Cardinals’ offseason target: Nolan Arenado
St. Louis Cardinals fans have a laser beam focus on a possible trade for Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
But, if the Redbirds are going to go the trade route instead of making a free agent signing, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado makes much more sense. And, I wonder if St. Louis might have an ally on its side who could not only make the deal happen, but also convince the slugger to sign a long term contract with the Cardinals.
A story in the Denver Post over the weekend noted the similarities between that of Arenado this offseason and another former Rockies star, Matt Holliday, a decade before. Holliday rejected the Rockies’ efforts to sign him to an extension and the club traded Holliday, whose top priority was to sign with a club that gave him a chance to make the playoffs every year. Hopefully, Holliday’s decision will resonate with Arenado and he’d be interested in helping return the Birds to perennial contention.
Why is Arenado a better find? First, because of his position. The Birds are covered at first base with their best hitter, Matt Carpenter, currently residing there. Yes, Carpenter has experience playing the hot corner. But his shoulder isn’t what it used to be and it’s painful to watch him try to throw the ball across the diamond. At this stage of his career, Carpenter is passable at first. But, regardless of what the fielding statistics say, his arm is a liability at third.
Second, Arenado is 27 while Goldschmidt is 32. Both players have one year to go before free agency. Simply put, the St. Louis front office isn’t going to want to pay Goldschmidt big bucks for his decline years while permanently displacing Carpenter. It just makes a lot more sense to fit Arenado into the puzzle instead of trying to jam the square peg that is Carpenter into the round hole that is third base.
Generally, I’m worried about trading good prospects for a player you can only control for a year. But it’s a lot better investment to try to convince the younger player to stay than it is to bid against Father Time for Goldschmidt.
In Arenado St. Louis could find the cleanup bat it needs to pair with Marcell Ozuna while also improving its defense. But, while free agent Bryce Harper is expected to cost $300-$400 million to sign, the Colorado third baseman is a relative bargain, figuring to sign in the $200-$250 million range.
Just as they have the pieces to strike a deal with Arizona, the Cardinals could put together a compelling package for the Rockies. Colorado is always looking for pitching and I have heard rumblings that the team’s front office fancies St. Louis’ young lefty Austin Gomber, whose high ground ball rate fits well for the Mile High atmosphere. It’s awfully hard to hit home runs on grounders. I’m very high on Gomber, penciling him in for the Cardinals rotation should Adam Wainwright not be able to hold down a spot in 2019. But Arenado would be well worth giving up a package including Gomber. The Rockies, to part with their star, will probably want major league ready talent that will help them retool on the fly as opposed to a tear down and long term rebuild. Might Tyler O’Neill fit that bill?
St. Louis has plenty of other young pitchers to back fill for Gomber, making Dakota Hudson the next man in line — and that’s assuming that Alex Reyes will be babied after his setback last season, spending 2019 in the bullpen instead of as the ace in waiting.
The only problem is that the Rockies are notoriously tough to make a deal with. The Cardinals tried for two years to trade for Holliday before the Colorado front office shipped him off to Oakland. The Birds also were rumored to have pursued both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez for multiple seasons, never succeeding in working out a deal for either one. I suspect, like with Holliday, the Rockies will try to hold on to Arenado until spring training and make a last run at signing him before deciding to sell him off to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, St. Louis can’t wait that long for an answer.