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Nolan Arenado arrived at spring training about a week before the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals' position players, trying to get accustomed to the time change of Florida from his home on the West Coast along with learning his way around his first new team in a dozen years in pro baseball.
Turns out the time change has been every bit the challenge of the new organization.
“I was hurting there for a while,” Arenado admitted, “but I'm good now.”
The Cardinals hope he can be great.
They were quiet almost the entire offseason, the grand sum of their moves amounting to the re-signing of erstwhile ace Adam Wainwright and a couple smaller transactions. But that all changed in the weeks before camp, when they got into serious talks for what became a three-team deal with the Rockies and Mets to land the star third baseman.
Suddenly, the Cardinals had pulled off one of the biggest acquisitions in baseball, solidifying their lineup with a five-time All-Star and three-time home run champion while making them one of the favorites to win the NL Central.
“For sure, it's been great,” said Arenado, who was finally joined by the rest of the roster for the first full-squad workout of camp earlier this week. “If anything, I don't know what some of their faces look like (because of masks), but other than that it's smooth sailing. We're talking outside in the tents, sitting 6 feet apart but still communicating, talking about the game, and I love it. The coaches are challenging me with new drills, new things to try and I really like that.”
Arenado was drafted by the Rockies in the second round of the 2009 draft and, almost from the moment he arrived in Colorado, became one of the premier hitters in the game. He wound up hitting .293 across his first eight seasons in the big leagues, hitting at least 37 homers for five consecutive years before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The two-time league leader in RBIs also happens to have eight consecutive Gold Gloves to his resume.
No wonder the Cardinals, who were looking to upgrade at third base, turned their attention immediately to him, then pulled the myriad strings — including bringing another club into the mix — that it took to consummate the trade.
“I suspect the excitement will only grow when people get to see him day-in and day-out,” Mozeliak said. "My approach when you bring in an ew player is to let them take a deep breath. Let them breathe — I'm not hovering over him, following him like a small puppy. I'm just letting him adjust to this camp.
“I saw him this morning as I got coffee,” Mozeliak continued, “and I just said, ‘Hey, how’s it going?' He said, ‘It’s going great.' That's it. But I think he's excited to be part of this camp, this team. It's a big commitment on both sides.”
Arenado's early arrival at camp also allowed him to bond with Nolan Gorman, one of the organizations' top prospects, who probably had plenty of questions when the Cardinals traded for an established player at his position.
“The first few days I was in the same (hitting) group as him before camp started. We went golfing together, got to hang out," Arenado said. "He's an extremely talented player with big power and he's going to help us win a lot of games.
“The trade stuff is a big adjustment,” Arenado admitted, “but he's working hard at second base, third base, everywhere, and he seems all-in. He wants to contribute. That's what you want on your team.”
That's all Arenado wants to do, too.
Notes: The Cardinals had their annual pitcher's fielding practice competition Wednesday. The team captained by Miles Mikolas and featuring Jordan Hicks, Matthew Liberatore, Tyler Webb and Tommy Parsons wound up winning. “The draft strategy was high upside pure upside early, with Hicks,” Mikolas said. “Then I wanted to get Webb in there, someone real solid, very fundamental. And then pick out some young guys to round out the team, some youth and bounciness.”
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