ST. LOUIS — As the Cardinals navigate their first trade deadline as sellers in over a decade and a half, they seem open to exploring all kinds of hypothetical deals. Nobody on their 40-man roster appears immune.
Not even Nolan Arenado, as unfathomable as that concept might be in St. Louis.
The Cardinals and Dodgers have indeed discussed a potential trade that would send Arenado to his home city of Los Angeles, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. Why wouldn’t they? Obviously, Dodgers’ president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman would take an opportunity to land a franchise-altering talent — any front-office executive would. And why wouldn’t Cardinals’ president of baseball operations John Mozeliak at least investigate whether he could access some of the Dodgers’ highly regarded young pitching?
Mozeliak has a responsibility to do his due diligence on any offer, even the ones most unlikely to come to fruition. The Cardinals have little interest in parting with their cornerstone third baseman. Trading Arenado, who rallied so hard to be traded to St. Louis in the first place, would signal a major setback. The fan base, which is already teetering on the edge, would ignite in a full-fledged firestorm. But if Mozeliak wants to field a competitive team in 2024, these are the kinds of conversations that need to take place.
As part of what has been the most disappointing season under Mozeliak’s 15-year tenure, the Cardinals are selling at the trade deadline. They have known this was their reality for weeks. But St. Louis remains insistent that their sale is not one of the fire variety. The Cardinals are not tearing down and rebuilding. Their ideal blueprint has them back in contending form by Opening Day next year.
Hotter than the Arizona desert this month for the #STLCards. That’s Nolan Arenado.
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According to multiple sources familiar with the Cardinals’ thinking, St. Louis is not entertaining offers on players who have multiple remaining years of control, with the exception of Dylan Carlson. Utility players Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan have garnered interest (despite Edman being on the injured list with a wrist sprain and Donovan unable to play the field due to a shoulder injury) and so has left-handed slugger Nolan Gorman, but the Cardinals believe all three players are key pieces for the next several years. Instead, the Cardinals are actively trying to shop players who will be free agents at the end of the year, such as Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery and Paul DeJong. It’s also safe to re-add Jordan Hicks to that list. The Cardinals were exploring a multi-year extension with the 26-year-old right-hander earlier in the week, but talks have stalled and a trade seems more likely at this time.
The Cardinals are targeting controllable pitching in any return, preferably big-league pitching or at least close to being major-league ready. But can they attain that by only shopping players with expiring contracts? Likely not. If the Cardinals want to acquire any top pitching prospect or young starting pitcher of quality, they are going to have to part with much more than a two-month rental.
Which brings us back to why Mozeliak is discussing Arenado to begin with. Arenado would land the Cardinals almost any player they want. The Dodgers, renowned for their pitching development, would certainly have the caliber of arms St. Louis covets. Who would some of those arms be? There’s Bobby Miller, a 24-year-old right-hander who began the season as the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect and has since emerged as one of the more promising arms in the league. Gavin Stone is in the minor leagues and Ryan Pepiot is injured, but both righties would be worth checking on as well. So would Michael Grove, Emmet Sheehan and prospect Nick Frasso.
Could the Cardinals swing a deal with the Dodgers to obtain some of that talent? Maybe. Would their chances skyrocket immediately if Arenado was included in that deal? Absolutely. Does this mean they’re going to do it? Probably not.
Arenado wants to be in St. Louis. It’s where he and his wife Laura are raising their first child. He enjoys the city and he certainly enjoys the high expectations that usually come when playing for the Cardinals, this season aside. He also has a full no-trade clause, though it is believed he would waive it to come to Los Angeles — in the right deal. He wants to be in St. Louis and has said as much, both when he elected to forego his final opt-out clause and remain with the organization in October, and this year when it was clear the Cardinals would not be competing for the playoffs.
Aside from that, it would be absolute anarchy for Mozeliak if he parted with Arenado, a fan-favorite and franchise staple. It would be something he would find difficult to justify to the fan base, no matter who he landed in return. There’s no doubt Mozeliak is feeling immense pressure this deadline. He must get it right or risk another year of mediocre baseball, an incomprehensible concept for an organization that has consistently prided itself on its winning ways.
For now, the Cardinals believe keeping Arenado at the deadline is imperative. Listening in on other teams’ interest is simply a formality.
(Photo of Nolan Arenado: Sam Navarro / USA Today)