Here We Go Again: Arenado to the Cardinals on the Table

photo: Matt Carpenter and Nolan Arenado (Jeff Curry/Imagn)

Here we go again.

Very late Thursday evening, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies have been engaged in talks that if concluded successfully, would send third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis.

This trade has been talked about off and on for over a year, so we all have every right to be highly skeptical that discussions will lead to an actual trade. A major stumbling block is the $199 million owed Arenado over the next six years and his right to opt out of the contract following the 2021 season.

In fact, right up front in his article, Rosenthal wrote this:

“No deal is close…”

So, please let’s keep this in mind.

The national writer has scarce details, but did offer possibilities. Let’s review his words with my commentary following.

Rosenthal: “Arenado, 29, likely would waive his no-trade clause to join the Cardinals, and perhaps agree to push back his right to opt out after the 2021 season.”

Given Arenado’s toxic relationship with Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich, a waiver of the no-trade protection is not a stretch whatsoever.

Nolan Arenado (Allan Henry/Imagn)

However, the delay of the opt out could be the most important aspect to ease a trade, both for the player and the Cardinals.

With the game’s finances under pressure due to COVID, the upcoming CBA negotiations just ahead, as well as a large and deep class of left-side infielders scheduled to hit the free agent market in the fall, if Arenado bought himself more time to decide his longer-term plans, it could benefit him.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, with an opt-out delay, Arenado would no longer be a rental player. He would have at least two years under team control and perhaps longer. That would give the two sides more than enough time to determine if the marriage would have staying power.

Rosenthal: “The Rockies… almost certainly would absorb at least one high-priced veteran from the Cardinals…”

This is crucial, as the cost-cutting Cardinals have declared they are looking for trades that are “payroll neutral”. Given that, the only feasible way to take on a major commitment like Arenado would be to send at least one big contract in the other direction.

The key is to save money in 2021, as heading into 2022, St. Louis will have considerably more payroll flexibility – with likely enough room to accommodate Arenado for what would be his age 30 through 35 seasons.

Speaking of 35-year-olds with bad contracts…

The prime trade candidates on the offensive side are a pair of Cardinals currently of that very age – third baseman Matt Carpenter and right fielder Dexter Fowler. Both are in the final year of their long-term contracts, with Carpenter slated to make $18.5 million in 2021 and Fowler’s salary this coming season $16.5 million.

Matt Carpenter

As Carpenter plays the same defensive position as Arenado and carries the larger salary, he would seem to be the easiest fit on paper. But both Cardinals’ contracts include no-trade protection that would have to be bought out.

Clearly, before any deal could proceed, the player(s) potentially involved would have to be approached to gauge their interest. For discussions to proceed that far, it would raise the stakes for St. Louis to actually close the deal or risk having a disgruntled player in a lame duck 2021 season.

Rosenthal: “The Rockies… (would) also (be) receiving prospects in the deal.”

Though I imagine the Cardinals would much rather prefer to keep their no. 2 farm player and national top 100 prospect Nolan Gorman, it is hard for me to believe the Rockies would not demand the 20-year-old budding slugger.

Nolan Gorman

By pairing Gorman with Carpenter, the Rockies would have the same built-in succession plan at the hot corner that St. Louis has today. Gorman likely needs another year of development time, which coincides nicely with the conclusion of Carpenter’s contract.

Two other third basemen ranked among the top 10 prospects in the Cardinals system are 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Walker and Elehuris Montero. The latter has reached Double-A, so is much closer to the majors.

Rosenthal: “…the other players who might be involved are not known.”

No other names have been leaked, but given two factors, I would expect pitching to be on the table.

After all, mound depth is St. Louis’ strength (buoyed by Thursday’s return of Adam Wainwright for another year). Further, the team that plays 81 games each season in Coors Field is forever in search of more arms.

Carlos Martinez

This opens the possibility that right-hander Carlos Martinez could be the big contract in the proposed trade, instead of or in addition to a hitter. The highly talented, but highly frustrating 29-year old has one guaranteed year remaining on his current contract.

Martinez’ deal will pay him $11.5 million this season. His contract also includes team options for 2022 ($17 million) and 2023 ($18 million), which would cost $500,000 each to buy out.

While Martinez does not have no-trade protection, his contract calls for him to receive an extra $1 million if dealt. Not requiring his permission could ease the likely complicated trade logistics. (And if Carpenter remains, the Cardinals have their 2021 designated hitter.)

If Martinez could get his career back on track with the Rockies, he and his two option years could provide some flexibility and upside for his potential new club. Or, if things do not go well, the price of a divorce would be relatively low.

(A reader suggested Miles Mikolas as another possibility. I see that as less likely for multiple reasons. First of all, the 32-year old is owned $16.75 million for each of the next three years – obviously a much bigger commitment for the Rockies to take on. Also, Mikolas has not yet proven he is 100% after late July 2020 surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm.)

As far as pitching prospects about whom the Rockies might ask, the list of candidates could be long. In ranking order, here are the 11 arms in just the top 20 of The Cardinal Nation’s top prospects for 2021:

  • Matthew Liberatore
  • Zack Thompson
  • Masyn Winn (also shortstop)
  • Johan Oviedo
  • Angel Rondon
  • Tink Hence
  • Junior Fernandez
  • Kodi Whitley
  • Seth Elledge
  • Tony Locey
  • Griffin Roberts

In conclusion

Before I go, I want to again remind you what Rosenthal wrote:

“No deal is close…”

Weigh in

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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