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Nolan Arenado only makes sense for the Cardinals if he’s willing to stay in St. Louis

Taking a break from making a case for the St. Louis Cardinals to make a bid at signing free agent slugger Bryce Harper over the off-season, a Colorado Rockies blog this week made an interesting proposal for trading third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Redbirds.

The deal would be Arenado, a multiple Gold Glove winner who has hit at least 37 home runs each of the past four seasons, in exchange for St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez, starting pitcher Luke Weaver, shortstop prospect Delvin Perez and catching prospect Carson Kelly.

To start from the back of the deal and move toward the front, I am totally fine with trading Kelly and Perez, if I am the Cardinals general manager. Remember two winters ago when people were losing their minds that perennial all-star Yadier Molina was going to block Kelly from assuming his rightful place as the next franchise catcher in St. Louis? Since then, Kelly was beaten out for the backup backstop job in 2018 by a journeyman catcher and spent another year in Class AAA Memphis. He ended up getting into 19 games with the parent club but hit a disappointing .114 with no extra base hits. A small sample size, you say? This is true. But during the past three years he’s never even come close to hitting .200 in any one of them while up with the big club. He hit an OK .269 with seven homers in the minors this year. While he’s a solid defender, I’d be shocked if he develops into an offensive force. Meanwhile, catching prospect Andrew Knizner hit .313 in Class AA Springfield and seems poised to pass Kelly on the depth chart — if he hasn’t already.

Perez seemed like a steal when he fell to the Cardinals in the draft. But he’s pretty much been nothing but a disappointment since hitting .294 when he was 17 and playing in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .203 in rookie league ball in 2017 and .213 in low Class A in 2018. While he’s only 19 and has lots of potential for improvement, Perez’s stock has fallen each of the past two seasons.

Luke Weaver had a bad second half of 2018, but he still shows a lot of potential as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. I’d be willing to part with him, however, because of the massive amount of young pitching the Cardinals have. In my book, youngsters Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber and Jordan Hicks all rate ahead of Weaver. I’m content to keep those guys and let Weaver go.

The big question is Martinez and that hinges on what the Birds expect from him in the future. Do the Cardinals see Martinez returning to the front of the rotation, do they see him remaining as a closer candidate or are they still miffed at him for his alleged poor preparation and work habits? If it’s the latter and they’re intent on trading Martinez, Arenado would be a pretty good return. But if, they don’t expect Martinez to be the ace, who will it be?

It’s great to add the offensive oomph you need. But it’s tough to do so by eliminating the best pitcher you have right now — even if he’s not expected to be the best pitcher they have two years down the road. Factor in that Martinez is under control at an affordable price for several seasons and Arenado is entering the last season of team control before he hits the free agent market. It’s a steep price to pay, but probably one the Cardinals can afford — Especially because the front office really likes Arenado.

I would be totally in favor of such a deal if St. Louis could have a chance to hammer out an extension with Arenado. But don’t get the impression that he’s going to be a tremendous bargain compared to signing Harper.

Arenado will turn 28 next year, so he’s probably going to want one of those dreaded contracts that pays him for 10 years, well into the decline phase of his career. He’s likely to ask for a deal similar to what Harper is going to get -- in fact, he’s probably going to want to see what Harper gets to set his own market. If that’s the case, is it worth it to trade an established, young major league starter and three prospects then give a player a similar contract to the guy you could have had for just the money?

If the Birds did trade for and sign Arenado, they’d save $11.5 million over the next three years on Martinez to hopefully invest in helping the team in other areas. One player the Birds have been linked to is current Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel who saved 42 games and allowed 31 hits in 62 2/3 innings of work. he struck out 96 and walked 31.

Those two moves would improve remarkably upon the 2018 Cardinals, improving the defense with a Gold Glove third baseman who would also improve the offense by becoming the clean-up hitter. Kimbrel would add a lights out closer who would allow Hicks to continue to develop as a setup man instead of being the guy with all the pressure on him at the end of games.

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