Nolan Arenado traded to Cardinals, Rockies to pay large share of his remaining salary

The St. Louis Cardinals have landed All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado in a blockbuster trade with the Colorado Rockies, CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson has confirmed. Colorado is expected to retain approximately $50 million of the $199 million remaining on Arenado’s contract. Lefty Austin Gomber, righties Jake Woodford and Angel Rondon, first baseman Luken Baker, and outfielder Jhon Torres are headed to Colorado in exchange for Arenado.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal notes the trade may not become official for a few days. Arenado must formally waive his no-trade clause, and his contract includes an opt out clause following the 2021 season that could be reworked in some manner, including being pushed back. Also, MLB and the MLBPA must approve the trade because of the significant dollars changing hands.

Arenado, who’s going into his age-30 campaign, is coming off a subpar 2020 season (.738 OPS). However, he suffered an early shoulder injury that lingered for much of a season that was abbreviated to 60 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doubtless, that affected Arenado’s production at the plate. The larger view suggests he’s still an elite performer at the plate — he put up a 131 OPS+ from 2017 through 2019, and for his career he’s averaged 35 home runs and 39 doubles per 162 games played. That’s to say nothing of the fact that Arenado remains perhaps the game’s best defensive third baseman and one of the most valuable gloves at any position. Over the course of his career, Arenado has won eight Gold Gloves — one in every year of his MLB career — and four Silver Sluggers. He’s also finished in the top 10 of the NL MVP balloting on five different occasions. 

Some will point to the fact that playing his home games at Coors Field has inflated his offensive numbers, but his park-adjusted statistics with the bat are quite strong. As well, it’s never as simple as looking at the road stats of a Rockies hitter; playing in Coors exacts a price in games played closer to sea level. Look no further than DJ LeMahieu, who’s offensive performance has actually improved away from Coors Field.

The financial angle is also an indelible part of the story. Arenado has six years and $199 million left on the extension that kicked in prior to the 2019 season, which in part explains why the Rockies were willing to part with their homegrown superstar. Also likely playing a role were reported mutual tensions between Arenado and GM Jeff Bridich and Arenado’s general dissatisfaction with the direction of the franchise.

In St. Louis, Arenado adds a badly needed impact bat to a Cardinals offense that ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored last season and 10th in 2019. As well, he fills a hole in the infield. The decision to decline the club option of second baseman Kolten Wong meant that Tommy Edman was in line for regular duty at that position. That in turn meant that Matt Carpenter, in decline at the plate and in the field, would have probably been the sub-optimal solution at third base, where Edman spent the plurality of his time in 2020. On the whole, the Arenado addition likely pushes the Cardinals to favorite status in the NL Central, which this winter has seen the reigning champion Cubs worsen themselves and the Reds and Brewers do little of anything. 

The Cardinals recently re-signed Adam Wainwright and are expected to re-sign Yadier Molina in the coming days. Once the Arenado trade is official, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt will able to deploy a regular lineup that looks something like this:

  1. 2B Tommy Edman
  2. SS Paul DeJong
  3. 3B Nolan Arenado
  4. 1B Paul Goldschmidt
  5. LF Dylan Carlson
  6. RF Dexter Fowler
  7. C Yadier Molina
  8. CF Harrison Bader
  9. Pitcher’s spot

Carpenter is the obvious candidate to step into the lineup should the National League adopt the universal DH in 2021. Reigning Gold Glove outfielder Tyler O’Neill could push Bader or Fowler to the bench depending on each player’s performance.

The Cardinals have a history of importing former Rockies stars. They acquired Larry Walker from Colorado at the 2004 trade deadline, and they added Matt Holliday in a trade with the Athletics in 2009. St. Louis also acquired Scott Rolen in 2002. Rolen, like Arenado, was displeased with his former team (the Phillies) and wanted out. Holliday and Rolen were impending free agents when they first joined the Cardinals and they signed long-term deals soon thereafter.  

Gomber, 27, owns a 3.72 ERA in 104 MLB innings with St. Louis. ranks the 20-year-old Torres the No. 9 prospect in the Cardinals’ system and says “the final product could be that of an above-average big leaguer who offers value in all facets of the game.” also ranks Rondon and Baker the No. 13 and 23 prospects in the system, respectively. Woodford, 24, is unranked and had a 5.57 ERA in 21 innings with St. Louis in 2020.

Arenado is on the short list of the greatest Rockies players in history — he is fourth on the franchise’s all-time WAR leaderboard behind Todd Helton, Larry Walker, and Troy Tulowitzki — and now that he’s been traded, Trevor Story’s long-term future will become the focus. Story is scheduled to become a free agent next offseason, and if the Rockies intend to kick off an earnest rebuild, he figures to be next player they trade.

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