Nolan Arenado is finally free.
After being at the center of trade rumors for more than a year, Arenado was finally sent – along with a reported $50 million – to the St. Louis Cardinals late Friday night in exchange for a collection of prospects as the Colorado Rockies shed nearly $150 million off the books over the next six years.
Entering the offseason, Arenado was one of the most coveted assets on the trade market. He had voiced his displeasure with the Rockies’ front office and its inability to put a competitive team together.
Arenado’s departure is just the latest chapter in a growing trend in MLB as teams seem more willing than ever to cut costs, gut the roster and accumulate prospects in the hopes of competing for World Series titles down the road.
The Gold Glove third baseman joins a St. Louis roster coming off its second-straight postseason appearance, but one that lacked star power. With Arenado in the fold, the Cardinals now have a bonafide superstar that can help them compete with the heavyweights of the National League.
As Good As It Gets
Compile a list of the top five third basemen in baseball and Arenado likely sits at the top. Make a list of the top 10 players in all the majors, and you will probably find him on there as well.
But 2020 was not kind to the disgruntled star. In the shortened 60-game season, Arenado had arguably his worst campaign yet with a slash line of .253/.303/.434 that was the lowest or second-lowest marks of his eight-year career. His raw value+ (RV+) of 86 ranked 140th among qualified hitters, and his discipline+ (85) and BIP+ (53) also fell below the league average.
However, he still won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove Award, yet another nod to his defensive genius at third base.
Rewind to a full, 162-game season in 2019, and Arenado put up some of the best numbers of his career. He compiled a slash line of .315/.379/.583 and hit 41 home runs while posting a wOBA (weighted on-base average) that ranked 10th among qualified batters. Arenado also finished well above league average with a 129 RV+, 116 BIP+ and 108 contact+.
Since debuting in 2013, Arenado ranks first in home runs (235), RBI (760), slugging percentage (.541) and intentional walks (58) among all third basemen. In that same field, he ranks second in hits, runs scored and doubles, and third in triples and batting average.
The “Coors Effect” is a factor, of course. His OPS drops .192 points away from Coors Field, and he has hit 37 fewer home runs in just 48 fewer plate appearances on the road. In 98 plate appearances at Busch Stadium, Arenado has slashed .278/.337/.511 while hitting five home runs and six doubles.
With the Arenado trade, St. Louis is now home to two Gold Glove-, 30-plus-home-run-caliber players on the corners of the infield. All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who has spent the past two seasons in St. Louis, was the Cardinals’ previous biggest trade acquisition from the NL West in recent memory.
The Cardinals have a strong core of young players, including Paul DeJong, Andrew Knizner and top prospect Dylan Carlson. As a team, St. Louis ranked 19th in RV+ (96), 21st in BIP+ (91) and 18th in contact+ (100).
Now, the Cardinals add the franchise star and middle-of-the-order bat that they need to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
The Redbirds are one of five franchises in MLB history to never have a primary third baseman hit 35-plus home runs in a single season, joined by the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins (Matt Carpenter hit 36 home runs in 2018, but qualified as a first baseman that year). Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Arenado has hit at least 35 home runs in each of his last five full seasons.
As a team, Cardinals third basemen hit just .216/.348/.353 with five home runs and nine doubles in 190 at-bats. Entering his age-30 season, Arenado should provide a significant upgrade.
With the Chicago Cubs shedding salary and the Cincinnati Reds likely losing Trevor Bauer, the NL Central is up for grabs. Adding Arenado puts St. Louis in the driver’s seat.
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