O Nolan, Nolan, wherefore art thou, Nolan?
Cardinals fans have been antsy all week as the reports, rumors and speculation surrounding a potential trade involving Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado have reached a fever pitch.
It's understandable that those eager to see a deal come to fruition have been dissecting articles from prominent baseball writers, hoping to find a clue in the phrasing of their reports that could lend legitimacy to the idea that the Cardinals are in on a possible blockbuster. Are the Cardinals aggressively pursuing Arenado or is their interest merely in a preliminary stage? Mincing reports that seem to conflict one another can be difficult this time of year.
Much of the scuttlebutt in recent days has come from MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi. He wrote Sunday that the Cardinals were "emerging" in talks pertaining to Rockies star third baseman. Preliminary discussions had taken place, Morosi said, re-igniting a social media firestorm.
Monday brought a Morosi tweet that claimed an Arenado trade—something for which the Cardinals had 'emerged,' remember—was considered by his baseball sources as more likely to occur this offseason than a trade involving Mookie Betts of Boston or Francisco Lindor of Cleveland. Okay, cool. But what does that actually mean?
Of course, it's all relative; if Morosi learned that Betts and Lindor were longshots to be traded at this juncture, while the Rockies are still engaged with teams on some level regarding Arenado, it would stand to reason that an Arenado deal is more likely than the two things that aren't happening. It doesn't necessarily mean that any of the three are actually likely to take place. The framing for such a report certainly plays a role in the degree to which Cardinals fans should be getting their hopes up for a big move.
Tuesday, Morosi fanned the flame once more when he added a report that the Cardinals and Rockies had exchanged names for a potential trade including Arenado. When you stop to consider what that actually means, though, it seems pretty clear that the exchange of names would be central to any potential trade negotiations—so if the teams were already engaged on the topic, it sort of goes without saying that names of players is something that would have been discussed.
It's the identities of the names being floated and the degree to which both sides find those names palatable for inclusion in a trade that would be relevant. While Morosi has offered up some possibilities on the former, multiple reports from other writers in recent days suggest there has been little progress on the latter.
During a segment on MLB Network this week, Morosi cited Dakota Hudson as "one name to watch, in a big way," with regard to these Arenado talks. Morosi wrote that "Colorado has interest in" Hudson, but also mentions that Hudson's MLB-leading walk total in 2019 concerns the Rockies, who play their home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Are the Rockies concerned by Hudson or are they interested in him? We know the Cardinals won't discuss Jack Flaherty in any trade talks, so inquiring on the young and controllable Hudson would be a logical step for Colorado—unless they don't think he can hack it at Coors.
Such reservations from the Rockies would make Hudson's inclusion in a deal unlikely, as I see it. The Cardinals like Hudson a lot and consider him a big part of their present and future. It's conceivable they would consider Hudson as a centerpiece of an offer for Arenado, but if the Rockies see his value as merely an ancillary addition, Hudson is probably worth more to the Cardinals as a member of their rotation going forward.
As local fans and media have speculated for days and weeks, Matt Carpenter would make a sensible addition to an offer. That's based on his ability to serve as an immediate replacement for Arenado in Colorado and because the Rockies absorbing his contract would help offset part of the salary the Cardinals would be adding in Arenado.
Morosi said the same things, and it's sensible enough dot-connecting that Colorado could seek Carpenter. But as I wrote last week, such a concession would seem to come with the caveat that the Cardinals provide more value in terms of controllable players and prospects from their side.
Consistently protective of their homegrown talent, the Cardinals probably aren't motivated to do that. While Morosi has reported the potential for St. Louis prospects like Andrew Knizner, Nolan Gorman and the recently acquired Matthew Liberatore to be included in conversations, it seems unlikely the Cardinals would mortgage their suddenly replenished farm system in one fell swoop.
Though the Cardinals surely appreciate all that Arenado can do on a baseball diamond, the team isn't smitten to the extent that it would throw its player personnel process out the window. For example, Arenado's contract runs through 2026, unless he exercises an opt-out clause that could allow him to test free agency again after 2021. As Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch points out, that risk would be factored into any offer for him, while the Rockies would seek a return that reflects Arenado's value through the end of his full contract. Another apparent impasse.
Through consideration of the numerous hurdles involved, it's easy to see how reports from Goold and Passan lend a more grounded approach to the madness.
Quick Nolan Arenado update in yes-and-no form, per sources:- Yes, the Rockies and Cardinals are talking.- No, the talks haven't gone anywhere.- No, the exchange of names has not been productive.- Yes, it's still considered a long shot that Arenado is dealt in the short-term.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 14, 2020
As I mentioned near the conclusion of this story, a spike in the Rockies' desperation to unload Arenado's contract could alter the terrain. Expecting that sense of desperation to come from the other side, the Cardinals side, is a fool's errand.
A new story from a national writer every day of the week certainly makes for entertaining Twitter fodder, but it doesn't necessarily increase the likelihood of the deal that many in Cardinals country would like to see.
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