I remain chapped that the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Nolan Arenado for (1) barely anything in trade pieces, and (2) a willingness to take on a seven-year, $165 million contract (none of it being paid by them in 2021, and other money deferred). It is a steal so long as Arenado isn’t completely busted out, and no one seems to think he is after his terrible 2020 season – most chalk it up to the flukey short year and his injuries, from which he’ll heal.
Speaking of which, it also chaps me a great deal that the Cubs didn’t, you know, just acquire Arenado themselves. Consider that, with their own third baseman coming off a terrible and injured year, the Cubs have a guy locked into the spot for just one more year. And it’s a guy, Kris Bryant, who is constantly on the rumor circuit. Even if the Cubs don’t trade Bryant this year, he is likely to walk in free agency, and the Cubs certainly could’ve stood to have a long-term third baseman in place.
That is all to say, there was little reason for the Cardinals to acquire Arenado that the Cubs, themselves, didn’t also have.
Clearly, the Cubs were unwilling to commit to the money after 2021, and we can do with that information what we like. Perhaps they have better uses for it in mind. Perhaps they saw something last year that really turned them off of Arenado. Or perhaps they’re just protecting terrible, terrible revenues in the long-term because of attendance failings and Marquee shortcomings. We don’t really know.
But one thing we do know is that the Cubs could’ve had him. And, moreover, they could’ve had him last year, too. Remember all those rumors? They were very real, and I found the latest backfill of information today from Ken Rosenthal very interesting. The Cubs, as we speculated at the time, wanted to make a huge trade – presumably to open up the opportunity to re-sign Nick Castellanos – and couldn’t make it happen:
(The Cardinals trade didn’t make sense), really, especially when looking back to the Rockies’ talks with the Cubs last offseason involving a core exchange of Arenado and third baseman Kris Bryant. The clubs spoke at length, but sources said the Rockies were unwilling to take on any financial commitment beyond Bryant’s remaining two years of club control, which at the time figured to be worth about $40 million in arbitration.
The Cubs initially broached the idea of including outfielder Jason Heyward, who was owed $86 million over four years, to further defray the obligation to Arenado, who was still owed $225 million over seven. But the talks failed to progress, amounting to a what-might-have-been for the Cubs, particularly with Arenado now joining their biggest rival.
So, there it is. We speculated about it at the time – how the Cubs could swap Bryant and Heyward for Arenado, while re-signing Castellanos, and arguably set themselves to be better in the short and long-term, depending on how else their dollars were used. The Cubs did try to make it happen, but, maybe understandably at the time, the Rockies were solely looking to dump Arenado’s contract. In hindsight, the Rockies probably would’ve done better in that deal than having to send $50 million to the Cardinals in the current iteration, though obviously that came one year closer to his opt out and after the terrible 2020 season.
Would it have actually wound up better for the Cubs? Well, not necessarily in the short-term, since Heyward dramatically outperformed Castellanos in 2020, and Bryant-Arenado was a wash. Longer-term? Well, I have always liked the idea of betting on Arenado, but I’m no longer so sure that Castellanos is going to be better than Heyward over the next few years when you consider everything. Again, it kinda depends on how the money would’ve been redeployed, and the Rockies weren’t doing it anyway. The Cubs would’ve just had to trade Bryant for Arenado, and money would’ve been even tighter this offseason.
None of this matters anymore. Just interesting to think about how real it was then, and how much it would’ve changed things.