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Gordo: Cardinals positioned for greater success after retaining Nolan Arenado

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Cardinals host Braves at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals' Nolan Arenado flexes to the dugout after hitting a ground rule double in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022 at Busch Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

With star third baseman Nolan Arenado locked in through the 2027 season, the Cardinals can build on the progress made during his first two years here.

With just a few key additions, they could expect to contend for postseason play again next season, and the next season, and the next season. …

Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt will set the tone for teammates with their elite fielding, day-to-day work ethic and attention to detail.

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss what Arenado walking away from a shot at free agency should mean for the team moving forward.

While they may not keep producing at this season’s MV2 level through the length of their contracts, they can enhance the winning atmosphere with effort and presence. That will be critical as the Cardinals continue to groom young players like Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar and cycle in elite prospects like Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn.

Yadier Molina is gone after providing nearly two decades of leadership. The Albert Pujols Master Class in hitting ended in October. Adam Wainwright will provide just one more season of guidance for the pitching staff before he heads off to succeed at whatever he does next.

So this will be Goldschmidt and Arenado’s team going forward as the Cardinals try to make deeper playoff runs.

Arenado bought into that vision after meeting with president of baseball operation John Mozeliak in SoCal after the playoffs. Some Cardinals fans were certain that Arenado would opt out of his contract, become a free agent, and sign with the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers.

But all along Cardinals management believed that Arenado — who is as passionate about playing baseball as anybody, ever — would buy in to what this franchise can offer moving forward.

He came to the STL from the giant void that is the Colorado Rockies, a franchise doomed to perennial irrelevance by hapless ownership and clueless management.

Arenado immersed himself in the unique Cardinals environment. He appreciated how fans and the front office treated Molina, Pujols and Wainwright as well as great Cardinals who came before them.

There are many good franchises in Our National Pastime, but this place is just different.

Of course, it hasn’t been that way for the entirety of Bill DeWitt Jr.’s ownership. The Cardinals were headed the wrong way during the previous decade.

The “Hackgate” scandal embarrassed a franchise that takes pride in maintaining a pristine reputation. Their resulting punishment helped make the 2017 draft a wash. The blockbuster trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna after the ’17 season had a disastrous long-term impact.

For Ozuna’s two-year rental the team spent pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano, plus outfielder Magneuris Sierra.

Alcantara became a National League Cy Young Award candidate for Miami, Gallen ranked among the NL’s elite for the Arizona Diamondbacks again this season, Castano pitched for the Marlins this season before getting hurt and Sierra reemerged in the majors as a Los Angeles Angel this season.

The depleted Cardinals missed the playoffs in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Fans complained, justifiably, that they lacked star power. Pundits viewed the Redbirds as a franchise in decline.

Then Mozeliak traded for Goldschmidt after the 2018 season and locked him in to a long-term deal. Excellent drafting by Randy Flores and Co. beginning that summer rejuvenated the organization.

This team still needed more, which is why the Arenado trade was so critical. Now that he’s secured for the long haul, that swap is officially one of the all-time heists in baseball history.

The Cardinals spent pitcher Austin Gomber, corner infielder Elehuris Montero, light-hitting shortstop prospect Mateo Gil and pitching prospects Tony Locey, and Jake Sommers to get him.

Gomber is a serviceable left-handed pitcher who moved from the rotation to the bullpen this season while going 5-6 with a 5.56 ERA. Montero hit his way to the big leagues this season and smacked six homers in 176 at bats for Colorado.

He offers nice upside as a corner infielder, but the Cardinals have those spots covered for a while.

Locey was 6-6 with a 6.22 ERA for the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats this season, Gil hit .247 for the Advanced Class A Spokane Indians and Sommers 3-2, 5.59 ERA in 2021 for Spokane before suffering an elbow injury.

Given that modest price, this trade would have been fine had Arenado become merely a two-year rental who helped the Cardinals win a division title and make the playoff bracket twice.

But Arenado opted not to opt out, so this trade will pay longer-term dividends. Colorado is donating $51 million over time to offset some of Arenado’s salary, which gives the Cardinals some payroll flexibility to add more talent.

Since the Cardinals paid bargain trade prices for Goldschmidt (catcher Carson Kelly, pitcher Luke Weaver and infielder Andy Young) and Arenado, they still have top prospects to promote up the ladder or to trade for proven talent.

The franchise is in a great spot. The immediate future looks very good. Arenado agreed with that assessment, so he decided to forego free agency and keep doing his part to advance the Cardinal Way.

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss recent comments made by Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.

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