The Colorado Rockies are reportedly 50-50 on keeping franchise player Nolan Arenado, but trading him now would be a huge mistake.
Perennial MVP candidate Nolan Arenado is only a year into his seven-year, $260-million contract extension with the Colorado Rockies, but the team is apparently already getting cold feet about the biggest deal in franchise history. Rumblings out of Colorado keep indicating an increasing likelihood that Arenado will be dealt before the end of the offseason. The Rockies took a huge step back in 2019 after making the playoffs two years in a row, finishing 71-91 and allowing 958 runs, their worst pitching performance since installing humidors to combat the altitude at Coors Field.
While most mid-market teams have gone the opposite direction when it comes to keeping their homegrown superstars, the Rockies had been bucking the leaguewide trend, finding the cash to extend Arenado and All-Star center fielder Charlie Blackmon. There have also been notable massive whiffs by the front office on aging free agents like Ian Desmond (a low-average, low-OBP shortstop turned center fielder turned first baseman), who is still owed $23 million and has an OPS+ of 82 in three years with the Rockies, and closer Wade Davis, owed $17 million in 2020 and coming off a year in which he allowed 41 runs in 42.2 innings.
The Rockies, however, weren’t a bad team in 2019 because Desmond and Davis underperformed. They slumped back below .500 because young starters Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez had terrible years. The offense remained strong, Arenado lived up to his contract with another MVP-caliber season, Blackmon had a .940 OPS, Trevor Story had the best year of his career and former top prospect David Dahl bounced back from multiple lingering injuries to hit 15 home runs in 100 games.
It’s not too difficult to squint your eyes and picture the Rockies shaking off their down year in 2019 and contending again in this upcoming season. As has always been the case, building a sustainable winner in Denver comes down to the ability of young pitchers to hold up to the rigors of pitching at 5,280 feet above sea level. The Rockies thought they had it all coming together with Freeland, Senzatela, Marquez and their best young arm, Jon Gray. There are bound to be bumps in the road, but the rotation is young enough to rebound.
If the Rockies trade Arenado this winter, they will be admitting defeat and giving up on their young pitchers. A trade of the franchise star after just one year of his extension would be a signal to every young pitcher on the roster that the organization does not believe they can make the necessary changes and adjustments this winter to get things pointed back in the right direction. The Rockies have worked for their entire existence to develop a pitching model that works at Coors Field and were headed in the right direction. It’s not time to blow things up after one rocky season.
What’s more, it remains unclear what Colorado could hope to acquire in return for Arenado. Trading him for hitting prospects makes little sense given the team’s long history of being able to draft and develop All-Star position players on its own. Flipping Arenado for top pitching prospects also defies logic. If the Rockies trade him, they will effectively be throwing up their hands in defeat on their current crop of pitchers but expecting their approach to work with a different group. That makes no sense. It also becomes difficult extracting fair value on the trade market for a player making over $35 million per year, at a time when Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor are also available to some degree. The entire thing reads like a front office grasping at straws after one bad season instead of remaining patient and trusting their players and coaches to right the ship on their own.
There is no reason for ownership to be pinching pennies at this time. They just signed a new TV deal, drew nearly 3,000,000 fans last year and play in one of the fastest-growing and prosperous cities in America. Arenado is only 28 and continuing to get better. His contract captures only his prime years, ending after his age-34 season. It is too early to pull the plug on the roster and move Arenado, especially with so much money coming off the books after 2021. The Rockies have only $55 million committed to their roster for 2022. By that point, they will be able to reset and completely overhaul a roster around Arenado as he enters his age-31 season.