The Cardinals and Rockies completed their mega-Nolan Arenado on Monday night after days of complex negotiations and approvals. The All-Star third baseman heads east to St. Louis two weeks before the scheduled start of sprining practice in a five-to-one rally.
Ranking this deal is straightforward: Saint-Louis wins the 2021 game in a rout, and there’s a good chance it will win in the long run as well.
But it remains to be explained why we have come to this conclusion. Here is the reasoning:
Commercial qualities Nolan Arenado
Pretty simple, right? The Redbirds are filling an urgent need with a top player, and at a low cost.
Arenado’s roster was sublime again in 2020: he recorded 15 defensive points saved, more than double the NL’s closest third goal Manny Machado, winning his eighth Gold Glove in eight MLB seasons. He is the ideal defensive replacement for Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong.
But it is on the plate that the cardinals will appreciate the Arenado the most. He averaged 40 homers and 82 more hits and posted a .937 OPS from 2015 to 2019 with the Rockies. His 2020 season was a failure (76+ OPS at career low), but lawyers can cite both excuses for a truncated season and a shoulder injury.
Critics, meanwhile, can cite a possible decline and rejoice in the fact that his career between home and road is wide – .985 OPS at Coors Field, .793 outside Denver. But even that low-end is way better than what the Cardinals have been posting to the post in recent years. St. Louis sank again last season as Matt Carpenter (.640) and Tommy Edman (.685) both hit rock bottom. Edman should move on to second base and Carpenter can focus on being a utility player who gets close to everyday bats.
There is a risk in this trade for the Cardinals. Arenado could physically decline at the age of 30 and he can opt out of his contract after the 2021 or 2022 seasons. The opt-out of 22 was one of the concessions that were made to secure the deal. Another concession added a year and $ 15 million guaranteed at the end of the Arenado contract. He now has seven years and $ 214 million left on his pact. Saint-Louis accepts the risk of becoming a bad business in his later years.
First, start with the Colorado front office assuming 2021 will be Arenado’s walking year due to a strained relationship between the player and general manager Jeff Bridich. So consider that it gave him what looks like pennies on the dollar.
Colorado have received southpaw Austin Gomber and four minor leagues: third baseman Elehuris Montero, right-hangers Tony Locey and Jake Sommers and shortstop Mateo Gil. Montero ranks seventh on the list of the 30 best prospects in the Rockies, according to MLB Pipeline. Locey is 15th, Gil 22nd and Sommers is not even in the top 30.
Gomber, 27, is ready for a full-time role in the league. He came back from a sore shoulder and elbow last year to post a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings. He made four good starts at the end of the season, allowing one earned run in 15 2/3 innings. He can compete for a place at the back of the rotation.
The other four are all wild cards. Montero, 22, reached 0.188 in half a season at Double-A in 2019, but is believed to have power potential. Locey, 22, retired 31 and walked 12 in 17 innings, all in relief, in 19 after being drafted from the University of Georgia in June. Gil, 20, and Sommers, 23, were both on track to play Single-A last year before COVID-19 wiped out the minor league ball.
That’s a sub-optimal return for a franchise cornerstone that’s in its late teens. Worse yet, Colorado agreed to this package even though it would pay $ 15 million of Arenado’s $ 35 million salary for 2021 and promised to send St. Louis more than an additional $ 35 million if Arenado opts for the Cardinals after 2121.
Even with all that money going to St. Louis, the Rox didn’t get one of Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, or Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ three reps in the MLB Pipeline top 100.
It is mismanagement at every turn.