Why Arenado could beat Goldy for NL MVP
This story was excerpted from John Denton's Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Feel free to challenge me on this if you would like, but here’s a theory I have been pondering of late: Cardinals slugger Paul Goldschmidt is having one of baseball's best offensive seasons in decades and he just might become the first Triple Crown winner in the National League in 85 years … and he’s not even the most deserving MVP winner on his own team.
That award, in my opinion, should go to Nolan Arenado -- someone who has put up lesser, but somewhat similar, offensive numbers to Goldschmidt while also being the best third baseman in the game and arguably the best the sport has ever seen. Some of the jaw-dropping plays Arenado has made this season -- the jump-throw back to third on a bunt in Tampa; the barehanded fielding of a high-hopper in Arizona; the back-to-the-infield chase-down of a popout in Denver; and the short-hop grab and throw across the runner to Yadier Molina on Friday at home -- are the kind of gems you usually only see once a year from all the players in baseball. For Arenado, they are just more clips to add to his career highlight reel.
Regarding the brand of defense that should easily win Arenado a 10th consecutive Gold Glove, don’t just take my word for it. Take it from Hall of Famer Jim Kaat, who knows a thing or two about defense as a 16-time Gold Glover himself. Kaat played against Brooks Robinson (a 16-time Gold Glove winner) and alongside Mike Schmidt (a 10-time Gold Glove winner), and he thinks Arenado is the best third baseman he’s seen in an MLB playing-and-broadcasting career that has spanned more than six decades.
“I used to tell Mike Schmidt, ‘You’re the greatest third baseman I have ever played with,’ and then I saw Scott Rolen and I really liked him,” said Kaat, who has talked defense with Arenado several times at the Rawlings Gold Glove banquets through the years. “But then, seeing Nolan Arenado play several times in person and seeing some of the highlights he’s had through the years, he’s the best I’ve seen.
“And then when you couple his batting average, he’s going to hit 30 home runs again this year, and you start talking about Mike Trout and [Fernando] Tatis [Jr.] who are ‘the greatest players,’ well Nolan is there every day,” Kaat added. “He’s playing every day, he hits .300, he’s a Gold Glover and he may be the best-ever at that position. So, yeah, I think he should be considered in that group. I told him that, ‘You need to be considered as one of the best all-around players in baseball.’”
Arenado has been renowned in his defensive abilities for years, but he has never been fully embraced in the “best player in baseball” conversation -- something Arenado believes happened because of where he played early in his career. Now, in St. Louis, where he is in another playoff push, Arenado is finally starting to draw a buzz about potentially being the best all-around player in baseball.
“When I was in Colorado, I didn’t get the benefit of the doubt,” Arenado said, referring to the belief that most offensive numbers are inflated in Denver’s thin air. “This year, I think some people are noticing [the offensive production] a little more. Last year, I didn’t do it as much as I should have. This year, I’m doing a better job of producing and that’s basically why [I'm hearing more MVP buzz].”
Both Goldschmidt and Arenado are highly deserving MVP candidates for a Cardinals team that is playing its best baseball at the right time. Goldschmidt, the favorite to win the MVP most of the season, leads the NL in several major offensive categories, and he still has a shot to run down Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber for the home run crown that could give him the NL’s first Triple Crown since former Cardinal Joe “Ducky” Medwick accomplished the feat in 1937.
In his career, Goldschmidt has finished second (2013), second (2015), 11th (2016), third (2017), sixth (2018), 20th (2019), 15th (2020) and sixth (2021) in NL MVP voting. Arenado, Goldschmidt’s rival for years when they both played in the NL West, has finished eighth (2015), fifth (2016), fourth (2017), third (2018) and sixth (2019). This season, they have combined to win three of the five NL Player of the Month awards (Arenado in April and August; Goldschmidt in May).
Barring them splitting the votes -- and allowing Braves third baseman Austin Riley, Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts or Mets first baseman Pete Alonso to swipe the award -- Arenado or Goldschmidt will likely win their first MVP this season. Based on his off-the-charts defensive play and his stellar production at the plate, Arenado is the pick here to, at long last, move fully into that “best player in baseball” conversation.