After months of speculation, the Rockies appear to have nailed down Nolan Arenado, coming to terms on an eight-year, $260 million contract extension that, if he doesn’t opt out after three years, will keep him with the only franchise he has ever known through the year 2026, when he is 35 years old. That’s the highest average annual value (AAV) of any position-player contract in baseball history, though it’s possible (though hardly certain) that Bryce Harper will break that record in the next few days.
After waiting seemingly all winter for some exciting baseball news, we’ve now had huge contracts for two of baseball’s best players go down in the last week (Manny Machado and Arenado). The ripple effects of Arenado’s extension will be felt around baseball for years to come. Here are five players and three teams who are immediately on notice … who will feel the aftershocks of this deal most acutely.
1) Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Is Bryant better than Arenado? Bryant had a higher WAR the first two years of his career (per Baseball Reference), but Arenado has bested him the last two. Bryant is nine months younger than Arenado, but he still has two more years to go after this one until he hits free agency. The Cubs and Bryant don’t seem particularly close on a potential extension agreement, leading to the non-zero possibility that the free-agent market that follows the 2021 season features Bryant, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. (A year after Mike Trout, no less.)
Because Bryant has less leverage, and will hit free agency later than Arenado would have, he at this point would have to feel fortunate to get the extension that Arenado got. But considering his ties to the Cubs -- you know, the team for whom he fielded the ground ball that won them their first World Series in more than a century – are as closely bonded as Arenado is to the Rockies, this could end up one of the most fascinating stories in the sport over the next three seasons.
2) Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals
The Cardinals traded for Goldschmidt this offseason with the explicit desire to sign him long term. Now they have an even better idea of what he might cost. Goldschmidt, 31, is four years older than Arenado, which should theoretically keep the length of his contract shorter, if not necessarily the AAV. Now Goldschmidt and the Cardinals have a baseline to work from. Goldschmidt plays a less-premium defensive position, and one that teams have been hesitant to spend heavily on in recent years. Does this make Goldschmidt more likely to enter the market next offseason, or less? If the Cardinals offered, say, $150 million over five years -- which means he would be a year older than Arenado when his deal finishes -- would Goldschmidt take it?
The Cardinals had been eyeing Arenado for years. With him no longer available, does this put more pressure on them to get something done with Goldschmidt? This is a lot of discussion for a guy who has yet to play a regular-season game for the Cardinals.
3) Bryce Harper, OF, free agent
You can be certain that Harper's agent, Scott Boras, has his calculator out now, trying to figure out the ways to get Harper’s deal above the numbers $300 million (Machado’s total amount) and $32.5 million (Arenado’s AAV). It is possible that Harper and Boras might be able to beat one of those numbers, but not both. Here’s a question: Would Harper take the exact deal Arenado got? That opt-out would look even tastier for Harper, who is a year younger than Arenado. Or would taking a deal with those numbers mean “losing” to Machado? There are reports that Harper is planning on signing a deal this week. The clock is ticking.
4) Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Look who now has the third base free-agent market to himself next year. (Unless Josh Donaldson has a monster year in Atlanta, which isn’t impossible to see happening.) Rendon is one of the more unappreciated great players in the game, ranking fourth in bWAR among third basemen over the last three seasons, less than 2 WAR behind Bryant and Justin Turner (all of whom trail Arenado). If you’re a team that needs a third baseman from 2020 on (the Red Sox? The Yankees? The Braves? The Cardinals if they don’t sign Goldschmidt?), he’s now your best bet.
Rendon says he’s “up for” a contract extension, and the Nationals, if they lose Harper (as now appears likely), could probably get him for a little less than Arenado signed for; for all Rendon’s excellence, after all, he still hasn’t made an All-Star team. But even if the fans don’t quite grasp Rendon’s value, teams do. If he ends up hitting free agency next season, with Arenado gone, he’s probably the top name on the market.
5) Mike Trout, OF, Angels
If there’s one person studying all these extensions and free-agent deals with a particularly curious eye, it has to be Trout, who is, of course, the best player in baseball and would hit free agency after the 2020 season, exactly one year after Arenado would have. (And is somehow three months younger.) If Harper isn’t the player who can beat both Arenado’s AAV and Machado’s total contract value, Trout certainly is.
The baseline for a Trout extension at this point probably has to look at the absolute minimum, around 10 years, $350 million … and it’ll surely be more than that. Will the Angels give him that now? Considering that franchise’s struggles, and the fact that the Yankees and Phillies didn’t end up signing Machado, Arenado or (probably) Harper, why wouldn’t Trout sit back and let those two teams (and whoever else) just bid and bid and bid? Every record-setting contract just raises the bar for Trout. This one, the next one, and every one.
And the teams:
All right, Rockies: You just had your second-best season in franchise history and now you’ve nailed down your best player since Todd Helton (and maybe ever). Now it’s time to finally win that division title. The Rockies around Arenado are a little older than you might realize -- four of the eight lineup spots are 32 or older -- and while David Dahl and Trevor Story are young, the Rockies don’t have a ton of reinforcements in the Minors, with just two prospects ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, one of whom is a third baseman (Colton Welker). The rotation has never been better, which means the time for the Rockies to strike is this precise moment. Arenado can opt out three years from now, after all. They need to give him ample opportunities to increase that .190 lifetime postseason batting average he’s sitting on.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have won six consecutive National League West titles and are built to be in perpetual contention: This franchise wants that elusive World Series title, and badly. But they sure have gotten some straight-ahead challenges in the last week, haven’t they? With Arenado and Machado now direct threats in the division, the Dodgers just got their competitive floor raised. They only won 92 games last season, which was enough to clinch the NL West in 2018 but, by the looks of it, isn’t going to be nearly enough to do so moving forward. Do they feel the need to match the armament with Harper? Or maybe Trout down the line, or one of the other big free agents coming up? The NL West has stopped ceding to the Dodgers. How will they respond?
New York Yankees
It has been downright bizarre to see all this free-agent business happening and have the Yankees sitting most of it out, adding instead peripheral lineup pieces and bullpen arms. They’re going to go big at some point, right? Arenado was a clear potential target had he hit the market, but with him gone, their options have narrowed. Are they saving up for a run at Trout? (If so, following the Aaron Hicks extension, where are they going to play him?) Is Bryant the target? Lindor? Or are they really out of this game?
Arenado and the Yankees felt like a natural fit. Are there any natural fits that will end up hitting the market? If extensions are the new norm, what does that mean for, say, Aaron Judge? Everything ends up revolving around the Yankees in one way or another.