On Feb. 1, the Cardinals and Colorado Rockies finalized a trade that sent five-time All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis. The Rockies also sent the Cardinals approximately $51 million while St. Louis traded five prospects, none of whom were ranked higher than eighth within the Cardinals minor league system.
The easiest way to put it, the Rockies were fleeced, bamboozled, hoodwinked; however you want to say it, the Cardinals got significantly better and paid a low price for it.
But what does this do for the landscape of the National League? Are the St. Louis Cardinals World Series contenders after the Nolan Arenado trade?
The short answer?
The long answer?
It depends on your criteria for being a World Series contender. The Cardinals are most certainly a playoff team but that’s not the same thing as the World Series. The National League is loaded this season. The Dodgers, Padres, and Braves are all still better than St. Louis while the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies all have teams comparable to the Cardinals.
The one thing St. Louis does have over most of their playoff competitors is they’re a favorite to win their division. While the Cubs and Brewers seem to have decent clubs, the Brewers underperformed last season without making many notable moves this offseason, while the Cubs seem to be more interested in trading away their stars instead of bringing players in.
Don’t get me wrong, the Cardinals are going to be fun to watch with Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt at the corners, but they need a few players to breakout or trade for another couple of pieces to really be in the same conversation as L.A., San Diego, and Atlanta.
For starters, having four young outfielders fight for three positions is not the greatest game plan. Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neil, Lane Thomas, and Dylan Carlson are all under 26 years old and are current or former top prospects. Having young talent is great, but when none of them have a great offensive track record at the MLB level, it makes it a little frightening for a team trying to contend having to rely on their development.
Also, by default, one guy is going to be left out of the starting lineup and the other three will feel the pressure of having to produce right away in fear of being benched.
On the flip side, having Arenado in the lineup does take away some of the pressure. The Cardinals infield is full of run producers, so it’s not like the outfielders need to carry the team in April and May. But if this team is serious about making a run, the development of at least two of their young outfielders would go a long way in lengthening the lineup.
The other issue I have with the Cardinals is their starting rotation. Jack Flaherty is an ace. He’s a guy the Cardinals can rely on to start big games in the playoffs. The problem is who is number two? Adam Wainwright will be 40 by the playoffs. Miles Mikolas hasn’t pitched since 2019 and is still trying to prove that the 2018 season was not a fluke. Kwang Hyun Kim looked good in his 39 MLB innings but it’s only 39 innings.
The Cardinals need another starter to have a chance with the Bauer, Kershaw, Buehler trio or the Darvish, Lamet Snell trio. Nobody outside of Flaherty strikes fear into opponents and while the rest of the rotation is solid enough for the regular season, the playoffs are a different story. Either one or two guys need to have career years or trade needs to be made by the deadline.
I’m not trying to downplay the significance of the Arenado trade. The Cardinals got significantly better by adding him and raised their playoff chances. They say anything can happen in the playoffs and just getting there puts the World Series on the table. All I’m saying is there is still work to be done to fill out the team if they really want to be in the conversation with the other top teams in the National League.