankees, who extracted $52 million in savings from the Marlins, who ate $30 million and took on the $22 million left on Starlin Castro’s contract.
This time it was in the Cards for St. Louis to land this kind of star looking to escape a deteriorated situation.