As we laid out earlier this week, the Nolan Arenado trade rumors are going to be a thing again this offseason. Probably a big thing, as I’m fairly well convinced the Rockies are gonna try like heck to move him.
And, as Michael explained, the circumstances are such that the Rockies will have a very limited possible trade pool, where the Cubs might actually be in a more plausible position to make that deal happen now than they even were last year. Ironic, given the money involved and the state of the financials, but the Cubs have a whole lot of short-term money they could move, while having the ability to take on longer-term money (albeit with some eaten by the Rockies). Not every organization is in quite that sweet spot.
Throw in the fact that the Cubs haven’t been able to lock down Kris Bryant (a third baseman) long-term, perhaps preferring instead to move him this offseason, and you just have to understand that every time Arenado (oh wow a third baseman) and the Cubs comes up, it’s going to be in the context of a deal that features a swap of the two (plus all the other financial and roster rejiggering to make the deal work). It’s what was reportedly discussed last offseason, too.
To that end, the Rockies beat man for The Athletic, Nick Groke, was asked about Arenado and Bryant in his mailbag today. In these situations, I think it’s mighty important to get the local perspective, as that helps us see things from both sides a little better, rather than just entrenching into “well this is what makes sense for the Cubs.”
Would the Rockies go for a trade of Nolan Arenado to the Cubs for Kris Bryant and David Bote?
– Wayne W.
This idea crept up last year, too. It’s interesting. And you added Bote, a Colorado native, as a sweetener to make it even more difficult. The trade you’re talking about is one year of Arenado in exchange for one year of Bryant and four years of Bote. And that is kind of like pushing pieces around. That trade is probably not worth the effort for either side, although adding Bote would be a nice kicker for the Rockies.
The problem is, the Cubs could end up on the hook for five more years of Arenado and nearly $200 million if he doesn’t opt out. And they might not be willing to do that. That’s murky. The Cubs are in a weird spot right now, with GM Theo Epstein perhaps in his final season in Chicago. They might want the Rockies to add a bunch of cash to the deal to pay down that risk. At that point, Bryant and Arenado even out for a year, and the Rockies are essentially signing Bote to a big contract. That’s not really what they’re looking for.
Add this to the list of why an Arenado trade is so complicated.
Lots of thoughts …
When Groke says “one year of Arenado,” he’s referring to Arenado’s ability to opt out after the 2021 season, so yes, technically, all you’re guaranteed to get in return is one year of Arenado. HOWEVA, given the market and Arenado’s down/injured 2020 season, it’s absolutely impossible for me to imagine a world where he opts out after 2021 when he’s looking at $164 million over the following five years. OK, it’s not actually impossible for me to imagine, but it’s functionally impossible. If you acquire Arenado, you’re getting a six-year, $199 million deal, and the dollars would have to be sorted out accordingly.
Groke sees the trade as a wash – Arenado for Bryant – and the Rockies essentially just getting Bote as if they’d signed him to a free agent deal. Arenado’s contract is discussed as though it’s just kind of a side consideration, rather than the entire thrust of a deal like this. With all due deference to the local perspective, I can’t quite wrap my head around that one. The entire reason the Rockies would want to engage in a deal like this is precisely *TO* off-load as much of Arenado’s contract as possible, and if they can get a valuable player in return (who could either help them surprise in 2021, or, more likely, become a mid-season trade piece), that’s all the better. To have Bote, 27, included would be a good get for the Rockies, as I don’t agree that he’s effectively on a “big” free agent contract ($13 million over the next four years).
All that said, Groke does ultimately get at the heart of the issue here, which is that finding the financial level where the Rockies are happy to be rid of X% of the contract and the Cubs are happy to take on Y% of the contract is pretty tricky. The teams aren’t going to do it just to push pieces around, and if the Rockies are going to eat a ton, well, then the Cubs will have to include serious value (probably quite a bit more than Bote). If the Rockies aren’t going to eat a ton, well, then the Cubs are just better off keeping Bryant and seeing what happens after 2021.
By the way, the part of the question that gets into Bote is almost beside the point. You can play with the other stuff in so many different directions if you’re trying to make an Arenado-Bryant deal work. You can play with the dollars directly, you could play with more contracts coming from the Cubs, you could play with more young talent (and less dollars) coming from the Rockies, and so on and so forth.
Ultimately, here’s how this whole thing breaks down with Arenado and the Cubs. If you could get Arenado with the Rockies eating a huge chunk of his deal, you’d love to do that. Arenado is still only 29, he’d be locked up long-term on a good deal (for your team), and he provides a different kind of bat (higher contract rate, more consistency, more balls in play). Oh, and historically he’s a super elite defender with a top-tier bat. The Cubs don’t have a third baseman “on the way” behind Bryant, and if they aren’t going to lock up Bryant, well, then, maybe you think about going this route.
The risks with Arenado are health (hadn’t been a question until the shoulder soreness this year), the opt-out (like I said before, feels pretty close to zero), and playing outside of Coors Field (his splits are rough, but there’s a decent bit of data that suggests guys can actually succeed just fine when they aren’t hampered by the NEGATIVE impact of coming and going from Coors so often).
In a way – to borrow from Groke, but in a different direction – it’s almost like you’re being asked whether you want to see the Cubs sign Nolan Arenado in free agency to a six-year, say, $120 million contract. The answer is an extreme and obvious yes, right? Then, you’re told the Cubs would also have to give up one year of Kris Bryant in the process (at a salary that probably makes him value-neutral, sadly), as well as a quality prospect or player (or some other form of value). Again, you’re strongly thinking about doing that deal, yes?
That means the question turns back to the Rockies: how eager are they to dump as much of Arenado’s contract as possible? I think the answer is “very,” but we’ll see what happens.