There have been great third basemen in baseball since Mike Schmidt retired. Nolan Arenado is one of them. In his career with the Rockies, Arenado became as great a two-way player at the position as anybody since Schmidt. There were some very big trades this offseason before Arenado got dealt to the Cardinals -- such as All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor going from the Indians to the Mets and the Padres acquiring former American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell from the Rays. Also, the Yankees re-signed their best player, DJ LeMahieu. No deal this winter has been bigger than Arenado ending up in St. Louis. A great player ends up in a great baseball place.
A couple of years ago, the Cardinals landed Paul Goldschmidt from the D-backs. Now they've put Arenado on the other side of the infield from him, and just like that, it makes you remember that they were in the 2019 National League Championship Series vs. the Nationals. It doesn’t mean the Cards are as good, at least on paper, as the Dodgers. But St. Louis was clearly paying attention to what happened last season when Los Angeles added someone who could hit and field his position the way Mookie Betts.
So the Cardinals go get Arenado, who before the short season of 2020, had these five offensive seasons in Colorado:
• 2015: 42 homers, 130 RBIs, .323 OBP, .575 SLG, .898 OPS
• 2016: 41 homers, 133 RBIs, .362 OBP, .570 SLG, .932 OPS
• 2017: 37 homers, 130 RBIs, .373 OBP, .586 SLG, .959 OPS
• 2018: 38 homers, 110 RBIs, .374 OBP, .561 SLG, .935 OPS
• 2019: 41 homers, 118 RBIs, .379 OBP, .583 SLG, .962 OPS
In those seasons, Arenado batted over .300 twice, and his lowest average was .287. He struggled during the short season of ’20 with a left shoulder injury. But back to full strength this season, no baseball person I’ve spoken to over the winter believes he will regress and they all think he will revert back to being himself.
Bud Black is the manager of the team that just lost Arenado. I asked him this week what stands out for him about Arenado, and he kept it simple:
“A passion for the game.”
And this: “He loves being on the field playing baseball.”
In addition to the way Arenado has hit and hit for power and knocked in a ton of runs, he is already just one of the four third basemen in big league history to have won eight Gold Glove Awards. He doesn’t turn 30 until April. Since 2014, he’s ranked third among position players in WAR. Zach Kram wrote this the other day at The Ringer about Arenado:
“More than 1,000 players in MLB history have recorded at least 3,000 plate appearances through their age-29 season. Arenado is just the 12th with such a high isolated power and such a low strikeout rate, relative to the league context.”
In so many ways, because of this trade and the attention it has generated, Arenado this season will give baseball fans a chance to take a new look at just how good he really is. He primarily leaves the Rockies for the same reason that Alex Rodriguez once left the Texas Rangers: Even though Colorado signed Arenado to a $260 million contract, it decided he was taking up too much of its payroll in order to build a balanced team around him. The Rockies even sent money to St. Louis the way the Rangers once sent money with Rodriguez to New York.
The Rangers decided they couldn’t compete for the World Series with A-Rod taking up so much of their payroll. They were right, even though nobody made them give him his $252 million contract in the first place. And seven years after they traded Rodriguez, 17 years ago this month, they not only made a World Series against the Cardinals (their second straight Fall Classic appearance), but came within one ball that got over Nelson Cruz’s head from winning it.
The Cardinals finally won that World Series in seven games. It is the last they’ve won. They never go away. They did make the NLCS in ’19 after winning a pretty wonderful five-game division series against the Braves. Last year, they lost their Wild Card Series to the Padres. But John Mozeliak, the baseball boss in St. Louis, knew the Cards needed more, especially after having watched the Padres load up with starting pitching this season (Snell, Yu Darvish). Mozeliak had kicked the tires on Giancarlo Stanton before the Marlins traded him -- and his huge contract -- to the Yankees for the same reason that the Rockies have now made their deal with the Cardinals.
Mozeliak and the Cardinals are now better, with a better all-around player, with Arenado, working around their own financial reality at Busch Stadium. Here is something Mozeliak told me a couple of Spring Trainings ago:
"Even though we are a small-market team by population, we have large-market demands -- and that means to win."
The Cardinals have won 11 World Series in their grand history, second-most to the Yankees. Just nothing since 2011. Now they take this kind of swing at changing that. Black talks about Arenado’s “passion for the game.” Arenado now takes it to as passionate a baseball city as there is. Big deal. Perfect fit.