After several stops, starts and leaks, the Cards finally announced last night that they had acquired Nolan Arenado in the following transaction:
2/1/21: Traded LHP Austin Gomber, 3B Elehuris Montero, SS Mateo Gil, RHP Tony Locey and RHP Jake Sommers to the Colorado Rockies for 3B Nolan Arenado and cash considerations. 40-man roster at 37.
Arenado doesn’t need much of an introduction. The Rockies drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft out of a California high school. Through April 27th of the 2013 season, the Rockies had used Chris Nelson as the primary 3rd baseman. Arenado had toiled with AAA Colorado Springs slashing .364/.392/.667 through 18 games and 75 trips to the plate. The Rockies DFAd Nelson the next day, and ended up sending him to the Yankees for future considerations. The club promoted Arenado to the majors, where he has remained ever since, except for a single 5-game rehab assignment to AAA in 2014.
Arenado won the National League Gold Glove at 3rd base his rookie year of 2013, and has won it every season since, including the Platinum Glove for the best defensive player in the National League for the last 4 years. Since 2015, Arenado is 2nd in the majors in HR (207), 1st in RBIs (647), 4th in SLG (.567), 12th in wOBA (.383) and 8th in fWAR (27.9). In short, Arenado is one of the best all-around 3rd basemen in the game, it’s a home run move for the Cardinals and instantly makes the Cards the favorite to win the NL Central division.
Arenado, who will turn 30 years of age on April 16th, has never been optioned to the minor leagues. He became a Super Two player after the 2015 season, which gave him four potential cracks at arbitration. He avoided arbitration on a 1-year, $5 million deal for 2016, and a 2-year, $29.5 million deal ($11.75 million for 2017 and $17.75 million for 2018) to avoid arbitration for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
For the 2019 season, Arenado had filed for arbitration at $30 million, while the Rockies were offering $24 million. On January 31st, 2019, the parties settled on $26 million to avoid Arenado’s final arbitration season, a record deal for an arbitration-eligible player. Less than a month later, on February 26th, Arenado signed an extension that would take him through the 2026 season. Although Arenado has indicated that he intended to remain in Colorado, relations between Arenado and the Rockies’ GM immediately soured, with Arenado accusing the GM of being disrespectful and and not doing enough to build a winning team around him. Arenado had a full no-trade clause, which he has agreed to waive to become a member of the Cardinals. Let’s now discuss the particulars of the contract the Cards inherited and the modifications that have been made as a result of this deal.
The extension Arenado signed called for him to make $26 million in 2019, $35 million per season from 2020-2024, $32 million in 2025 and $27 million in 2026. He could also earn various performance bonuses for Gold Gloves, All-Star appearances, various finishes in the voting for League MVP, LCS or World Series MVP, Silver Slugger Awards and the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Arenado also had the right to opt out of his contract after the 2021 season.
All of those provisions are still in place. Although Arenado waived his no-trade clause to come here, he still retains the right to block any future trades. He still retains the right to opt out of his contract after the 2021 season. As part of this deal, he will also have the right to opt out of his contract after the 2022 season. One guaranteed year to the contract has been added, which calls for a $15 million salary for the 2027 season, assuming of course, that he doesn’t opt out after either 2021 or 2022.
Now let’s talk about the $51 million in “cash considerations,” the Rockies are reported to be sending to the Cards. It is clear that the Rockies are not immediately writing the Cards a $51 million check. The reports are that the Rockies will be responsible for the entire $35 million that represents Arenado’s 2021 salary. Of that $35 million, it is believed that $15 million will be payable to Arenado by the Rockies in 2021, and the remaining $20 million will be deferred to an unknown year, which Spotrac estimates, but does not affirmatively represent, to be the year 2027. The Rockies look to be on the hook for that $35 million no matter what. The additional $16 million in cash considerations is also deferred, and Spotrac estimates, but does not affirmatively represent, that that amount will be paid in four annual $4 million installments over the years 2024-2027. I don’t know where these estimates come from, but the website calling them estimates leads me to believe they are just educated guesses and not based on actual inside information. It would stand to reason that the Rockies would not be responsible for the $16 million if Arenado opts out. Basically what we have for Arenado is a 7-year, $214 million deal. With the Rockies on the hook for $51 million total of that if Arenado doesn’t opt out, the Cards will be paying about $23.3 million per season for Arenado’s services.
As for the players sent to the Rockies in exchange, the final list was much different from the slate initially discussed by the press. Of the names mentioned initially, Austin Gomber was the only one that was confirmed to be part of the deal. Gomber, a 2014 draft choice, saw time with the Cards in both 2018 and 2020 as a starter and reliever. He was positioned to be the #1 starter for AAA Memphis in 2019 and the first man up for the Cards should a rotation need arise, but he lost almost the entire season to an arm injury. He was in line to compete for a rotation job this season, and had a good shot to stick in the bullpen for long relief protection if he didn’t win that job. His departure makes it more likely that Carlos Martinez will be the 5th starter.
As for the other players involved in the trade, our own Red Baron will go into more depth on them on this site soon. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs is not impressed. While not initially mentioned by the press as being part of the deal, I was not surprised that Elehuris Montero was included, as I would have been stunned if the Rockies didn’t demand some sort of infield prospect in return. I wrote a bit about Montero here, when the Cards added him to the 40-man roster in November of 2019 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He basically had a lost 2019 season due to injury, then came down with COVID-19 this past July right around the time of Summer Camp. Montero would have been in an odd spot had he not been included. Not only would he be blocked at third base and looking at a potential conversion to the outfield, but he’s already burned one minor league option, and would probably have exhausted all of his options before he had a shot to crack the roster.
The other 3 players in the deal are prospects who are much further away from the majors. None of them were part of the Cards’ Alternate Training Site last season. Gil, 20 years old, was a 3rd round choice by the Cards in 2018 out of a Texas high school. He only has 2 games played above Rookie Ball, and struck out about 25% of the time as an 18-year old with Johnson City in 2019. Locey, 22, was the Cards’ 3rd round choice in 2019 out of the University of Georgia. The 6’3”, 240 pound fireballer only has 12 professional games under his belt—2 with the Gulf Coast League rookie club and 10 with Class A Peoria—all in the year he was drafted. He struck out 31 batters in 17 innings pitched, but also walked 12. The Cards drafted Sommers, 23, in the 10th round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He pitched 12 games for Rookie Johnson City in 2019, starting 10 games and striking out 55 batters in 51 innings pitched.
In addition to getting one of the best players in the game to man 3rd base for the next several years, what does this mean for the Cards? First, we should probably pump the brakes on the “Gorman in 2021” conversation. The Cardinals don’t have to add Nolan Gorman to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft until after the 2022 season. He hasn’t played a season in AA yet, and has some strikeout issues to sort through. There’s now no hurry, and the young man can get proper development time in the upper minors. By the time the Cards have to add him to the 40-man, the DH might be in play, and he might be able to slide over to first base to give Goldschmidt the occasional rest. We also might see him shag some flies in the near future to see if he can play a corner outfield spot.
The trade also means that at least for 2021, the Cards have a very expensive bench piece in Matt Carpenter. He’s scheduled to make $18.5 million this season. He also has an $18.5 million club option for 2022 that automatically vests if he gets at least 550 plate appearances in 2021 and 1100 combined plate appearances across the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Carpenter got 169 plate appearances in the shortened 2020 season. Prorating those plate appearances for the 58 games the Cards actually played instead of the 60 games they were supposed to play, we derive 472 plate appearances for 2020: (169/58) * 162=472.03. This means that Carpenter’s 2022 option won’t automatically vest unless he gets 628 plate appearances in 2021.
With Arenado starting at 3rd base and Tommy Edman starting at 2nd base, there’s really no way this can happen unless the National League has the DH and Mike Shildt bats Carpenter in the leadoff spot. If you had asked me a couple of months ago, I would have predicted that the DH would be in play for 2021. But they way things stand now, I’m thinking it won’t be. MLB presented a proposal to the MLBPA that would have delayed the start of the season until April 29th, called for a 154-game schedule with the players being paid for a 162-game slate, an expanded playoff format with 7 clubs in each league and the universal DH. The union has rejected the proposal without a counteroffer, and last night, MLB issued a statement which reflects that they have instructed clubs to prepare for both spring training and the regular season to start on time, subject to an agreement on COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This means that unless something changes, the 2021 season will operate with the rules that were agreed to be in place for the 2020 season before the pandemic shortened it: no DH, a 26-man roster with a 13-pitcher maximum, which will be extended to a mandatory 28-man roster with a 14-pitcher maximum from September 1st until the close of the season. Of course we saw last season that the rules changed and agreements were made abruptly mid-stream. But least for the time being, the DH looks to be a bargaining chip that both sides want but will not relinquish unless some other carrot is accepted.
Unless something dramatic happens, this looks to be Carpenter’s last guaranteed season in a Cardinal uniform in which he will be a left-handed pinch hitter and backup at 3rd base, 1st base and potentially a smattering at 2nd base (a position he has not played since 2018). It is unknown whether the 2022 season will start on time, and if it does, whether there will be a DH. It is also uncertain whether either Carpenter or the Cards would be interested in re-signing him to a smaller guaranteed deal as a role player.
Are you ready for some baseball? Unless either the Arizona or Florida authorities put the kibosh on it, pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in a couple of weeks, with the regular season to begin on April 1st. With Arenado unlikely to opt out in this economic and labor climate, the Cards now have a stud 3rd baseman for the next several years and have hopefully put a dent in their offensive problems. I’m not sure about you, but I’m looking forward to pivoting the conversations from the “cheapskate owners,” into our rotation, outfield and predicting how many games the Cards will be ahead in the NL Central division in 2021.