Trade rumors connecting Nolan Arenado and the Cardinals have bounced around for years, long before the Cardinals and Rockies finally agreed upon a deal that was finalized Feb. 1.
The Cardinals’ interest in the All-Star third baseman was no great industry secret; he has long been viewed as a perfect fit — Gold Glove third baseman, heart-of the-order power hitter — for the club’s needs. What we didn’t know, until Thursday evening, was exactly how much that interest was mutual, how much Arenado was wanted to become a Cardinal.
Not long after Arenado’s two-run homer in the eighth inning helped the Cardinals to a 3-1 win in their 2021 home opener against the Brewers on Thursday — the type of home debut every player dreams of when joining a new club — longtime St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright chatted with the media on a Zoom call.
Wainwright had started and pitched five innings of one-run baseball, and of course he was asked several questions about Arenado. He told a little story.
“The last year or two, (Arenado) would send me videos when he was trying to get traded over here,” Wainwright said.
Let’s stop here for a second. Um … wow. That’s quite the revelation. Let’s not be naive and pretend things like that don’t happen, but it’s still a bit surprising to hear.
“He would say, ‘Hey, show this to Mo,’” Wainwright said. “And he would be, in the middle of the offseason, taking ground balls down the third-base line and doing his little jump throw from almost the dugout, making a perfect throw, one after another after another.”
“Mo,” of course, is the Cardinals president of baseball operations, John Mozeliak. He’s been the top decision-maker in the organization for more than a decade (aside from the ownership group, of course). He is the one who eventually constructed the trade that was seen as a massive heist for the Cardinals.
This can’t be fun for Rockies fans to read, that their star player was thinking about playing for another club. And it’s fair to say that those folks in the Colorado front office, from owner Charlie Monfort to general manager Jeff Bridich, are probably pretty upset by the revelation.
Let’s be super clear about one thing: There is zero evidence that those offseason text messages had any impact at all on Arenado’s effort or production for the Rockies. Wainwright said “last year or two,” so let’s look at the previous two years.
In 2019, Arenado posted career highs in bWAR (7.3), OPS (.962) and average (.315), while hitting 41 home runs and driving in 118. He was an All-Star for the fifth year in a row, won a Gold Glove for the seventh year in a row and finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.
And, yes, Arenado’s 2020 season was subpar by his own standards, but he still produced a 1.5 bWAR and hit eight homers in 48 games as he was playing through a shoulder issue that zapped a lot of his power. The Rockies finally shut him down with a “left AC joint inflammation and a left shoulder bone bruise.” Yikes.
So, the question is this: What did Wainwright do with those messages from Arenado? Did he send them up the organizational ladder to Mozeliak?
“Oh, yeah. I always sent them,” he said with a laugh. “I always said, ‘Hey, I know you’ve got a plan and you’re working on some things, but every time he sends them to me, I gotta do my part and send it on to you.’ Mo seemed to be understanding of that.”
Arenado’s turn on Zoom was before Wainwright’s turn, so there was no opportunity for the media to ask Arenado about the text messages. Arenado did talk about his excitement, playing for the first time as a Cardinal in Busch Stadium, and getting a curtain call after hitting the tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning.
“This was one of the greatest moments,” Arenado said with a big smile. “I’ve been fortunate to hit a couple homers, hit a homer for the cycle one time, and that still probably tops this just a little bit. But I’ve never gotten a curtain call before. To get one of those was just an unbelievable feeling. Never had one. I was just so pumped up.”
When Wainwright heard about the “never a curtain call” thing, he whispered, “Wow. That’s hard to believe” even before the reporter, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Ben Frederickson, finished asking his question.
“It’s really hard to believe that’s his first curtain call,” Wainwright said. “He’s done a lot of really good things in the baseball world, so that’s really hard to believe. He’s going to get a bunch of them here.”
Arenado is 1-for-1 so far — in game-winning home runs and curtain calls at Busch. And, apparently that’s a true statement, though curtain calls are a long-standing tradition in St. Louis, prompted by a wide variety of reasons.
“He’s so focused on being a world champion St. Louis Cardinals player that you can’t even believe it,” Wainwright said. “The guy eats, sleeps, drinks and breathes baseball. And he wants to win as bad as anybody as I’ve been around, and he wants to win here. We’re glad to have him. He’s a winning player.
“We’ve been with him for two months, not even maybe, and I feel like he’s been here 10 years. He just fits in this clubhouse so well.”