The Cardinals offense is in need of help; that’s nothing new, though. Over the last 18 months, fans have been salivating at the thought of adding Nolan Arenado; he’s an impact bat at a position of need. Apparently, those talks have restarted again, along with the possibility that Arenado would rework his opt out clause. But is the deal a fit for the team?
First, lets look at Arenado the player. He’s a 5 time all star and won every gold glove at third base in the NL since 2013 (when he came into the league). Between 2015-19, he finished no worse than 8th place in MVP voting. He’s led the league in homers 3 times, RBIs and total bases twice, and doubles and sacrifice flies once. His career line is .293/.349/.541 with 235 homers, 120 OPS+, and 39.1 bWAR. He’s one of the premier third basemen in the league.
When you take a deeper look though, you will see some red flags.
His home/away splits are pretty dramatic. He’s a .322/.376/.609 hitter at home; 136 of his 235 homers have been at Coors Field. More importantly, his tOPS+ is 120, or 20% better than normal. His road line is .263/.322/.471 with 99 homers; his tOPS+ is 79, or 21% worse then normal. The Coors Effect is a real thing in this case.
In 24 games at Busch Stadium, Arenado is a .278/.337/.511 hitter, with 5 homers, 17 RBIs, and an tOPS+ of 91. Really, this would be an improvement over most of the Cardinals lineup. Unfortunately, the former Miller Park (home of the Brewers) is the only NL Central Stadium where he has an above average OPS+.
He’s also got pretty dramatic lefty/righty splits. He’s crushed lefties to a line of .320/.394/.602 with 71 homers and a tOPS+ of 124. He drops to .283/.333/.519 hitter, with 164 homers and a tOPS+ of 91. While the homer total is much higher against righties, he’s also had over 2000 more plate appearances against righties; when you look at HR/PA, you see he hits homers in 5.75% of his plate appearances versus lefties against 4.93% versus righties. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s still noteworthy.
Even with the splits and a down 2020, Arenado would be a good fit statistically for the team; Arenado’s 2020 saw a stat line of .253/.303/.434 with 8 homers and a 84 OPS+. The Cardinals primarily third basemen were Matt Carpenter and Tommy Edman. Carpenter hit .186/.325/.314 with 4 homers and a 77 OPS+. Edman hit .250/.317/.386 with 5 homers and 87 OPS+. When you factor in his defense, Arenado is a definite upgrade. Bringing him in will also allow the team to use Edman at second base, which appears to be the plan with Kolten Wong out of the mix (although the team would be better with Wong at second and Edman in a utility role).
Secondly, the Cardinals match up well player-wise to make this deal. The Cardinals have a lot of depth in their system; they don’t have much elite level talent. Originally, it was expected that the team would have to give up 2 of their top 3 prospects: Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, and/or Matthew Liberatore. Carlson is probably off limits because he’s penciled in for 2021; the other 2 are probably available. Based off the deals we’ve seen made this off-season, it would appear that the Cardinals would only have to include one. When you look at the packages the Cubs got for Yu Darvish (Zach Davies and 4 prospects – numbers 15, 17, 18, and 20 in the Padres system according to Baseball America), they didn’t get an elite prospect. The package the Rays got for Blake Snell (Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia, and 2 prospects) has a promising young MLB player in Patino and one of the prospects was considered Top 100 in baseball.
Arenado would match up with the 2 players the Padres got, so the package would probably be something like Gorman and 2 lower prospects, along with some contracts to off-set salary. If I were the Cardinals, my initial offer would be Carpenter (if he’d waive his no trade clause; if not, shift to Dexter Fowler), Andrew Miller, Zack Thompson, and Angel Rondon. I’d be willing to up it to Gorman, Carpenter, Miller, Malcom Nunez, and Griffin Roberts if the Rockies would kick in some significant cash. I could also see Carlos Martinez being a player involved for salary purposes. I hate giving up Gorman, but he’s limited to the corner infield and you would have long term options with Paul Goldschmidt at first and Arenado at third.
This all might be another pipe dream; the Denver Post is reporting that contact has been made, but no deal is close to happening. Really, the Cardinals were hit hard financially by the pandemic and adding this amount of salary would be very hard for a team that couldn’t keep Wong for $12.5M this upcoming season; Arenado is making almost 3 times that amount. I just don’t see it happening.