Nolan Arenado's Righteous Stand Puts Rockies in a Bind as Trade Rumors Swirl

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2020

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 22:  Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies prepares to bat against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a game at Coors Field on August 22, 2018 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Maybe things will work out between Nolan Arenado and the Colorado Rockies. The coming years still might be filled with elite production on his part and plenty of wins on theirs.

But in light of what's going on right now, "fat chance" is the only appropriate response to this scenario.

Though Arenado has recently been a popular figure in trade rumors, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich tried to put the kibosh on the superstar third baseman actually going anywhere this offseason. He told Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post on Monday that the organization means to "move forward pretty much as we expected—with Nolan in the purple and black and as our third baseman."

Not long after Bridich went public with his stance, however, Arenado reached out to SaundersTroy Renck of Denver7 ABC and Thomas Harding of MLB.com to broadcast how he felt disrespected. Not at merely being involved in trade rumors, mind you, but more so in a more general way on Bridich's part.

"Jeff is very disrespectful. I never talk trash or anything," Arenado texted to Renck. "I play hard, keep my mouth shut. But I can only get crossed so many times."

Arenado didn't elaborate any further, but sources told ESPN's Jeff Passan that the 28-year-old's disdain "centered on the Rockies' winter of inaction less than a year after the team signed Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million contract extension."

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies is congratulated by players after he scored in the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on September 26, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Phot
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When Arenado signed his contract last February—which momentarily set a record for position players with its $32.5 million average annual value—both he and the Rockies were in a good place.

The 2018 season marked Arenado's fourth straight year as an All-Star, Gold Glover and Silver Slugger. The Rockies, meanwhile, drew over 3 million fans to Coors Field en route to their second straight postseason berth.

According to Nick Groke of The Athletic, the Rockies promised Arenado that his contract wouldn't get in the way of them building a lasting contender around him. However, they didn't hold to that as they neglected to do anything to keep their 2019 season on the rails as it careened to a 91-loss thud.

Likewise, they haven't spent a penny in free agency this winter. Factor in how they also haven't made any trades, and their current plan for 2020 comes down to hoping for better results out of the same roster they had last season.

There are times when a "not for lack of trying" disclaimer can be attached to an especially quiet offseason. But that isn't the case here, as owner Dick Monfort all but bowed out of free agency on the first day of October:

The Rockies are projected to spend more in 2020 ($160 million) than they did in all of 2019 ($153 million), and a good chunk of their money is tied up in free-agent flops. To wit, they owe Ian Desmond, Wade Davis, Daniel Murphy, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw a combined $58.5 million this season.

But while this is a decent excuse for the Rockies to have cold feet in free agency, Monfort's insistence that the money isn't there simply doesn't fly. The organization does indeed have a new TV contract, and its attendance just missed the 3 million mark in 2019 despite its lackluster on-field product.

It isn't difficult to see where Arenado is coming from. If the Rockies don't want to make improvements, then they aren't all-in. And if they don't want to trade him, they aren't all-out, either. They're staying the course in the worst possible way.

By letting the Rockies know where he stands, Arenado has effectively given them the option of going through one of three doors:

  • Door No. 1: Continuing to carry an obviously disgruntled star
  • Door No. 2: Attempting to appease said star by adding some talent around him
  • Door No. 3: Going through with a trade after all

Arenado's mood won't improve if he stays in Denver and the Rockies continue to lose games at the same rate as they did in 2019. Even if they manage to shed some bad contracts, the free-agent market doesn't have much to help them at this point. That leaves the trade market as the best means for the Rockies to improve, but their weak farm system is an issue on that front.

This makes Door No. 3 the most practical choice for the Rockies, but getting a satisfactory return for Arenado just became that much more difficult.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

There's little point in quibbling over Arenado's ability. He's averaged a .937 OPS with 40 home runs and 6.2 wins above replacement over the last five seasons, according to Baseball Reference.

His contract, on the other hand, is a conundrum. In addition to the $234 million he's owed through 2026, it's also complicated by a full no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2021.

Even before Arenado spoke out, it was hard to imagine the Rockies doing a trade that involved dumping his entire contract and getting top-notch prospects in return. Now that he has, the writing on the wall that he wants out won't be good for the Rockies' leverage if they re-open trade talks.

While this is bad news for them, it's potentially great news for the clubs that would benefit from having Arenado at the hot corner. That includes the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and perhaps even the Chicago Cubs.

If the Rockies do trade Arenado, the deal will likely resemble the one that sent Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins to the New York Yankees in 2017. As in, more or less a straight-up salary dump.

No one should waste any level of sympathy on the Rockies. They had the right idea in wanting to lock up Arenado for the foreseeable future. But by punting on making his pact with the team count for something, they've pushed themselves into the no-win situation they're now facing.

             

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource, via FanGraphs.