Reminder: Nolan Arenado and the Colorado Rockies’ relationship is in peril. It’s one of the many storylines in Major League Baseball that has taken a backseat to the sport’s ongoing labor dispute.
How does this situation conclude?
The Rockies third baseman said he felt “disrespected” by management back in January — which inevitably leads the baseball world to believe that he could be on the move in the near future.
Arenado, if a 2020 season takes place, is entering the first year of an eight-year, $260 million pact agreed to before the 2019 regular season. The four-time NL Sliver Slugger made it clear that he never requested a trade, rather expressing that he felt slighted by the organization.
In the meantime, he’s manning the hot corner in Colorado. How long he’ll be doing so is the million-dollar question.
The instant he signed this monstrous extension it was expected that he’d be in Colorado for life. Who wouldn’t think so? For the Rockies’ sake, the best-case scenario is they mend fences with the homegrown star, keeping their franchise player happy and intact. That said, there’s a loophole in Arenado’s contract.
Arenado has a player option for 2022, allowing him to test the open market. He’ll still get a monumental contract if he opts out. He’s one of the truly elite players in the sport.
He’s a vacuum at third, has a cannon for an arm, and is a force to be reckoned with at the plate. Arenado has posted an OPS+ above 120 in each of the last five seasons and an OPS above .930 in each of the last four seasons. Over the last five seasons he has compiled 199 home runs and 621 RBIs. This is a 29-year-old superstar in his prime; that commands $30-plus million a season.
The Rockies would get a king’s ransom for Arenado. Back in February, WSCR 670 AM’S Bruce Levine reported that the St. Louis Cardinals offered Colorado right-handers Dakota Hudson and Carlos Martinez, top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, and outfielder Tyler O’Neill for Arenado (h/t @MattSpiegel670).
The aforementioned offer is respectable. However, the Rockies could do better. We’re talking about a player who’s possibly the second-best player in the sport behind Mike Trout potentially under contract for the next eight seasons — if he doesn’t opt-out of the final six years of the deal.
Arenado has a boatload of leverage. If he wants to leave Colorado he can opt-out after 2021, which could nudge the Rockies to trade him. Imagine if they roll the dice on Arenado changing his mind, he doesn’t do as such, and they lose him to free agency for nothing.
Perhaps this was the plan all along? Sign Arenado to a long-term deal, and if we don’t contend over the next two years he gets moved to restock the farm system. Besides, if the Rockies accepted that deal from the Cardinals they’d potentially be getting three starting pitchers.
The Rockies also have an elite offense. With the likes of Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, Daniel Murphy, Ian Desmond, and Ryan McMahon present, manager Bud Black‘s lineup could still be among the most productive in the sport without Nolan Arenado.
This is a team that went into 2019 fresh off two National League Wild Card Game appearances. They were well-versed around the diamond and on the mound. The Rockies ended 2018 with reason to be optimistic about their starting rotation, a traditional weakness of their organization. Then Kyle Freeland, who finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2018, fell off a cliff, and German Marquez, who logged 230 strikeouts in 2018, wasn’t as effective with his off-speed pitches.
We’ve seen bizarre and/or ugly finishes to stars’ runs with their homegrown team. Over the last two years the Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts, and Bryce Harper left the Washington Nationals in free agency; these situations can happen to any team.
When Arenado inked his extension it was a star staying with a contender. It quickly became a star on a team mulling a new direction, one deemed unimaginable a year ago.
Can their relationship be fixed? Maybe. Fixed to the point where Arenado can ensure the Rockies that he won’t leave after two years? We don’t know.
The Colorado faithful could argue the Rockies, who won 178 games from 2017-18, could have a bounce-back season given their core remains in place, especially in a truncated 2020 campaign. Can such a resurgence keep Arenado’s heart in Denver?
It’s a unique situation and one that’s difficult to get a gauge on. It’s in the best interest of both sides to get on the same page, pronto. If they don’t, they’ll each look like fools when it’s all said and done.
Given the COVID-19 issue and uncertainty of playing before full crowds next year, the teams are going to be in much worse shape financially. If Arenado opts out, he might be hard pressed to get $30 million a year on a new deal in 2022. Mookie Betts will be a good barometer this off-season.