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Opinion | With the DH a part of MLB's return plan, what's the effect on the Cardinals strategy?

If the DH frees up Matt Carpenter, Nolan Arenado makes even more sense at third for St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Cause and effect is a big practice to use in sports. It helps when you are playing a high stakes game of "what if" with a potential team and player.

With the talk of the designated hitter being universal in Major League Baseball's plans (agreed upon by the owners today) to return to action this summer in an abbreviated 2020 season, how does that affect teams' strategy in comprising their rosters and their overall lineup construction?

For the St. Louis Cardinals, does that mean rekindling trade talks with Colorado Rockies for Nolan Arenado? Let's take another long look.

The DH changes things for Arenado and Cards

It's not outside the realm of possibility, even if the actual occurrence still lives more on the far-fetched side of things. But humor me as we descend into the latter stages of spring and really dig into the idea of 2020, examining not only its effect on the pending season but next year and the years after it. Essentially, if the DH comes to the National League in a shortened season, it's not leaving in 2021 or 2022. The extra batter is here to stay because let's face it, the DH means more offense and that sells in this modern era of long ball adoration. We aren't just talking about 2020 with Arenado and the Cardinals, but the next 5-8 seasons.

Does Arenado still want out of Colorado? 

Everybody who hasn't been trapped under a rock understands the friction that has developed between Arenado and the Rockies over the past year. Seemingly sitting on the trade market the past two summers, Colorado made a bold statement over the winter saying he was untouchable. Arenado reacted to that news with anger, and the several weeks afterward haven't lightened the mood in the mountains and Colorado's #1 star.

Would the loss of half a season and the increasing desire to rid themselves of a contract they obviously don't want to pay the rest of push the Rockies back into trade talks? The Cardinals are an ideal partner because of their pitching Tdepth, outfield depth, and need for a star like Arenado. If there was an opening, the Cardinals would be wise to explore it. Arenado has stated several times that St. Louis is a destination spot for a player, which would clear hurdles in the past the team has experienced with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton. The Cardinals were four wins away from the World Series, which is all Arenado needs to see.

Carpenter To The DH? 

Credit: AP
St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter waits for a pitch from New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The DH in the National League would allow the Cardinals to move Matt Carpenter to that role due his limited defense. No matter where he plays in the field, he's costing you runs over a season. Arenado has won a Gold Glove at third base in every year of his career. That's seven Gold Gloves if you are counting. Arenado-along with Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Paul Goldschmidt-would give St. Louis the best infield in baseball. A groundball past the pitching mound would be a foregone conclusion.

Arenado's effects on the lineup are limitless but think about this: He would make everyone better. Weaker bats would move down and stronger bats like Goldschmidt would just appear mightier to opposing pitchers on any given night. You could bat Arenado behind Goldschmidt or in front of him. DeJong could move to the lower part of the order along with Carpenter and Molina. The lineup would become something highly sinister very quickly by adding a guy who has averaged 40 home runs over the past five seasons and carries a career slash of .295/.351/.583.

What about Arenado's Home / Road Splits?

This is where people will bring up the home/road splits, citing Arenado's supposed reliance on Coors Field. But remember, in his career, he still owns a .799 OPS away from Colorado with a healthy slugging percentage of .476. It's also always unfair to assume that a superstar player won't be able to hit once he takes half of his season's at-bats in a different stadium. If anyone could smash the ball around Busch, I'd put high bets on Arenado adapting just fine.

Take this into account as well. Arenado would get more at-bats in hitter-friendly parks like Wrigley Field, Great American Ballpark, and Miller Field. He doesn't get as many visits as a member of the Colorado Rockies. The inner division spots he visits are San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Arizona. Two of those parks fall among the places that are best for pitchers.

What would it cost? 

The biggest hurdle in the Arenado acquisition is price, and there's two parts. The first part is the player price. Let's get this straight. The Rockies couldn't ask for two first-round picks, so they could only ask for one out of Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, and Matthew Liberatore. Gorman would be the guy being offered out of the three, but Liberatore is not out of the question. After that, you would want to include a high salary player to offset some of the financial burden coming with Arenado.

While the DH takes care of the "where does Carpenter play" debacle," acquiring Arenado could involve sending Carpenter west. Colorado would be on the book for Carpenter's $18.5 million in salaries in 2020 and 2021. Now, with the shortened seasons, players have already agreed in principle to make a protracted amount of their salary. However, with the exact agreement in transition, let's work with numbers we know for sure. Carpenter's bat could perform very well in Colorado and he does play a number of positions.

Colorado's asking price could determine how much money the Cardinals assume of Arenado's deal, which would most likely be most of it. The real threatening aspect is the opt-out included after the 2021 season. Now, if Carpenter was going to be included, he would be a free agent (the Cardinals and Carpenter have a mutual option for 2022 that won't be picked up) when Arenado can opt-out. So, the Rockies really can't fleece the Cardinals due to that player option.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cardinals carry a 2020 payroll of $166 million. Arenado coming over would push the Cardinals over the luxury tax mark, which would result in a fine. A fine that World Series-winning teams have paid before. This is where you bring in the possibility of players making lesser salaries due to the shortened season, so that could affect whether or not the Cardinals go over $200 million.

2021 looks more spacious. Molina's contract will hopefully include a number of less than $20 million. Brett Cecil's $7 million is gone, and smaller deals like Brad Miller, Matt Wieters, and Adam Wainwright also fall off the payroll. With Andrew Miller reaching 35 years of age, maybe the Cardinals pay the $2 million to buy him out and put a younger, cheaper arm in his spot.

Bottom Line: The Cardinals can afford Arenado, even if 2020 will be tricky. You make room for star players. 

The thing that stopped the Cardinals from advancing further in 2019 was the offense. It's as simple as that. Several players' bats froze and the Washington Nationals rolled through the Birds like a knife does through warm butter. Goldschmidt wasn't enough. Arenado would change that in a heartbeat. You'd make your lineup as strong as your pitching. Harrison Bader could play more because the need for offense from your center-fielder would decrease with Arenado at third. Carlson could be ushered slowly into the plans and not rushed. Fowler could catch some at-bats at DH if Carpenter departs or a guy like Tommy Edman gets into the outfield.

Arenado changes things for the Cardinals. It's something the team shouldn't ignore if the Rockies are open to it. This current group of players won't get past the Dodgers or Nationals, no matter 2020 or 2021 looks like. They just won't. The lineup needs some assurance. A proven presence. A difference maker to pair with Goldschmidt.

The DH moving to the NL frees up a spot for the Cardinals, whether it's Fowler or Carpenter moving there. Put one of your expiring contracts there and make way for Arenado. Deny it all you want and say the money doesn't match up, but I would disagree. If Arenado performed well this year or next year and wanted a raise, the Cardinals would pay him. That's where I think the opt-out falls to ash, due to Arenado's love for the city and the Cardinals' allure to winning.

One more roadblock could be cleared if the DH comes to the National League in the new proposed deal. I've never been a fan but I would be if it meant Arenado put on a red uniform. At the very least, a nice thought to drink to as 2020 continues on its "how did we get here" trek.

What do you think? Share your thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

DLB

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