There is a familiar movie that could well be playing in the mind of Nolan Arenado as this offseason grinds along. It’s a movie that he saw play out with the Colorado Rockies and it did not have anything near a Hollywood ending for his time in Denver. And, at the moment, the sequel may not be looking much better now that he is wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.
Are the St. Louis Cardinals making the same offseason mistakes in the eyes of Nolan Arenado that the Colorado Rockies made?
The lopsided trade that sent Arenado from Denver to St. Louis had been brewing long before the actual deal was done on February 1, 2021. Just two years earlier, Arenado had signed an eight-year, $260 million contract. With the Rockies coming off back-to-back postseason appearances, there were plenty of reasons to believe the future was bright in the Mile High City. However, Colorado still had areas to improve upon if the roster was going to bypass the powerhouses that lurked not only in the own division, but throughout the National League as well.
Those improvements, however, never came, leading to frustration on the part of Arenado.
“Promises were made when Nolan signed his deal, and then, it was as if they were never discussed,” one source who is close to Arenado told Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post in this article. “Nolan has become disillusioned with the focus and direction of the team.”
Now, after what has been a fairly quiet offseason in St. Louis outside of signing catcher Willson Contreras to a deal as a replacement for Yadier Molina behind the plate, are the Cardinals running the risk of making the same mistake as the Rockies did with Arenado?
Granted, in the lone big move for St. Louis this offseason, Contreras will provide an upgrade at the plate over what Molina brought to the Cardinals in 2022, a season that was once again cut short in the NL Wild Card round.
At the moment, MLB.com has St. Louis with the fifth-best batting lineup heading into next season. Those numbers could change depending on the impact of questions surrounding Carlos Correa with the New York Mets (the team with the top entry in the list), but the top two teams in the list (Mets and San Diego Padres) made big splashes in free agency this offseason. Will the Contreras move be enough for the Cardinals to overcome those two teams, as well as the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, and any other NL juggernauts that may emerge?
St. Louis stood pat this offseason when it came to starting pitching, counting on another strong season from the ageless Adam Wainwright and a bounce back from injury for Jack Flaherty. St. Louis bypassed any of the big free agent shortstops on the list with the belief that Tommy Edman can handle the role. The Cardinals also didn’t add to the outfield, rolling the dice on Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill to bounce back and Jordan Walker to make an impact as a rookie.
The Cardinals are looking inside the organization for improvement in 2023 rather than spending from the outside. Will it bring the results the franchise hopes? St. Louis fans (and Arenado himself) are counting on that as another year of Arenado’s prime begins. But be warned, that’s the same approach Colorado took in 2019 and the team cratered, setting off a chain reaction that eventually landed Arenado in the Gateway City.
The good news? Arenado chose not to exercise his opt-out earlier in the offseason and he has spoken glowingly about the team and its history since coming to St. Louis. After his decision to not opt out, Arenado spoke to The Athletic about his choice. One of the reasons he decided to keep things status quo with his contract? Check out this quote from Arenado from the article.
"“I wanted to know where the team is headed. Are we going to get better? Basically, most of the questions were about where our team was headed. I shared with (president of baseball operations John Mozeliak) what I feel like I need to get better at and asked what they want me to do. He shared a lot of great things, things that he feels like we can get better at. He wants us to get better and they have the right resources to do it. So hopefully that’s where we’re headed.”"
So did the Cardinals move the direction Arenado expected them to head this offseason? Sure, not every team will spend like Steve Cohen, but the Cardinals have been one of the quieter teams this offseason. It’s a gamble heading into a 2023 season where St. Louis should be favored to win the National League Central again. So will this movie have a happier ending for Arenado? Grab the popcorn because it’s going to be a gamble worth watching in the New Year.