The Waiting Game: Does Arenado Stay or Go? Rockies Weigh Options

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The Rockies feel the foundation for success is in place.

That doesn’t mean they will resist making some tweaks to the roster.

It does mean they aren’t in a hurry to start a dismantling.

They are not the Diamondbacks. Facing a financial crunch because of the $104.5 million they owe 35-year-old Zach Greinke over the next three seasons, the D-Backs are shedding payroll considering an 8-20 finish to 2018 that saw them fade from first to third in the NL West. They recently traded the clubhouse pillar, Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals, and let left-hander Patrick Corbin depart as a free agent to pare payroll. Free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock is expected to be the next to go.

The Rockies, meanwhile, are looking at a club-record Opening Day payroll for the sixth year in a row. They are looking to add to their roster, not tear it down. And most of all, they are looking to sign potential free agent Nolan Arenado to a long-term deal, not shop him.

At least not yet.

“The nice thing is we don’t feel we have to make a slew of changes to the team,” said general manager Jeff Bridich. “We are very comfortable and very happy in so much of what we have on this team.”

Here’s the key for the Arenado situation.

He is one of the game’s elite impact players.

The Rockies feel they have a chance to build off the back-to-back post-season appearances, which include last season when after 162 games they were tied with the Dodgers for the NL West lead, only to lose a Game 163 at Los Angeles. That kept them from winning the first division title in their 26-year history, but they still had a wild-card berth, allowing them to make post-season appearances in back-to-back seasons for the first time.

And they know Arenado, who doesn’t even turn 28 until April 16, is a cornerstone for success.

That’s why amid the hub bub of the Winter Meetings, where rumors take on a life of their own, Bridich and the Rockies remain calm, looking to sign Arenado to a multi-year deal that would keep him from becoming a free-agent next fall.

It’s not out of the question to think Arenado could get $30 million a year or more and given his age it is likely he could wind up with a seven-year deal. He is headed into his final year of arbitration eligibility and if an agreement isn’t reached it is a slam dunk that Arenado will break the record $23 million deal Josh Donaldson signed a year ago to avoid arbitration with the Blue Jays.

Bridich doesn’t blink in discussion the matter, although, as usual, he avoids specifics.

“Our payroll has grown a lot over the past half-decade, and we’re continuing to plan on, as I’ve said in the past, responsible growth,” Bridich said. “We’re not in a holding pattern. We’re not where we’re drawing back on our payroll. We believe that we can continue to grow responsibly.”

They aren’t going to go crazy. That isn’t Bridich. He is the strong silent type, not the stereo-typical young general manager, who is craving attention.

“It’s not going to grow by huge, huge, huge jumps every single year, but we’ve made some commitments that we believe in, gives we believe in,” he said. “We signed Charlie Blackmon this past year to a long-term deal.”

Here’s the kicker in the six-year, $108 million package Blackmon accepted – he has the right to opt out in any of the final three years.

That could easily become a path the Rockies could follow with Arenado, although the toll for that route on Arenado could be close to double what was guaranteed Arenado.

The Rockies, however, don’t need to panic. They don’t need to scurry around this off-season feeling they have to sign or deal Arenado as soon as possible.

Yes, there are plenty of teams that would love to have Arenado, but if he stays healthy his value is going to remain high. Unless the Rockies can get a deal that meets all their expectations this off-season patience will be their virtue.

The Rockies could readily open the season with Arenado a pending free agent. They would wait until the July 31 trading deadline to decide whether Arenado should stay or go.

It would let them have more time to try and work out a deal.

It would let them have more time to see if they meet expectations and retain their role as a key factor in the NL West race that considering the D-backs housecleaning, and the ongoing breakdown-rebuild of the Padres and Giants is becoming a two-team showdown between the Rockies and the Dodgers. With a chance to win a division, the Rockies know it would be worth the gamble that they could lose Arenado at season-end.

It would still leave them with the opportunity for a high return if they decided to move him prior to the trading deadline. Arenado’s value could be higher in late July than it is in December because of what he could mean to a team focused on a stretch run, not long-term roster stability.

It would give the Rockies more time to work out details on a deal if Arenado wants to stay.

And that would give the Rockies and their fans something to celebrate.