Yankees Should Save Free Agency Blank Check for Superstar 3B Nolan Arenado

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2018

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2018, photo, Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado warms up before a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Denver. Arenado believes he's wired for winning just a little more intensely than others. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The New York Yankees should throw all their resources at a superstar in the midst of his prime. Before you accuse us of rewarming hot-stove leftovers, know this: Said superstar isn't Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

In fact, the Yanks almost assuredly can't get the player in question this winter. Sometimes, good things come to those who wait.

Or, in the case of third baseman Nolan Arenado, great things. 

A four-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner, Arenado is entering his age-28 season with the Colorado Rockies. It's also his last year before he can test free agency.

Assuming the Rockies don't lock him into an extension, he'll be a coveted commodity this time next year. If the Yankees are wise, they'll save the money they could blow on Harper or Machado and allocate it to Arenado instead.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Harper and Machado are indeed enticing. Each is 26 years old. Harper has accumulated 30.7 WAR between 2012 and 2018 by FanGraphs' calculation, the 12th-most in baseball. Machado ranks 15th at 30.2. Both players could command paydays in excess of $400 million and bring hype and personality to spare.

After winning 100 games but falling to the archrival Boston Red Sox in the postseason, New York may be tempted to splurge.

Keep in mind, however, that Harper's batting average fell from .319 in 2017 to .249 in 2018 for the Washington Nationals, while his OPS dipped from 1.008 to .889. Machado also suffered a statistical decline after a July 18 trade from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he slashed .227/.278/.394 in the postseason while exhibiting dubious hustle

That doesn't make either guy a scrub. But the Yankees' biggest need is pitching.

Their starting rotation was exposed in the playoffs and could use upgrades even after the team acquired James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in a Nov. 19 trade. Meanwhile, in the bullpen, the Yanks might lose Zach Britton and David Robertson to free agency. 

That should be general manager Brian Cashman's priority this winter: arms, arms and more arms. Then, next offseason, he can turn his attention to Arenado.

Do you require more convincing? Since 2015, Arenado has led the National League in home runs three times and twice paced the pack in RBI. His defensive prowess at the hot corner speaks for itself, but let's conjure a visual aid:

Arenado plies his trade at Coors Field. Home-away splits are fair game in any discussion of his offensive credentials. Indeed, he's posted a much higher OPS at home (.984) than on the road (.787).

But it's not as if the Bronx Bombers reside in a pitcher's park. In 2018, Coors was the second-most hitter-happy yard, according to ESPN's Park Factors metric, while Yankee Stadium ranked sixth. Arenado could doubtless take advantage of New York's friendly confines, as Yankees hitters did for half their games en route to a single-season record of 267 home runs in 2018.

New York is theoretically set at third base with AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar. The 23-year-old's 27 home runs and .855 OPS jump off the stat sheet.

The defensive measures aren't as kind. In 2018, Andujar's minus-16 ultimate zone rating was bad, and his minus-25 defensive runs saved were ugly. A move across the diamond to first base would be in his and the team's best interest.

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which would seem to make Machado an attractive target. But Gregorius could return between June and August, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, meaning New York could muddle through in the interim.    

Arenado is older than Harper and Machado. He's expected to earn a record-setting $26.1 million in his final year of arbitration, per MLB Trade Rumors. There are reasons to raise an eyebrow. Then again, Arenado might be a surer bet than Bryce and Manny, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic outlined:

"[Arenado's] only career trip to the DL, for a fractured left middle finger, was in 2014. Machado has been comparably durable the past four seasons, but had surgeries on both knees earlier in his career. Harper played in a career-high 159 games last season, but some executives fear his violent actions make him susceptible to injury."

The Rockies won't let their franchise cornerstone walk without a fight. But the Yankees are the Yankees. They can offer Arenado center stage and an opportunity to play alongside generational sluggers such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Arenado acknowledged his desire to win in July and hinted at a change of scenery. 

"Look, I've lost every year I've been here," he said, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "Winning is the No. 1 thing for me, and I'm only getting older."

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Colorado beat the Chicago Cubs in the 2018 NL Wild Card Game but fell in a sweep during its National League Division Series matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers. Arenado still hasn't grabbed the brass ring.

New York is the epicenter of winning in MLB, with 27 titles to prove it. It's a huge market where untold riches await. It can throw its resources at the best third baseman in the game in his prime—and it should.

Sometimes, great things come to those who wait. 

            

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs

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