Did the St. Louis Cardinals Miss Their Window with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado?

Many experts believed in a St. Louis Cardinals resurgence in 2024. Instead, the team continues to look anemic. So what's next?

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 13: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) gives St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (46) a high five after the MLB game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 13, 2024 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The St. Louis Cardinals, coming off an abysmal 71-91 season in 2023, are in the midst of a what could be a second consecutive losing campaign in 2024. As the club sits seven games below .500 in the middle of May, there are a lot more questions than answers regarding this season.

No one thought the Cardinals were truly as bad as their record showed last year – after all, they still had (and have, on paper) two of baseball’s premier position players in third baseman Nolan Arenado and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Plus, many had them primed for a resurgence in 2024 after an active winter.

But perhaps last season was the first warning sign about the Cardinals, one that we didn’t heed seriously enough because St. Louis has “earned” the benefit of the doubt in so many fans’ minds for their tradition of winning baseball.

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The Arenado-Goldschmidt Era in St. Louis Has Been Surprisingly Underwhelming

What if I told you that the Cardinals had yet to win a playoff game with both Arenado and Goldschmidt on the roster together?

Let’s start by putting this all into context. Goldschmidt joined the Redbirds in 2019 when they acquired him from the Diamondbacks in exchange for catcher Carson Kelly and pitcher Luke Weaver. Arenado arrived two years later in what is widely viewed as a lopsided trade between St. Louis and Colorado (the Cardinals having emerged as fairly obvious winners).

But step back for a second: considering that the Cardinals’ objective is to win every year, how successful have those trades really been? After Goldschmidt’s first year in St. Louis, in which the club made it to the NLCS (losing in a sweep to that year’s champions – the Nationals), they haven’t come close to returning to the doorstep of the World Series.

In fact, they’ve gone progressively backwards. The Cardinals lost to the Padres in the 2020 Wild Card Series and haven’t made it past that round since. Keep in mind – this is still the case even after acquiring Arenado just before the 2021 season.

A Cardinals team that should’ve been a bona-fide force with the duo of Arenado and Goldschmidt heading into 2021 wasn’t to be come October, as they would lose that season’s Wild Card game to the Dodgers.

And the next year, a similar fate awaited, as St. Louis would suffer a Wild Card series sweep at the hands of the Phillies.

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This is all to say, despite the fact that Arenado and Goldschmidt have two postseason appearances together, they have no playoff wins to show for it. And that’s a far cry from “The Cardinal Way” that has come to define St. Louis’ illustrious and rich franchise history.

At the same time, however, it’s also evident that this lack of team success doesn’t have much to do with Arenado or Goldschmidt’s individual production. In fact, let’s look at each player’s statistics since they were traded to the Cardinals.

Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, since arriving in St. Louis:

Nolan ArenadoPaul Goldschmidt
489 G, .271/.328/.486, 93 HR, .815 OPS, 124 OPS+721 G, .281/.368/.487, 134 HR, .855 OPS, 134 OPS+

It’s hard to argue that Arenado and Goldschmidt themselves should assume responsibility for the Cardinals’ recent shortcomings. They’ve more than pulled their weight as the star players that they are (though Goldschmidt is struggling mightily in 2024).

So what’s been the pitfall for St. Louis?

The Cardinals’ Roster Is Aging Along With Arenado and Goldschmidt

Arenado and Goldschmidt aren’t getting any younger (both are in their mid-30s) and as the Cardinals continue to languish behind their NL Central peers, their situation is only growing more dire.

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It’s not as if team president John Mozeliak and the rest of the front office haven’t had opportunities to course correct, either: the team has proven it can make splashes when it wants to, having inked players like former Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, ace right-hander Sonny Gray as well as veteran pitchers Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn, the latter three of whom were all signed this past winter.

The Cardinals also chose to get even older when they signed shortstop Brandon Crawford just before the start of the 2024 season, a move that was ridiculed given that they have a young shortstop in Masyn Winn.

The result has been a roster that ranks among the most senior in baseball in 2024, clocking in at an combined pitching age of nearly 32, while the hitters combine for an average age of 28. That’s still an overall average roster age of 30, however. And that can only work for so long, especially in an NL Central division that is already boasting young talent from Paul Skenes and Jared Jones in Pittsburgh to Elly De La Cruz in Cincinnati, and with plenty more on the way.

Where Do The St. Louis Cardinals Go From Here?

The answer seems fairly simple: it’s time to tear this current team down.

Again, simple. But not easy.

As St. Louis continues to watch the clock tick on Arenado and Goldschmidt’s primes, the Cardinals have become a difficult watch. If this isn’t obvious to Mozeliak by now, it likely will be by the summer.

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The good news for Cardinals fans? Our own Aram Leighton wrote back in January that St. Louis has a deep farm system, which could lead to promising returns down the road. The organization just has to accept the current reality of its situation, first.

Homegrown players have been the secret sauce to so many Cardinals championships, including two such titles under Mozeliak’s watch. So why not go back to the well that has made this once-proud organization so prosperous over the years?

Perhaps that reckoning will just have to arrive sooner than St. Louis anticipated.