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Can Nolan Arenado Help the Cardinals Compete in 2021?

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Can Nolan Arenado Help the Cardinals Compete in 2021?
Former Colorado Rockie Third baseman and now St. Louis Cardinal Nolan Arenado. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images/AFP

Recent player movement in the National League has sent ripples through the baseball futures odds, and the one causing the biggest impact is the deal the St. Louis Cardinals made with the -Colorado Rockies for all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado.

While it’s understandable why the Cardinals – or any team, for that matter – would want to add a player of Arenado’s talent to the lineup, Colorado’s reasons for making the trade are a bit confusing. The Rockies, who received left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber and three minor leaguers, insist it was necessary to reduce their payroll. If so, why send St. Louis “upwards of $50 million” to get it done? Colorado fans have to be left feeling like schmucks for all the tickets to Coors Field and No. 28 Rockies jerseys they’ve purchased the last eight years.

Redbirds Emerge as Clear Favorites in NL Central

Of course, anyone concerned with the trade strictly from a sports betting angle isn’t concerned with who might be left feeling like a schmuck, as long as they’re not one of them. St. Louis was a 30/1 pick last fall to win the 2021 World Series, and BetOnline is now offering the Cardinals at 25/1 (visit our BetOnline Review). Some shops have them closer to 20/1.

What makes the deal to add Arenado a bigger impact on the MLB predictions than the Los Angeles Dodgers signing of NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer can be seen in the new numbers for the NL Central Division. Los Angeles was already heavy chalk in the NL West, and across the board as World Series favorites. That wasn’t the case for the Cardinals in what should still be a fairly tight race in their division.

Prior to adding Arenado, St. Louis was in a dead heat with the Cincinnati Reds at the top of the NL Central, each club priced around +250 to earn the title. The Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers were also very much in the mix as +300 choices. With Arenado aboard, the Cardinals have moved up to the top of the totem pole at +200, while the Reds have fallen back into the group with the Cubs and Brewers.

Nolan Arenado
Former #28 of the Colorado Rockies Nolan Arenado. Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images/AFP

Arenado’s 8 Gold Gloves Make Him More Than Just a Bat

We’ll have to wait a while longer to see how online sportsbooks adjust the numbers for St. Louis for single games. Those sites will obviously be watching how Arenado adjusts to playing half of his games in Busch Stadium as opposed to the numbers he put up at Coors Field. He hit .300 with just under 40 HR and just over 120 RBI a season from 2015-19, and was in the top 10 in the voting for NL MVP each year.

Even adjusting for a full 162-game campaign, Arenado’s numbers dropped off dramatically in 2020 when he batted .253 with 8 HR. Only one of those homers was struck away from Coors Field, and his home/road splits throughout his career have been well documented. For the record, Arenado owns a respectable .278 average with 5 HR in 90 career at bats at Busch Stadium.

There’s no question he will have an impact on a Cardinals lineup that ranked in the bottom-third of the NL last season in scoring (4.14 rpg), and dead last in long balls with 51. Arenado should ultimately provide more protection in the lineup for Paul Goldschmidt, and his veteran presence should help several young hitters St. Louis counting on this season such as Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader.

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Flaherty a Key to Pitching Staff

While Arenado has obviously been the biggest move St. Louis made in the offseason, it’s not the only one. The Cardinals also re-signed veteran righthander Adam Wainwright in January, and just recently worked out a new deal for catcher Yadier Molina. With all of the distractions in 2020, it’s also easy to forget about lefty Kwang Hyun Kim, who is coming off a successful first season and should feel more comfortable on an MLB mound in ’21.

As much as Arenado will mean to the offense and defense, what would really go a long way for manager Mike Shildt and the Cardinals would be for Jack Flaherty to lead the rotation as the unquestionable ace. The former 1st-round pick took a bit of a step back in 2020 with a 4.91 ERA across nine starts. Deep pitch counts and an increased walk rate led to Flaherty averaging less than 5 IP per start one season after lasting nearly 6 IP per outing.

Arenado will definitely help the Cardinals compete in 2021, and there’s really no reason other than a slew of injuries they can’t make the playoffs. Whether or not St. Louis is the best pick at any betting site to win it all, well, that’s going to take more than just any single player.

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