From mile-high madness to St. Louis serenity

Like should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen before him, Nolan Arenado’s a top third baseman the Cardinals will take happily off an unappreciative team’s hands.

More often than Joe and Jane Fan think, baseball players and those playing other team sports discover that all the money on their paychecks isn’t quite as handsome as winning. It’s the reason such ballplayers otherwise wedded to the teams who reared them swallow pride and paychecks and look out of town when winning isn’t going to happen soon.

The Cardinals are only too willing to show more than cursory interest in such men. They’re baseball’s Emma Lazarus; they might as well engrave the top of Busch Stadium’s entrance with, “Give us your sick-and-tired, your not-so-poor, your huddling supermen yearning to breathe free and win championships.”

They’ll even take your money gladly to take him off your hands.

They’ve just gotten the Rockies to give them sick-and-tired, not-so-poor, huddling super third baseman Nolan Arenado for an apparent bag of mixed nuts. They even accepted the Rockies sending along $65 million dollars for the privilege of taking Arenado off their hands and books.

And, with a few former glitterati due to come off the payroll books after 2021, a couple of big moves that plain didn’t work out for the Cardinals will be gone as well. It’ll make the Cardinals the National League Central favourites and perhaps the only club in the division who can hold up against the monsters of the East and West if they reach the 2021 postseason.

It turns their formerly unassuming off-season into a bristling one. It might make them tempted to think about extending Arenado further depending on what he does with two opt-outs his deal has after 2021 and 2022. And, it adds Arenado to a rather distinguished roll of prior tired, huddling supermen who found baseball a lot more agreeable when they got to play adjacent to the Gateway Arch.

Once upon a time the Padres got fed up with their high-and-wide flying shortstop’s agent and decided to deal him. Then-Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog went to San Diego to talk to the man personally. That kind of personal touch got the Cardinals a Hall of Fame shortstop whose defensive value was equal to his acrobatics and good for big parts of three pennants and a World Series ring. You still know Ozzie Smith as the Wizard of Oz.

Not long after that, Jack Clark bristled over the Giants’ brittle Candlestick Park and their dismissals of him as just too fragile to play major league baseball. They dealt him to the Cardinals, where they moved him to first base for his health’s sake. Jack the Ripper hit the home run that sent the Cardinals to the 1985 World Series and swung big for their 1987 pennant winner until an ankle injury kept him out of that Series and helped keep them from winning it.

Should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen got sick and tired of the Phillies’ seeming lack of winning interest and dismissing him despite his play saying what he didn’t like trumpeting on his own behalf. The Cardinals said, “Give us your sick and tired third baseman.” They traded for and signed Rolen to a new deal. They also sent him to four All-Star teams and won a World Series with him.

One fine day Matt Holliday, traded from Colorado to Oakland, discovered the Athletics decided they couldn’t afford his like and traded him to the Cardinals. He shone enough in left field and at the plate for the Birds on the Bat that they made sure he couldn’t take a free agency hike just yet. And, like Rolen, Holliday went to four All-Star teams and won a World Series in St. Louis fatigues.

Another fine day, for the Cardinals at least, the Diamondbacks decided two years ago that they couldn’t or wouldn’t afford to keep franchise-face first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals channeled their inner Monty Hall—Let’s make a deal! They landed Goldschmidt for Luke Weaver and a pair of bodies and signed Goldschmidt in due course to a succulent nine-figure extension. They’ve been to a pair of postseasons with him, too.

Landing Arenado means the Cardinals want a little more than just postseason entries. And Arenado isn’t as treacherous looking going into what’ll be his age-30 season as you might fear. He has five years left on his Colorado-signed extension. He might lose a couple of counting stats weighted heavily on the home side but he might even things out with road performances enabled better by not playing at ionosphere level.

He’ll be able to keep swinging smoothly for extra base hits and doing things at third base unseen since Rolen, Adrian Beltre, Mike Schmidt, and Brooks Robinson, a human vacuum cleaner who no longer has to worry whether his bag will explode in the middle of a flying leap, a running throw, or a swan dive across the line.

Among active third basemen, Arenado is second only to Evan Longoria (thirteen seasons) for total defensive runs saved above his league average, but Arenado has an excellent chance to surpass Longoria at the hot corner and at the plate by the time he reaches his fourteenth major league season.

Matter of fact, let’s look at that pair plus Manny Machado, the $300 million plus man in San Diego, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA): total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches divided by plate appearances:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Nolan Arenado 4558 2227 362 58 50 22 .597
Evan Longoria 7380 3108 645 81 89 69 .541
Manny Machado 4989 2211 387 41 36 21 .540

Arenado also has an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) 83 points higher. (I’ll bet you didn’t think Longoria and Machado were that similar at the plate, either.) Arenado’s OPS is also 65 points higher than Machado, who’s only 17 defensive runs behind him.

What he won’t have is Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich to kick, jerk, or slap him around anymore. Arenado bristled when Bridich treated his old infield partner Troy Tulowitzki like a chump over trade rumours, failed to include Tulowitzki in any such discussions, then dealt the shortstop to the Blue Jays. (Where he went to a pair of postseasons before injuries ended his career out of town.)

When Bridich told the Denver Post early last week that nothing came of the Rockies “listening” to other teams about Arenado, the third baseman slapped back. “Jeff is very disrespectful. I never talk trash or anything,” he told a Denver television station. “I play hard, keep my mouth shut. But I can only get crossed so many times.”

Kind of reminds you about Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins two years ago. He’d signed a then record-dollar thirteen-year deal a couple of years before that only to watch the Fish swimming wild and directionless like killies scrambling to escape the incoming sharks. He spoke publicly of that, then called them a circus when they decided he could just suffer along no matter what. Then they dealt him to the Yankees.

Nobody knows whether the 2020 irregular season that ended with the Marlins in second place in the NL East was as fluky as the rest of baseball, but Stanton did get as far as back-to-back postseasons with the Yankees and missed reaching the 2019 World Series by one ALCS-winning home run courtesy of Houston’s Jose Altuve.

The Rockies weren’t half as crass as the Marlins if no less dismissive. When they signed Arenado to his extension, they promised that wouldn’t stop them from tooling up all around. By the end of a losing 2019, following back-to-back seasons good for nothing more than wild cards and too-early postseason exits, though, Arenado smelled a coming rebuild, if not a coming tank.

Bridich awoke Saturday morning to a roasting by Denver Post baseball writer Mark Kiszla. “[S]o insecure he tries to bully every conversation with Ivy League arrogance as thin as his college baseball resume,” Kiszla wrote, “[Bridich] got ripped off by the Cardinals in a trade that appears so lopsided that Commissioner Rob Manfred should consider voiding the deal before it becomes official.”

Once upon a time, Arenado wanted nothing more than to stay a Rockie for life, the way should-be Hall of Fame first baseman Todd Helton was. “I want to win,” he has told Sports Illustrated. “If we win here, that’s why I signed, right? To win here. But if we’re not gonna win, I’d rather play for a winner. I don’t care where it is. I’d rather win a World Series than have my number retired.”

More than a few eyes are now cast upon Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who may also have noticed too much of the treachery around Arenado and begun to wonder whether that mile-high baseball air has vaporised common baseball sense even further.

If he’s not careful, Kiszla warned, Story “could be the next knucklehead to be fooled by this team’s hollow promise to build a champion around him. My advice? Story demand a trade ASAP to a major-league city where winning matters.”

A city like St. Louis, perhaps. It wouldn’t be past the Cardinals to ponder a shortstop upgrade, take note of the Rockies leaving Story to waste, and deal a couple of sacks of mulch for him while deciding Kolten Wong is more than worth keeping at second base and moving Paul DeJong to the bench or onward.

You don’t want to relieve your sick-and-tired, your not-so-poor, your huddling Hall of Fame supermen to be (assume he keeps his health following that shoulder injury last year and Arenado’s on the Hall track), allowing them to breathe free and win with you? The Cardinals are only too happy to take them off your hands, relieve your headaches, and cause you a few when you meet them in mortal combat.

They might not even be adverse to keeping their eyes upon the West Coast. That’s where  baseball’s still-best all-around player, loyal as he is to the franchise that raised him, may start thinking in a couple of years while he’s still young enough that knocking Hall of Famers out of the record books or off the WAR charts isn’t enough. He may ask at last what can compensate for being a Trout out of water with no winning to show for his extraterrestrial efforts.

Nobody with a brain would put it past the Cardinals to think about reeling that Trout in. Just don’t expect them to include painkillers in the deal.

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