Not many people will confuse St. Louis Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. with a riverboat gambler.
However, DeWitt showed this winter that he’s willing to roll the dice to help his franchise move toward a 12th World Series championship, its first since 2011.
With everyone clamoring during the offseason that the Cardinals needed more offense, DeWitt took note. While it took a while to happen, the unthinkable did occur.
DeWitt approved a deal that brought 29-year-old Nolan Arenado to St. Louis from the Colorado Rockies, enabling the Cardinals to pull off one of the biggest acquisitions in baseball. Arenado is regarded as the premier third baseman in baseball and has won the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for eight consecutive seasons.
The Cardinals completed a six-player trade with the Rockies to acquire the five-time (2015-19) National League All-Star and cash considerations in exchange for left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber, infielder Elehuris Montero, right-handed pitcher Tony Locey, infielder Mateo Gil and right-handed pitcher Jake Sommers.
Arenado will retain his player options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. He also agreed to the Cardinals’ request that he sign a one-year contract extension for 2027 that would extend his contract to seven years in length.
In an online interview, DeWitt discussed the deal. It included his philosophy about big name players bringing value to the franchise and giving it the ability to compete for championships.
“When you have an opportunity to get premium players from other clubs, for whatever reason, it’s incumbent upon us to bring them to St. Louis,” said DeWitt, who added that St. Louis makes every effort to get premium players because they stay premium players. He said that’s been his philosophy for the past 25 years.
Some have called the deal the biggest heist since the Great Brinks Train Robbery.
“I’ve gotten multiple texts and calls from all generations (asking), ‘How in the world were the Cardinals able to get Nolan Arenado?’” DeWitt said. “We’re fortunate that we were able to make it happen. We got our man. We always sort of dreamed that something like this could happen or might have happened but when he signed a long term deal obviously we didn’t think anything would come of that.”
Things changed this winter. Colorado knew Arenado was unhappy and could opt of his contract at the end of the season. They wanted to dance with someone and the Cardinals eagerly obliged them.
“This was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We’re always opportunistic in spotting players who can take our club to the next level,” DeWitt said. “We’ve never stopped trying and we never will as long as I’m around.”
DeWitt called the signing “a red-letter day for the Redbirds.” He also credited his baseball staff.
“I give John Mozeliak and his team a lot of credit for working through a pretty complicated transaction, as you might imagine,” DeWitt said. “It took several days to get it done but in the end, we got our man, which is very exciting.”
The Cardinals finished second in the National League Central last season. But with the playoffs expanded, the Cardinals earned a berth.
St. Louis lost a first-round playoff matchup against the San Diego Padres, who fell to the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
With no fans and a shortened season, it was a tough one economically for the franchise.
“The 2020 season, as everyone knows, we had a really tough start to the season. What that team accomplished is really remarkable with what they went through. Overall, we made the best of a bad situation,” DeWitt said. “Everybody realized it was a tough year business-wise for all the clubs. There were significant losses.
“The industry lost $3 billion and you divide that by 30 clubs and that’s easy math. The players had a tough year. They got 37% of their salaries. There was some pain there. I think most teams think it’s going to be another difficult year financially. It’s just uncertain times and you do the best you can.”
Some things about the 2020 season did give DeWitt an idea for the future of the game. With the shortened season, there were numerous doubleheaders that harkened back to a bygone era. Nowadays, a doubleheader is two games – one usually in the early afternoon and another one at night. Last year, a doubleheader was back-to-back games that were only seven innings each.
Another change saw the National League adding the designated hitter. That is not the case for this year but it’s likely only a matter of time before it comes to fruition and will be used.
When a game was tied after nine innings, a runner was placed at second base to start the next inning for both teams. That was to try and end the game quicker and not have a marathon that could last an hour or longer.
DeWitt had no objections to any of the modifications.
“I did like those things in general. The seven-inning doubleheaders were out of necessity,” DeWitt said. “The interesting thing was I enjoyed watching them on TV. I didn’t go on the road at all. I thought it was great. I know the players really liked it.”
Describing himself as a traditionalist, DeWitt noted that any change is sometimes frowned on but that some of these things may stick.
“The DH (designated hitter) also opened up some eyes,” he said. “It was interesting. I did like the extra-inning rule. Some games go on so long and they beat up the players. I know the players liked that as well.”
DeWitt is 79. The Cardinals have won two World Series titles under his ownership. He believes this year’s team with its mix of veterans and younger players is one that could do well.
“I like our club the way it’s currently constructed,” DeWitt said. “We’ve got a good club. I think we can except and hope for an improved offense. Some of our younger guys who’ve developed further we have high hopes for, like Dylan Carlson. We have some other players coming up.
“I think most of our club is back. We didn’t pick up the option on Kolten Wong but if you want to look at a placeholder at second base Tommy Edman is a good one. He’s got a lot of pop in his bat and he’s a good baserunner. Matt Carpenter is highly motivated. I’m excited. I think we’ve got a good club and we should be competitive.”