I hate to give you too much of a history lesson before we jump into the new stuff, but seeing as last year feels like it happened about two decades ago, it might be useful for us today.
Just before the 2019 season, the Colorado Rockies signed Nolan Arenado to a massive eight-year, $260 million extension with an opt-out after the 2021 season, a full no-trade clause, and, most importantly, a pinky-promise that they’d spend more on the roster, build around him, and really try to be competitive in the NL West over the course of his deal.
Unfortunately, the Rockies finished 35 games out of first place in 2019 and seemingly changed course on their plans (and their promise to Arenado). This led to a very public falling out between the star third baseman and the Rockies GM. And just one year after signing a massive extension, Arenado was on the trade block, ready to waive his no-trade clause to get out of Colorado. As you may recall, the Cubs were rumored to be involved at almost every step along the way, as they looked to trade a short-term star third baseman of their own and bring in a long-term third baseman with a different style of bat, but ultimately nothing came of it for either side.
And that brings us to today and the latest from Ken Rosenthal, who suggests that the Rockies are at least as willing to trade Arenado this offseason as they were last year, with three fairly notable updates.
1. Moving From Arenado to Story
First, in the face of (1) unprecedented financial challenges, (2) the falling out between Arenado and GM Jeff Bridich, (3) Arenado’s weak/injured 2020 season, and (4) Trevor Story’s continued prominence, but impending free agency, the Colorado Rockies may have shifted their focus from one infielder to the other. According to Rosenthal, Colorado’s new long-term plan may be to make Story (a free agent after next season) the centerpiece of the franchise for the long-term (instead of Arenado), while ditching as much money from the Arenado deal as possible.
2. A Different Type of Return
Although the Rockies had previously sought a prospect-centric return for Arenado, that may not be the case anymore, and that’s a significant development:
“What is the best way for the Rockies to adjust when Monfort still intends for the team to contend? To trade Arenado for major leaguers, not prospects, then sign Story long-term and make him the team’s new centerpiece.”
Obviously, for a team like the Cubs, this makes all the difference in the world. It remains extraordinarily unlikely that Chicago would want to take on the money left on Arenado’s deal at this point (more on that in a minute), but I’m not going to ignore the fact that they were heavily involved in these trade talks last winter and were widely expected to pursue Arenado when he was going to be a free agent before that. Moreover, there was evidence that the Cubs were trying to offload major leaguers in such a deal, including Kris Bryant.
Clearly, there’s interest here and this fundamental change in the desired return works heavily in the Cubs favor (and preferences, for that matter). The current market throws everything for a loop, but in a world where the Rockies are looking for big league pieces, it becomes more interesting, especially because the Cubs’ budget might loosen up a bit after next year.
3. Pushing Back the Opt-Out
Money aside, one of the biggest hurdles to any Arenado deal was agreeing on value. And it was so hard to agree on value because of Arenado’s 2021 opt-out. Even if both teams found a way to eliminate the issue of money (which is no small hurdle), the fact that Arenado could have opted out after 2021 (now just one, potentially shortened season away) loomed large.
But now, Rosenthal writes that Arenado, 29, would “almost certainly” be willing to push back his opt out to a later date in order to get a deal done. That’s likely in part because it has less value than ever (do you really want to opt-out in 2021, during CBA negotiations and just a few months after two of the toughest financial seasons in MLB history, relatively speaking?). But his flexibility is important.
Okay, So Let’s Talk About the Money
On the one hand, Arenado is due $35 million less than he was last season – and he’s now two years through his deal – and that’s not nothing. What was once eight years and $260 million is now six years and $199 million. Of course, that’s still an average of $33 million per year over the next six years, including $35M annually from 2021-2024. That’s tough, particularly in the short-term.
However, if the Rockies are (1) willing to eat some of that money, which seems likely, and (2) are legitimately interested in a big league return as Rosenthal suggested, we can pretty quickly see how that might be a problem that addresses itself.
I’m not going to get into specifics with Cubs players – mostly because it’d all be speculation based on last year’s rumors – but suffice it to say, if big league contracts are on the table, there’s reason to believe the near-term financial impact may be far less of a roadblock than it initially appeared.
Well, with (1) one less year of control, (2) a contract that looks FAR worse based on the current financial environment, and (3) every indication that Arenado still wants out of Colorado, I’d say the Rockies have lost a ton of leverage in these talks. And Arenado’s performance certainly didn’t help them out.
You can say we’ll ignore the results of 2020 all you want – and to an extent, it’s true – but you can bet the Rockies would have greatly preferred (solely for the sake of leverage) that Arenado did not slash .253/.303/.434 (76 wRC+) in 2020 – which was by far the worst offensive performance of his career. He did win his eighth Gold Glove in a row this season, but the offense evaporated and he even ended the season on Injured List with a sore shoulder.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
Well, the Rockies …
1. Are just as willing as ever to trade Nolan Arenado,
2. Would forego prospects in any such deal, and
3. Have lost leverage, in terms of performance, control, and the current financial environment.
Meanwhile, Arenado …
4. Is willing to move back the date of his opt-out
5. Is due $35 million less than he was last year, and
6. Is still desperate to get out of Colorado
So for a team like the Cubs, who’ve …
7. Reportedly targeted Arenado twice before
8. Have big league pieces they’d *strongly* prefer to move over prospects
9. Are trying desperately to shake up their lineup
10. And could afford Arenado only by moving out the money owed to big league players …
I’d say this is probably something to keep an eye on. These sort of massive deals, with big league players and lots of money changing hands are incredibly complicated and rare for a reason. But there is previous smoke here and a lot of incentive, on both sides, for something to get done. We’re not on a rumor watch just yet, but I’d definitely keep this one in the back of your mind as we begin the offseason.