Inside Lars Nootbaar’s intriguing offseason: Arenado, Yamamoto, Japan and more

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ST. LOUIS – Lars Nootbaar is a lot of things. A capable leadoff hitter. A “Pepper Grinder” proponent. A World Baseball Classic champion. And perhaps the St. Louis Cardinal with the most intriguing offseason.

Whether it be his impact overseas, his elaborate tuneups with Nolan Arenado or something else in between, Nootbaar is no stranger to adventures. The whole package should suit him well as he gears up for a starting outfield job next season.

Nootbaar addressed several topics with media members during his Winter Warm-Up chat on Sunday. These were among his main talking points…

1. Commitment to next season

The Cardinals suffered their first losing season since 2007 last year. It didn’t sit well for many, especially Nootbaar.

“Coming off of last year, I think everybody personally and as a team were motivated to right that ship and have a bounce back year,” said Nootbaar. “You can tell that energy, even through texts of guys who are excited to get back to Florida [for spring training]. I think everybody is excited to get back to Florida to hang out with the guys. We have a little more motivation this year.”

Key comments from John Mozeliak at Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up

2. Offseason workouts

After missing time to thumb, back and abdomen injuries last year, Nootbaar spent the last several months building endurance and tweaking his usual offseason routine.

“I started working with a body coach doing exercises every day,” said Nootbaat. “Implementing some different things in my workouts to make sure that I’m moving better, more flexible, more pliable, and more durable. … I can get better in every aspect [of baseball], but making sure I’m available to do it is the main thing.”

3. Working with Nolan too

Like the last few offseason, Nootbaar has made trips to Nolan Arenado’s baseball warehouse in California’s Orange County, picking up on guidance from a decorated hitter.

“He’s probably the best player this century to be able to pull a ball [in St. Louis] successfully at efficient angles,” said Nootbaar. “Working with him, listening to him and trying to get better at that. Trying to hone that skill in that he’s done so well.”

Nootbaar says it’s important to be able back veterans like Arenado, Paul Goldshchmidt and Willson Contreras, especially with many younger hitters expected in next year’s lineup.

“I put the pressure on myself to be that guy who wants to help them out,” said Nootbaar. “Goldy, Nolan, Willson, they can only do so much. … Mindset never changes. You’re always chasing after the ghost. Until I’m able to sit at that table with the Goldys and the Nolans of the world, you’re never going to be satisfied. You’re chasing that.”

4. Another trip to Japan

After winning the World Baseball Classic with Team Japan last spring, representing his mother’s heritage, Nootbaar made it a mission to help America’s pastime grow overseas.

Nootbaar connected with several youth baseball clinics and starred in commercials during his latest trip overseas in November. He traveled with Nolan Arenado’s brother Jonah.

“It was a busy trip,” said Nootbaar. “We got to go to Kyoto and do some sightseeing over there. Some fans were taking pictures [with Jonah] over there. We were all in our kimono dress-type stuff, so that was pretty cool. Being able to go around Tokyo, they have some nice spots to eat there. It was nice too.”

Above all, Nootbaar enjoyed spending time with family members he hasn’t seen in quite some time.

“I haven’t seen my grandparents in over a decade and my cousins in 18 years,” said Nootbaar. “Now my image or perception over there is a little bit different than it was a year ago. That was cool.”

5. The Yamamoto hype

As the Cardinals entered the offseason in need of pitching, 26-year-old Japan star Yoshinobu Yamamoto represented a promising, but potentially expensive investment. Nootbaar became great friends with Yamamoto during the World Baseball Classic and made it a priority to be available for questions or feedback as Yamamoto planned his transfer to Major League Baseball.

Yamamoto ultimately ended up signing a record-breaking deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His 12-year, $325 million contract was not only the largest for a player who didn’t previously play at the MLB level, but also larger than any other pitcher in league by a difference of $1 million. This followed another grand prize for the Dodgers, who signed hitting-pitching phenom Shohei Ohtani to a new MLB record 10-year, $700 million contract.

“Not exactly where I wanted him to land obviously,” said Nootbaar on Yamamoto. “I though he’d look good in some Cardinal red. But watching that unfold, it was pretty cool. First time I was able to see a free agent like that [internationally] kind of go through that.”

“He was pretty open with me, and open in that a lot of teams were interested, and open to the idea of a lot of different stuff,” Nootbaar continued. “Ultimately, the number was the number he ended up receiving. And that was higher than most people were expecting it to be. Obviously, I wish him the best, but come Opening Day, ain’t going to be a lot of smiles, that’s for sure.”

The Cardinals’ 2024 Opening Day matchup comes against Yamamoto and the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 28.

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6. Could the “pepper grinder” return?

The Cardinals have embraced the “pepper grinder” celebration for parts of the last few seasons after home runs, a way to represent how the team grinds out tough at-bats. Lars Nootbaar is often seen as the leader behind it, but he credits former teammates Andrew Knizner.

Could the “pepper grinder” return next season? Nootbaar is open to it, but says it will be a team decision.

“We’ll have some hard-hitting questions and that will be one of them, with the team in spring training early on” said Nootbaar. “If we want to bring that back, my vote will be “yes.” But again, I’m the young scrub. We’ll let the old guys kind of figure that one out.”


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