Rockies trade star third baseman Nolan Arenado to Cardinals

Nolan Arenado, the five-time All-Star and career-long Colorado Rockies third baseman, will be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported the agreement Friday, and the trade became official Monday night, ending a relationship intended to be long term that instead soured across consecutive fourth-place finishes in the National League West.

Coming only two years into an eight-year, $260 million contract, the deal, which is agreed upon but not yet official, brings offensive life to the Cardinals, who in a shortened 2020 season ranked next-to-last in the NL in runs, along with the game’s finest third base defense for nearly a decade.

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Even sending a reported $50 million in cash, the Rockies will free up about $149 million of the $199 million Arenado was guaranteed over the next six seasons. As far as other players in return go, Colorado’s return is currently unknown.

Industry sources expect a portion of Arenado’s salary to be deferred. The Cardinals’ only two significant contracts beyond 2021 belong to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and pitcher Miles Mikolas.

His no-trade clause was formally waived. Arenado will reportedly keep his post-2021 opt-out and gain one after 2022 if the deal goes through, along with retaining no-trade privileges.

Tommy Edman and veteran Matt Carpenter shared time at third base in St. Louis last season. Edman also has played a decent number of games at second base and right field and was slated to replace the free agent Kolten Wong at second. Carpenter, 35, is in the final guaranteed season of his contract and batted .186 last summer.

Goldschmidt, who agreed to a five-year, $130 million contract extension with the Cardinals at about the same time Arenado and the Rockies agreed to theirs, has batted primarily third in his two seasons with the Cardinals, last season ahead of Brad Miller.

He’d likely be protected now by Arenado, who three times led the NL in home runs and three times hit more than 40 home runs. Three times he drove in at least 130 runs. He finished in the NL’s top six in MVP balloting from 2016 to 2019. The curiosity with Arenado, as with all Rockies players, is how they would fare away from hitter-friendly Coors Field. In his career, he is a .322 hitter with a .985 OPS in home games, .263 and .793 on the road. In recent years, DJ LeMahieu answered the same questions by having two of the best seasons of his career as a New York Yankee.

Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, long regarded as the game's best defender at the hot corner, is headed to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, long regarded as the game's best defender at the hot corner, is headed to the St. Louis Cardinals. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Arenado’s Rockies relationship falls apart

And so, now without the player who is in his prime and stands near Todd Helton, Larry Walker and Troy Tulowitzki as the best in franchise history, the Rockies return to the business of building toward the first division title in their history. They’ll do it without their best player over at least the past six years, and one of the best players in the game. Their most productive player last season — shortstop Trevor Story — is due to become a free agent after this season. The team also, in areas of talent, plan and leadership, is miles behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, at least, in its division.

When Arenado agreed to that massive contract extension he seemed to expect, and to have received assurances of, competitive roster moves and payroll. He seemed to expect an all-in charge at the Dodgers, who’d buried the NL West for years and in 2020 finally won their World Series. By last spring, as it was clear the Rockies would be overmatched again, Arenado already was disillusioned.

He spoke then of a “disconnect” between himself and the club, while also promising his full commitment to whatever lay ahead. In mid-February, after batting practice not with the team but on his own, he told Yahoo Sports:

“You know what, and I want you please to write this down, the perception of me right now, some people have different things, right? It’s, ‘Oh, you make money, keep your mouth shut. You signed this deal and this and that.’ But, at the end of the day, man, people misunderstand. Us, as players, we only get one chance at this. I only get one chance at this. I have seven years left on my deal. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. And I want to win.

“I’ve been to All-Star Games. I’ve done some special things, you know? I’ve won Gold Gloves. Those all mean a lot to me. At the end of the day the goal is to win. They signed me to win. And I want to be on a winner. If that’s in Colorado or somewhere else, I want to win.

“It gets to a point in your career, you’re like, ‘OK, what else is there to do? I just want to win. I want to play in October.’ Like Derek Jeter, he made it into the Hall of Fame, he played in a season’s worth of playoff games. Obviously that’s a unique situation and I’m not saying I’m ever going to get that, because what he did was special. But I want that. I’ve only been to the playoffs a few times. Honestly, I haven’t played well in it. And I want that again. I want to have that opportunity to, like, show what I can do. You know?”

As it turned out, he would play one more season in Colorado, that shortened to 60 games by the pandemic and further limited by a shoulder injury he suffered in late July. He played in only 48 of those games, none after Sept. 19. Now he’s healthy again and he’s a Cardinal, a team that generally insists on winning or trying, which probably is all he ever wanted, all he ever asked for.

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