In signing an eight-year, $260 million contract with the Rockies last spring that included an opt-out clause after three seasons, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado was emphatic about his excitement over the deal.
“It’s such a great place,” Arenado said. “I really enjoy the fact there’s a comfortability here. You know the coaches. You know the players. Some of my best friends are on this team. I grew up in this organization. It feels like home in a way. I’ve been here since the tide changes and that’s a good feeling. I was a part of the chance. You want to win in a place where you’ve been all your life.”
By the end of the 2019 season, it wasn’t all giggles and grins. A Rockies team that has the same fundamental roster that advanced to the post-season the two previous seasons battled injuries from Opening Day until season’s end in 2019, and had to win on the final day of the season to avoid a last-place finish.
As the season wound down, Arenado publicly expressed dismay.
“This is something nobody expected, but it is. There’s no running away from it. It is what it is. … It feels like a rebuild.”
Red flags were raised, and as the off-season began, general manager Jeff Bridich began fielding inquiries from other teams about the availability of Arenado, which has led to oning speculation from the media about whether Arenado will return to the Rockies in 2020 or move on.
The possibility of a trade isn’t as easy as many seem to believe:
- The Rockies aren’t looking for prospects. They have the nucleus that is under 30, and was solid enough to claim an NL Wild-Card in 2017 and 2018, including forcing a Game 163 with the Dodgers to decide who was the NL West champion and who was a Wild-Card.
Having beset with injuries that were particularly brutal on their starting rotation, which by mid-August did not include any of the pitchers considered among the top seven starters coming out of spring.
The Rockies are confident that the nucleus of the roster that took the team to back-to-back post-season appearances for the first time in franchise history is capable of rebounding from the disappointing 2019, which is why they are not looking at a rebuild that would mean prospects in return for Arenado.
And it starts with their starting pitching.
What was easily overlooked by outsiders was the consistency that both Jon Gray and German Marquez showed, giving the Rockies confidence they have a 1-2 punch for the rotation in 2020, plus the late season surge by Chi Chi Gonzalez, who after missing two years because of an eventual Tommy John surgery, picked up four-to-five miles of velocity in September, and had a hard break on his breaking pitches.
Then there is the expectation of a rebound in 2020 for Kyle Freeland, a 2019 Cy Young finalist, who struggled throwing strikes, wound up with a visit to Triple-A Colorado Springs, and is now reunited with Darryl Scott, the new bullpen coach who worked with Freeland in the minor leagues and has spent the off-season with Freeland at the Rockies Salt River Fields facility in Scottsdale.
-- The ultimate decision rests with Arenado. He has a full no-trade, and he has made it clear in recent years that if he were to leave the Rockies his desire is to return to Southern California, where he grew up. The Dodgers were his team as a youth.
It, however, is unlikely the Rockies would deal him to a team in the NL West, particularly the Dodgers.
And with the media flurry focusing on a list of leading candidates in the pursuit of Arenado that includes the Rangers, Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, Nationals and White Sox it is safe to say none of those meet the criteria Arenado has expressed as a landing spot he would desire if he left Colorado.
-- Arenado has the right to opt-out after the 2021 season, and given his desire to play on the West Coast if he is not with the Rockies the odds of him giving up that escape clause would seem unlikely.
-- The Rockies aren’t desperate to move Arenado. They honestly feel last year was an outlier, and given the youth of their roster they expect to be a factor next October.
-- Given the fact the Rockies aren’t anxiously shopping Arenado they are not about to pick up any of the $234 million he is guaranteed over the next seven seasons.
And while they are at, if they do reach a point where it seems they will deal Arenado don’t be surprised if the kicker to a deal is the other team has to pick up the remaining contracts for relievers Jake McGee (one year, $9.5 million guarantee with a $2 million buyout on a $9 million ption in 2021) and/or Brian Shaw (one-year, $9 million guarantee with an option for 2021 at $9 million with $2 million buyout but an automatic vesting if he appears in 40 games this year).