By Rob Rains
So, how about the almost painfully quiet off-season for the Cardinals?
That changed in a span of just over 24 hours, starting with the return of Adam Wainwright followed by stunning reports on Friday night that the Cardinals had completed a trade with the Rockies for perennial Gold Glover, All-Star and Silver Slugger Nolan Arenado.
Multiple reports said the trade had been completed but would not become official on Friday night and perhaps this weekend because of a lot of variables which need approval from multiple parties.
The Rockies reportedly agreed to send as much as $50 million to the Cardinals to help offset the $199 million owed to Arenado over the next six years. Arenado also has to formally waive his no-trade clause and likely also might have to agree to delay the opt-out clause in his contract after the 2021 season. There also were reports that Arenado would get another opt-out after 2022 in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause.
Because the deal is not official, the package of players the Cardinals are sending to the Rockies also is not known, but left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber is reportedly one of the players in the trade.
Other names mentioned by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, who broke the news of the trade being completed, were all minor-league players but did not include any of the organization’s top prospects.
The Cardinals have had interest in acquiring Arenado for the last couple of years but in their previous conversations the Rockies never seemed motivated to complete a deal. That apparently all changed on Friday.
Our story from earlier on Friday listed four questions that had to be answered before a deal could be completed before Mike Shildt can write Arenado’s name into the cleanup spot for the opening day lineup.
How motivated are the Rockies to deal Arenado?
Is this the time that the Rockies finally just want to bring an end to the seemingly endless battles between Arenado and team management, which likely will only get worse this season if the Rockies struggle again? If that happens without a trade, would Arenado exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, even if he knows he would likely have to sign for less money, simply so he could leave Colorado?
Moving him now, and eating some money, would at least get the Rockies some players in return. The question that has to be answered is how much of the $199 million owed to Arenado for the next six years is the team willing to eat? The higher the amount, the better the trade package they will get in return.
Can the Cardinals afford him?
The answer to this question should be yes, depending on exactly how much money the Rockies are willing to eat, and how they structure that financial relief. The Cardinals biggest financial worries are short term, as in the 2021 season. They don’t want to have to pay Arenado the full $35 million he is owed for this season, but if the Rockies would eat half of that, and accept a higher-salaried player as part of the trade package, the Cardinals could pull off a deal and not substantially increase their payroll for this season.
Beyond 2021, the financial picture for the Cardinals gets a lot brighter. For starters, there is a much more likely chance there will be fans in the stands in 2022 – as long as the game doesn’t shut down because of a labor impasse between the owners and players. The contracts for Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Andrew Miller and Carlos Martinez expire after this season. Those deals, combined with what could well be the final season for Adam Wainwright would free up $65 million from the team’s payroll for 2022 and beyond.
After 2022, the Cardinals only have three players under contract – Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong and Miles Mikolas, whose contract expires after 2023.
Will Arenado waive his no-trade protection and the opt-out on his contract after this season?
This again primarily depends on how badly Arenado wants out of Colorado. It seems likely it would not be much of an issue for him to waive the no-trade protection to OK a deal to the Cardinals. The opt-out iis a little tricker. If he does not exercise the opt-put, Arenado would be owed $164 million for the next five seasons. Given the current economic climate in baseball, and with a potential lockout looming for 2022, it seems unlikely he could match that as a free agent next winter. The biggest deal for a free agent so far this winter is the sic-year, $150 million contract George Springer signed with the Blue Jays, although Trevor Bauer’s next contract should be a bigger package unless it is for less years.
Especially if Arenado is traded to a team where he wants to play – and don’t underestimate his friendship with Goldschmidt and former Cardinal Matt Holliday – he likely will be more willing to stay.
Who would the Cardinals be willing to include in the deal?
This might be the hardest question to answer with two key points to consider – the Rockies can, and should, get a better package if Arenado agrees not to opt-out of the contract next winter, and if they are willing to eat more of Arenado’s salary for 2021 and perhaps beyond. That brings us back to the first question about how motivated the Rockies are to move Arenado now.
No doubt the Cardinals would try to include one of their higher salaries in the deal, again helping them gain some short-term financial relief. But Carpenter and Fowler both have no-trade clauses as well and it would not appear likely either would agree to a move unless there was something for them to gain financially. The player the Cardinals would most likely try to include would be Martinez, who is owned $11.7 million this season and with options, or a total $1 million buyout, for 2022 and 2023.
The Rockies would almost certainly ask for Nolan Gorman, one of the Cardinals top three prospects, to be part of the deal. While the Cardinals would have to give up the 20-year-old former first-round pick, the question is if they could make the Arenando deal without including him, where would Gorman play in a couple of years when he is ready fore the majors? Unless the Cardinals want to make him the designated hitter, he would be blocked by Arenado, who will turn 30 in April. The one worry on the Cardinals part might be their recent history of trading away prospects and seeing them become stars elsewhere: see Arozarena, Randy and Voit, Luke.
If Yadier Molina agrees to return in the next few days, could Andrew Knizner be part of the trade package? That would seem possible. The Rockies also would probably ask about Matthew Liberatore, Gorman’s childhood buddy and the top pitching prospect in the organization, but the Cardinals probably would be very reluctant to give him up, perhaps trying to get the Rockies interested in their other young left-handed starter, Zack Thompson, or a combination of more prospects in a quantity-type deal instead of higher quality.
One question the Cardinals don’t know is who else is talking with the Rockies about a possible Arenado trade. It could be the Braves, it could be the Dodgers, it could be the Mets, and the Rockies certainly are looking for the best possible trade they can get – both in terms of their own financial relief and the package of players who would be headed to Colorado.
Conclusion – The Cardinals interest in Arenado isn’t new; it dates back a couple of seasons. This time, however, at least from published reports, the Rockies seem to be more motivated to move him than has been the case during past talks between the teams. Time will tell.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sport