The Face of the Rockies, Nolan Arenado, is Wearing a Scowl

The Colorado Rockies signed third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million deal before the 2019 season, and both sides have reason to be unhappy less than a year later.

Arenado wants out.

And the Rockies found out through the media that their best player is visibly unhappy. They’re paying a lot of money for the face of the franchise to be upset at the front office.

Multiyear, big-money deals rarely work out to everyone’s satisfaction in the long run. 

The usual problem with the big deals, the player failing to meet expectations, isn’t what went wrong. Arenado hit .315 with 41 home runs, 118 RBIs, and a .962 OPS last season.

But the Rockies flopped. After making the postseason as a National League Wild Card the previous two seasons, they unexpectedly dipped to 71-91 and finished fourth in the NL West.

It was particularly disappointing because the club did it with a franchise-record $156 million payroll.

Break Up the Rockies

Of course, at the end of last season, everyone who writes about baseball in the media or blogosphere knew the answer: tear down the team and start over, which is really easy to do if you’re sitting at a keyboard. 

Front office executives find the teardown option less palatable.  Marketing a team to fans with the slogan “we’ll be good in three or four years’’ is tough.

Owner Dick Monfort and General Manager Jeff Bridich resisted the idea. They spent two hours at the postseason presser going-back-and-forth with the local media about how they felt the team had the parts in place.

Monfort cited the Los Angeles Dodgers as an example: “Did they have any big signings? (A.J.) Pollock was the only one and he was hurt half the year. And yet, they won, what, 14-15 more games than they did a year ago? Part of the deal is, you have to be patient.”

Nick Groke of The Athletic described the club executives as “grumpy and defiant” and “throwing a bucket of cold water on the offseason.”

Let’s Make a Hypothetical Deal

The Rockies’ stated reluctance to make deals didn’t slow down the trade talks.

Arenado, a seven-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star heading into his age 29 season, is the Rockies’ biggest trading chip. so a lot of speculation and rumors centered around him. 

Bridich said enough is enough on Jan. 20, telling the Denver Post

“With the season coming up and spring training on the horizon, we are going to start focusing on that. We have listened to teams regarding Nolan and really nothing has come of it. We are going to move forward pretty much as we expected — with Nolan in the purple and black and as our third baseman.

“So we can put this to bed and collectively look forward to the upcoming season and work toward that.”

So, end of story, right? No. We are just getting started.

Cryptic Response

Thomas Harding of MLB.com contacted Arenado, and the star player texted back: “There’s a lot of disrespect from people there that I don’t want to be a part of. You can quote that.”

He elaborated: “You ask what I thought of Jeff’s quotes and I say I don’t care what people say around there. There is a lot of disrespect.” 

What specifically did he find disrespectful? “No. I won’t get into the details,”  Arenado texted.

Arenado did clarify a little bit, saying “I’m not mad at the trade rumors. There’s more to it.”

Harding texted Bridich and reported the general manager said he would reply soon about the remarks.

What Does it all Mean?

ESPN reported that Arenado is unhappy with the Rockies’ inactivity during the offseason. Hope is not a plan, as the saying goes. ESPN further reported that four clubs showed interest in Arenado; the Rockies wanted an exorbitant price.

Arenado was not at all unhappy with the trade rumors. He was unhappy they didn’t come true.

Arenado reportedly has a full no-trade clause in his contract. So he has to OK any deal. Arenado would be consulted with any deal that was serious. Thus, he probably has a better idea than ESPN or MLB Trade Rumors about what went on (that’s often not the case).

Leverage

Arenado also has an opt-out clause after 2021, so he could become a free agent heading into his age 31 season. This is not an ideal age to hit the open market, but he might be able to command some appealing offers.

With their best and most expensive player indicating — though not explicitly — that he wants out, where do the Rockies go from here?

Downhill fast is my advice. 

I get why they didn’t want to do a teardown. Maybe their players have bounce-back years and… who knows? Plenty of people outside the organization thought the Washington Nationals needed to do a teardown when Bryce Harper left after the 2018 season. More joined the chorus when the Nats started the 2019 season 19-31.

The Rockies were unable to sell the Denver-area media, no doubt looking forward to a busy, news-filled offseason, on the idea that the team could stay the course and succeed. No big deal.

When you can’t sell you star player on the hope-is-our-plan plan? That’s a problem.

Next Stop Atlanta?

Time for Plan B. 

My first call would be to the Atlanta Braves, who lost third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins this offseason. The Braves reportedly expressed interest in Arenado earlier, and MLB Pipeline ranks their farm system seventh in Major League Baseball. Acquiring Arenado would push the Braves over the luxury tax limit, but maybe they’d go for it.

Perhaps you can pry a couple of hot prospects such as outfielder Cristian Pache and left-handed pitcher Kyle Muller, as well as proven MLB infielder Johan Camargo from Atlanta.

Then I’d back up the truck and trade anyone else of value — expect shortstop Trevor Story — and load up on prospects

See how simple it is when you’re sitting at a keyboard?

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