Nolan Arenado has been the best defensive third baseman in baseball during his eight-year MLB career. And now he is taking his glove east, as the Rockies and Cardinals completed a six-player trade to send Arenado to St. Louis. While fans in the Midwest surely know of Arenado's reputation as a magician at the hot corner, they might not catch a lot of Rockies games, so what follows will hopefully augment their mental cache of what Arenado brings to the Gateway City.
Here's a look at 10 (it's extremely hard to limit this to 10) of the finest defensive plays Arenado has made in his eight Gold Glove seasons:
San Francisco, Part 1: April 14, 2015 at Oracle (then AT&T) Park -- This is back in the early days, when Arenado was still making his name in the game. This play announced to the baseball world that he was going to be one of the greats at third base for a long time. The Giants' Gregor Blanco popped a ball up into foul territory down the third-base line. It was headed right for the tarp against the wall. That didn't stop Arenado from making a running, over-the-shoulder catch at full speed, then violently flipping over the tarp and nearly into the stands. And to top it off, he had the presence of mind to fire a throw to third base from his knees atop the tarp and nearly got the runner tagging for third.
San Francisco, Part 2: June 28, 2017 at AT&T Park -- You'll have to excuse Giants fans if they rejoiced the moment they heard that Arenado was likely headed out of the National League West. Not only did Arenado torment San Francisco at the plate, he seemed to save his most incredible defensive plays for the Giants. First, there was the tarp play. Two seasons later, Ty Blach hit a sharp ground ball into the hole between third and short, and Arenado somehow got a glove on it to knock it down on a full-extension dive to his left. But that wasn't even the toughest element of the play -- he then reached out with his bare hand while flat on the ground, picked up the baseball, wheeled around and threw Blach out from a seated position. Just, wow.
Nolan Arenado, left fielder? Aug. 1, 2020 vs. Padres -- Foul ball down the left-field line. Yes, the left-field line. So let's see where the left fielder is, shall we? But wait, who is that man sprinting from the infield all the way into foul ground in left? Arenado, of course -- according to Statcast, he ran 111 feet and made a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch to rob the Padres' Trent Grisham of ... well, an at-bat?
The glove is optional: Virtually all the time -- There's no single date or setting for this one, because there are just too many of these to count. The barehand play on a slow chopper is one of the most difficult for a third baseman to make. "Difficult" is a relative term for Arenado, though. More like "routine" as he turns what appears to be a surefire infield hit into an out at first base. He's done this so many times that it's spoiled us.
He's a rookie? June 15, 2013 vs. Phillies -- Not even two months into his Major League career, a baby-faced Arenado stunned the Phillies when he snared a chopper from the opposing pitcher, Jonathan Pettibone, which was ticketed for the left-field line with a dive so acrobatic you'd have to watch it several times to make sure it wasn't an optical illusion.
The Brooksie: July 18, 2015 at Petco Park -- You've seen it. You know it. The Brooks Robinson play. A back-handed grab of Lee May's sharp ground ball down the third-base line that sent Robinson far into foul territory before he somehow made an impossible throw to get May at first in Game 1 of the 1970 World Series. Arenado has often been compared to Robinson, known as the "Human Vacuum Cleaner," and this type of play is why.
The 'I make this look so good' play: May 26, 2017 vs. Cardinals -- Yadier Molina hit the baseball about as hard as you can hit a baseball. His cardinal sin was hitting it to third. Arenado makes this play look so easy it's silly.
Who says you need to be on your feet? May 18, 2018 at AT&T Park -- Come now, you didn't think the defensive wizardry against the Giants was complete, did you? If there's anything Arenado has shown, it's that he doesn't need to be remotely upright to throw a guy out from anywhere on the diamond.
Oh, you didn't know he plays short, too? Aug. 11, 2016 at Texas -- No, seriously. He can play shortstop, too. Take, for instance, this ridiculous play in which he robs the Rangers' Rougned Odor of a hit up the middle. Arenado goes behind second base to collect the ball -- which should have been in center field by this point -- and then, all in one motion as his momentum is taking him toward right field, spins and throws Odor out. Just ... how?
Oh, you didn't know he plays first, too? July 3, 2017 vs. Reds -- When he was asked about this one after the game, Arenado said he had thought it up long before the play actually came about. He crashed so hard on a sacrifice bunt attempt that he actually fielded the ball down the first-base line, then threw across his body to second to get the lead runner. Unreal.
And he's not done
What we're witnessing with Arenado at third base is one of the greatest defensive players in the history of baseball. He makes it all look so easy, that it's easy to take for granted just how spectacular Arenado's defense is. Luckily, there's more to come in the years ahead.