When it comes to trading Nolan Arenado, think Giancarlo Stanton.
The Rockies have re-engaged with the Cardinals about dealing the star third baseman, as Ken Rosenthal first reported on The Athletic.
There are so many hurdles to this kind of deal being completed, magnified by the financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That has led, among other items, to the NL Central being in a near group talent dump in which players such as Josh Bell, Yu Darvish, Raisel Iglesias, Jon Lester, Joe Musgrove, Jose Quintana, Kyle Schwarber, Jameson Taillon and likely at some point soon Trevor Bauer have exited. On Thursday, the Cardinals reached agreement to retain Adam Wainwright on an $8 million, one-year pact. Doesn’t sound like much. But at the moment, it was four times more than the rest of the division combined had spent on free agency before Joc Pederson reached agreement with the Cubs on Friday for one year and around $5 million.
So, St. Louis can decide that if the rest of the division is in retreat, then why take on the long-term risk on Arenado? The division could be won without him.
But let’s pretend we are at a time when, you know, teams actually cared about improving. In that scenario, a blueprint for this kind of trade exists and the Cardinals and Arenado’s agent are acquainted with it.
Joel Wolfe is the agent for both Arenado and Stanton. After the 2017 season, the Cardinals had worked out a deal with the Marlins for Stanton, who invoked his no-trade clause. Stanton’s preference was to get to his hometown Dodgers, but was good with the Yankees. Arenado also would love to get to his hometown Dodgers, but he would be fine with the Cardinals.
Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the team that drafted him in the second round (Marlins). Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million deal with the team that drafted him in the second round (Rockies). Both tied themselves long-term with the franchise promising it would spend to win around the now-high-paid stars. But both were savvy enough to know that was not the history of the organization. So neither could be surprised when that didn’t occur. The players could not turn down that kind of guaranteed money, however, despite the history of the franchise. So these deals had the feel of an NBA situation in which the star takes the guaranteed money and then forces his way out of town when he grows frustrated with the organization (have you noticed James Harden in Brooklyn, for example?).
Stanton had 10 years and $295 million remaining. The Marlins were desperate to clear as much of his salary as possible. So they agreed to take on the remaining two years at $22 million on Starlin Castro, eat $30 million if Stanton did not invoke his opt-out after the 2020 campaign and accept two lottery-ticket prospects far from the majors.
In all, the Yanks saved $52 million. The equivalent would be the Cardinals saving about $35 million on the six years at $199 million left on Arenado. Obviously, that is just a guide. Stanton was coming off an MVP season, but had less defensive value and 10 years to go. Arenado will play at 30 in 2021, but is coming off his worst season and a shoulder injury. However, he remains one of the best defensive third basemen ever and from 2015 to 2019 finished top eight for NL MVP.
The Cardinals have plenty of Castro-like contracts to make an offset. Miles Mikolas (three years at $47.25 million), Matt Carpenter (one year, $20.5 million) and Dexter Fowler (one year, $14.5 million) all have no-trade clauses that they would have to waive. Carlos Martinez (one year, $12 million) and Andrew Miller (one year, $12 million) do not, but would receive a $1 million assignment bonus. Any of these individually or in conjunction would provide a pay-down on Arenado.
The Rockies, in theory, could do what the Red Sox just did by taking on most of Adam Ottavino’s contract in order to gain access to prospect Frank German. Colorado can accept more contracts back or eat more dollars to gain access to better prospects. For example, the Cardinals can build a trade around one of the better third base prospects in the game, coincidentally also with the first name Nolan — Nolan Gorman.
Arenado can opt out after the 2021 season, but likely would push that back to facilitate a trade. If so, the Rockies can agree to eat a portion of the deal — like with Stanton — if the opt-out is not triggered.