Nolan Arenado the focus of Dodgers and Cardinals trade talks

For weeks, the Dodgers have hinted they would not remain idle before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Team officials acknowledged the roster had holes and they acknowledged they would attempt to fill them. Manager Dave Roberts predicted at least adding “floor raisers.”

This week, in the span of two days, the effort has produced Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario. But the Dodgers might not be done altering their position player group. There’s someone else out there they covet, someone who wouldn’t just raise the floor. His name is Nolan Arenado.

The Dodgers have engaged in talks with the St. Louis Cardinals to acquire the eight-time All-Star third baseman, according to people with knowledge of the situation but who are not authorized to speak publicly. The Cardinals could also send a starting pitcher — Jack Flaherty or Jordan Montgomery — to Los Angeles for a package of major leaguers and prospects.

The Cardinals would want young pitching in a deal; they have eyed Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone, Ryan Pepiot, and Emmet Sheehan in talks, according to people with knowledge of the situation. A trade would also likely include the Dodgers sending Max Muncy or Chris Taylor, if not both, to St. Louis.

Arenado has a full no-trade clause — meaning he could block a trade to any team — but he is willing to waive the clause to play for the Dodgers, and only the Dodgers, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The Southern California native is said to have always wanted to play for the Dodgers.

The admiration goes both ways. The Dodgers have coveted Arenado for years. They planned to pursue him in free agency after the 2019 season until he signed an eight-year extension with the Colorado Rockies. Then they wanted to trade for Arenado when the Rockies made him available before the 2021 season, but Rockies owner Dick Monfort refused to entertain the division opponent’s offers. The Rockies instead shipped him to St. Louis in a trade that immediately went down as one of the worst in recent history.

This third quest has its obstacles.

First, Arenado remains an elite player. The 10-time Gold Glove winner’s defensive metrics have plummeted this season, but he’s still considered a premier defender. Offensively, he was batting .287 with 22 home runs and an .856 on-base-plus-slugging percentage through Wednesday.

Second, Arenado has four years left on his contract after this season. The Cardinals, while selling pieces this season, don’t want to enter rebuilding mode, according to people with knowledge of the situation but who are not authorized to speak publicly. They want to compete again next year. Having a talent like Arenado under contract for another four seasons at $93 million (the Rockies are on the hook for $16 million), a team-friendly price, helps the cause.

For the Dodgers, taking on that money, while still relatively a good deal for Arenado’s talent, could be difficult to swallow ahead of their expected offseason pursuit of Shohei Ohtani.

So, why would the Cardinals trade Arenado? They don’t have to. And they certainly don’t have to give him away for an underwhelming haul. But, for one, the right package of players — with young, cheap pitching talent — could better position them for long-term success. Then there’s Arenado’s mindset. Arenado wants to win and wasn’t happy with the Cardinals’ moves last offseason, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

At 32 years old, perhaps he doesn’t see a real chance to win a World Series in St. Louis. Arenado, for all his personal accolades, has never won a playoff series in his career. His teams are 1-7 in postseason games — the one win coming in a one-game wild-card playoff against the Chicago Cubs in 2018. The Milwaukee Brewers then swept the Rockies in three games in the division series.

On the Dodgers’ side, Arenado represents another potential franchise cornerstone to partner with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, two National League MVP candidates, on a first-place club. They are in position to compete for another World Series but believe the roster needs upgrading.

So far, they’ve added Hernández and Rosario — mini reclamation projects mired in the worst seasons of their careers — while pitching remains on the shopping list.

The Dodgers want to bolster their staff, especially the rotation. The options have begun to dwindle. Late Wednesday night the Angels acquired Lucas Giolito, one of the best starters on the market, from the Chicago White Sox after deciding to keep Ohtani for the remainder of the season. A trade with St. Louis could address that need, and so much more.