NL Central teams hadn’t been doing much in the offseason until the Cardinals went to work Friday night.
St. Louis reportedly agreed to acquire third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Rockies in a trade. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that Colorado will also send the Cards about $50 million and that Arenado will defer salary. The deal reportedly could take days to become official as it is pending approval by Arenado, MLB and the players association.
The reported cash outlay and deferrals strongly suggest that Arenado will not opt out of his contract after the 2021 season, but Rosenthal reported that Arenado will retain the opt-out, pick up second opt-out for 2022 and retain his no-trade clause if the move goes through. Arenado has six years and $199 million remaining on the eight-year, $260 million extension he signed with Colorado in February 2019.
Beyond the financial intrigue, there’s also a baseball move to analyze. The Cardinals clearly win in the short term as they add one of the top third basemen in the National League and improve an offense that finished 14th among 15 NL clubs in runs scored last season. The 29-year-old Arenado will slot into the middle of the Cardinals’ order alongside Paul Goldschmidt.
Arenado produced a .937 OPS in the five full seasons immediately prior to the shortened 2020 campaign, but fans widely dismiss those numbers because he plays his home games at Coors Field. His career home-road splits are stark: .985 at home, .793 on the road in roughly the same number of plate appearances.
But even if his stats drfit toward the low end with St. Louis, the Cardinals will still welcome what he’ll offer, considering the team’s primary third basemen in 2020, Matt Carpenter and Tommy Edman, were both below .700 in OPS.
The reported return for the Rockies appears not to include any of the Cardinals’ top prospects; instead, left-hander Austin Gomber looks to to be the main player headed to Colorado. But this move is primarily about saving money and using Arenado’s money to keep shortstop Trevor Story, who can become a free agent after the 2021 season.
Gomber, 27, excelled in a multi-inning relief role last season for St. Louis with a 1.86 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 29 frames. He was a starter when he made his MLB debut with St. Louis in 2018.
This article has been updated with new information and additional analysis.