Since the news popped on the Cardinals’ tentative trade agreement with Colorado for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, a question keeps bugging me: What did I miss?
You see, I was adamant: I just couldn’t believe Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak would sign off on a deal that required a whole lot of nerve, risk, and money.
- Convince Arenado to waive his no-trade clause.
- Inherit a contract that gives Arenado the right to opt out of St. Louis after one season. Perhaps to join his boyhood dream team, his hometown LA Dodgers.
- Pick up most if not all of the heft of Arenado’s remaining contract: six years and $199 million if he didn’t opt out.
- Do all of that plus surrender several top prospects.
Again: that isn’t a typical DeWitt-Mozeliak move. Do a couple of those things on the list? Sure. But not all. Be willing to pay Arenado all of the guaranteed money that’s owed to him by the Rox? Well, maybe — but doubtful. And ALSO give up two or three prized prospects from a top-six pool that features outfielder Dylan Carlson, LH pitcher Matthew Liberatore, slugger Nolan Gorman, catcher Ivan Herrera, corner infielder Jordan Walker and LH pitcher Zack Thompson? Forget about it. Not happening. Period.
The Cardinals didn’t have to do all of that to acquire Arenado.
The Rockies folded and gave in.
Sure, the Cardinals face potential exposure in this transaction because of Arenado’s opt out after 2021. This unofficial trade reportedly includes an additional opt out, following 2022.
That’s a bit confusing; NA could have just pushed back his 2021 opt out to accelerate this move. But with MLB revenue impacted by Covid-19 repercussions, perhaps the player and his agent want to have a chance to take a look around after 2022. Will the baseball economy return to full blast by the time all 30 teams are preparing for 2023? But given all of the work and research and discussions that the Cardinals have put into this complicated trade, DeWitt and Moz must have a positive feeling about Arenado’s desire to play here and stay here. (See: the trade for first baseman Paul Goldschmidt before he entered his free-agent walk year season, 2019.)
According to the reporting done by Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic), Jeff Passan (ESPN), Bob Nightengale (USA Today) and Jon Heyman (MLB Network), the Cardinals extracted substantial concessions from the Rockies:
1–If this all shakes out the Cardinals will receive $50 million from the Rockies to offset the expense of Arenado’s contract,
2–Arenado apparently has agreed to defer a percentage of his salaries. How much is unknown at this point, but obviously the Cardinals’ payroll management will benefit from Arenado’s willingness to cooperate by moving a portion of his earnings into the future. As part of Arenado’s thumbs-up on deferring, he’ll receive an extra year, and $15 million, in 2027. The one-year extension to the current contract was probably crafted to gain approval from the MLB Players Association, which disapproves of alterations made to completed contracts. This way, any changes to Arenado’s existing deal can be attributed to the extension.
Back to those opt-out clauses. If NA had ideas of jumping from St. Louis to another team after one or two seasons, then why would he amend his contract to make it easier for the Cardinals to secure his services? By deferring salary, Arenado also (in theory) made it easier for St. Louis to have added payroll flexibility for improving the roster. And he’s coming here because he wants to win. So by delaying payment of some of the money due to him, Arenado demonstrates a desire to help the winning cause.
(Well, at least I think so. Arenado was supposed to live happily ever after with the Rockies, right? The difference: they’ve done nothing to upgrade the team since signing him to that eight-year, $260 million contract before the 2019 season. Broken promises — about building a contender in Colorado — are why he wants out.)
3–The Cardinals’ premium stockpile of prospects will remain untouched. From what’s been reported the best organizational package being sent from St. Louis to Colorado is 20-year-old outfielder John Torres. He’s their No. 9 prospect. Torres has a chance to develop into a very good MLB player — and evidently young LH pitcher Austin Gomber will be going to the Rockies. But did you really expect the Cardinals to pull this off by giving the Rockies shipment of Gioia’s sandwiches?
So if you were like me and didn’t see Arenado-Cardinals as a genuine or even likely possibility instead of a preposterous fantasy-baseball fever dream — hey, we weren’t wrong.
I didn’t think the Cardinals would go on a daring dash into craziness and do ANYTHING to get Arenado.
But that’s the point … they didn’t have to go crazy to get this done … unless you believe DeWItt and Mozeliak should be sweating profusely over Arenado’s aging curve and a gradually decline over the next seven years.
The money quotient is more agreeable.
A lot more agreeable.
Using some loose short-hand math based on what we know so far … subject to change, after all pertinent financial facts are approved by MLB and the Players Association and made public …
The Cardinals are positioned for seven seasons of Arenado for $164 million. Before agreements were made, with a few details leaked, the Cardinals were looking at six seasons of Arenado at $199 million.
But with the $50 million coming from Colorado and the tack-on $15 million for 2027, the Cardinals are responsible for paying Arenado an average of $23.4 million through ‘27.
And because of concessions made by the Rockies and Arenado, that $23.4 million annual average is a dramatic reduction from the previously-set Arenado average of $33.1 million over six years.
(The actual salary averages could be different based on Arenado’s deferred-payment structure and the exact amount of dollars the Rockies are sending to STL.)
Getting a potential Hall of Fame third baseman at significant savings — say, a $10 million annual discount — is quite a triumph.
You not only get the eight-time Gold Glove winner, five-time All-Star and owner of four Silver Slugger awards … but by saving a bunch of money the Cardinals are in a better spot to fund roster improvements going forward. After 2021 the Cardinals no longer are obligated to pay Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez or Andrew Miller. That’s a potential $60 million coming off the ledger.
Oh, and the Cardinals retained their best prospects and will ship a travel trunk of minor leaguers to Colorado. The Cardinals not only talked the Rockies into giving them $50 million to take Arenado … but they recruited Arenado, who was also willing to make the trade more affordable for his new team.
The Cardinals also strengthened their brand. They took a baseball bat and busted all of the boredom. They gave their people something to buzz about in a positive way. They changed the Bill DeWallet narrative. They have a new star, and a big one at that, and the other team PAID THE CARDINALS FIFTY MILLION to give this star a happy new home.
“I’m a believer in star players,” DeWitt told me a few weeks ago. “Your best players make everybody else better on a team. I’ve believed that for a long time and I think it’s still true.”
I think so too, Bill.
Congratulations on this one.
Sports Illustrated called this a “Heist” for the Cardinals.
Ben Clemens of FanGraphs wrote “There are really no two ways to put it: this is a phenomenal deal for St. Louis … with patience and persistence, however, they got their target. While the financial fallout is still unclear, let me tell you this: I don’t care. This was a tremendous deal for the Red Birds, and I guarantee you that the other teams in the NL Central are unhappy tonight.”
The reaction wasn’t so happy in Colorado. The Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla tweeted this when linking to his blistering column that ridiculed the Rockies’ GM:
“Congrats, Rockies! By paying St. Louis $50 million to steal Nolan Arenado’s gold glove, general manager Jeff Bridich making the dumbest trade in Colorado sports history.”
Kiszla continued the attack in the column:
“Here’s what a Harvard education gets you, Rockies fans: General manager Jeff Bridich threw third baseman Nolan Arenado and $50 million in a dumpster behind the frat house and called it a trade. What did we ever do to deserve the brilliance of this man?”
OK, back to Bernie now:
The Cardinals made a trade that I didn’t think they’d make for a reason: the Rockies made it impossible for the Cards to say no. But even though Arenado wanted out, and the player-team relationship had long eroded and soured, the Cardinals tried to do this a year ago and couldn’t get the Rockies to break. So we can make fun of the Rockies, yes. But DeWitt and Mozeliak deserve a mass of credit for staying on it, pressing the Rockies, and making this deal on THEIR terms.
Thanks for reading. I’ll have more on Monday, including a look at the only thing that concerns me about Arenado’s hitting profile. And no, it isn’t just the Coors Field stuff.
Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. Weekdays from 3-6 p.m. except for Friday, 4-6 p.m. Catch the show or the Bernie Show podcast online at 590thefan.com