A trade so complex and yet so mutually desirable that both Nolan Arenado and the Cardinals had to bend a little to get a lot has become a commitment to each other for years to come.
Arenado, who had the ability to become a free agent in less than two weeks, notified the Cardinals that he will not opt out of his existing contract, he said Saturday. He will remain with the team through at least 2027. Arenado’s decision gives the Cardinals one of the best all-around players in the league, an elite dynamo at third base, and a middle-order presence to count on into his mid-30s.
It also vulcanizes a relationship forged two years ago when the Cardinals and Arenado worked to make a trade from Colorado possible.
The Cardinals bet they could entice the nine-time Gold Glove-winner to stay once Arenado experienced their clubhouse, their ballpark, and saw their ability to contend, annually.
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“For me, to get traded to St. Louis was a very complicated deal and it wasn’t easy to get here,” Arenado told the Post-Dispatch on Saturday. “There was a lot of time and effort put into it. It meant a lot to me they went that far beyond for me. I really appreciate their effort they took to get me here and I want to hold up my end of the bargain. Everything has been, for me since I’ve been here, better than I thought it would be.”
The Cardinals are expected to officially comment on Arenado’s decision in the coming days around the World Series’ schedule, possibly as early as Sunday.
Arenado, 31, is coming off a season that featured a handful of career highs and positioned him for a 10th consecutive Gold Glove award and a top-five finish in National League MVP voting. As the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter, Arenado hit .293 with a .533 slugging percentage and an .891 OPS. He had his second consecutive 100-RBI season for the Cardinals. Arenado’s OPS+, which compares his offensive performance against a league average and accounts for the size of the ballpark, was a career-best 154, surpassing any OPS+ he had at Coors Field. Including his superb play on defense, Arenado had a career-best Wins Above Replacement of 7.9, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
His previous career best was 7.3 in 2019 with the Rockies.
This past Monday, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak traveled to Southern California to meet with Arenado in person and discuss with him the opt-out and the direction the Cardinals intended to head. For the first time in his career, Arenado was a part of a division-winning team, and he often brought that up as part of why he came to the Cardinals and why he would stay. But the Cardinals’ postseason pursuit came to an abrupt halt when Philadelphia swept the Cardinals in the best-of-three wild-card series.
The Cardinals must now adjust after the retirements of Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols to a stretch when Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are the clear faces of the franchise and corner infielders who are also cornerstones of the team.
During his conversation with Arenado, Mozeliak outlined some of the Cardinals’ plans for the offseason and discussed “how are we going to deploy our resources.”
“It was a very positive conversation,” Mozeliak said. “I’m hopeful and optimistic that we can come to a place where we’re both happy and have that understanding.”
Mozeliak left the visit encouraged that Arenado would stay a Cardinal.
Adam Wainwright recently said he and Goldschmidt had been personally lobbying Arenado recently to remain with the Cardinals.
“I love the organization, I love my teammates, coaches, and trainers,” Arenado said Saturday. “Excited for the future.”
The Cardinals had approached Colorado about a trade for Arenado before but had been stymied by the Rockies’ plans or the size of Arenado’s contract extension. That changed during the 2020-21 offseason as Arenado, unsure of Colorado’s commitment to contend, sought a trade and had the Cardinals on a short list of teams he would approve a deal. What followed was an intricate series of negotiations that took reworking Arenado’s contract, cash from the Rockies, a calculated gamble by the Cardinals, and Arenado’s willingness to defer salary. Arenado already had an opt-out after 2021 built into his eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies.
Opt-outs, which allow players to leave a contract and become a free agent, have become increasingly popular for free agents, and they have a market value for the union when it comes to what free-agent players can command. To maintain the present-day value of Arenado’s deal as part of the trade, the Cardinals added a second opt-out after 2022.
They would have preferred not to do so. But it helped finalize the deal and gave the Cardinals their chance to once again show they could acquire an MVP-caliber player, give him time with their culture and inside a baseball-crazed city, and sell him on staying.
From Scott Rolen to Matt Holliday, Goldschmidt to now Arenado, they have made that part of their business model.
Arenado has $144 million guaranteed remaining on his contract. His salary for the coming season is $35 million. The Rockies have agreed to cover $16 million of his 2023 salary as part of the trade, and $6 million of his salary will be deferred to payments that begin in 2023 and last until 2041.
The contract includes a full no-trade clause.
Arenado had until five days after the World Series to make a decision on his opt-out, though the third baseman said earlier this month he planned to make it around the World Series.
Arenado won his fifth Field Bible award at third base this past week, and he is a finalist for Rawlings’ National League Gold Glove award at third base. On Tuesday he’ll learn if he’s won an unprecedented 10th consecutive to start his career. Ten Gold Gloves at third will tie Mike Schmidt for the second-most all-time.
Before the official opening of the free-agent market at the end of the World Series, the Cardinals have re-signed Wainwright to a one-year, $17.5-million deal with deferred money and received a commitment from Arenado that could make him the next player to come to the Cardinals and finish his stellar career there. Mozeliak said this past week during an end-of-season press conference that the team’s payroll for 2023 is “going up.”
Staff writer Daniel Guerrero contributed to this report.