With Nolan Arenado trade rumors swirling, we asked analyst Mike Petriello to play the role of Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich and solicit theoretical offers for the All-Star third baseman from our Rangers, Cardinals and Braves beat reporters.
I’m not Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, but for the sake of this argument -- the one about where “I” might trade Nolan Arenado, and for how much -- we’re going to pretend I am.
Normally, the idea of trading one of the most elite players in the game wouldn’t even come across my desk. After all, Arenado is only turning 29 in April. He’s been an exemplary person and teammate in addition to his obvious on-the-field skills. And: It was a mere 11 months ago that we signed him to an eight-year, $260 million extension.
But friends, these are not normal times. Despite the usual great season from Arenado, we just lost 91 games, and even by the usual standards of difficulty pitching at altitude, the club’s 5.58 ERA was the third worst in club history.
Arenado has an opt-out following the 2021 season, and if he doesn’t feel we’re true contenders, he could pack up and walk, leaving us with nothing. We don’t want that, but we’re also not going to blow it all up and rebuild. We think we can make a run with Arenado this year, since we have most of the same pieces we had in 2017 and ‘18, so if you’re going to get us to give him up, you’d better be ready with players to help us right now -- not just far-away low Minors talent. (Though we’d take that, too.)
Since he has a no-trade clause, we’re only even entertaining this because he’s yet to tell us not to, and I’d be negligent in my duties if I didn’t at least listen, because there’s a chance that I might be able to acquire some top-flight pitching talent via trade, and because in Ryan McMahon, I at least have an established in-house option ready to step in at third base immediately, should it come to that.
There have been two teams publicly connected to Arenado -- the Cardinals and the Rangers -- and with Josh Donaldson now in Minnesota, it’s clear that the Braves could use a thumping third baseman, too. So for the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend they are the only serious suitors.
With that in mind, I’m calling on T.R. Sullivan, our Rangers beat reporter; Anne Rogers, our Cardinals beat reporter; and Mark Bowman, our Braves beat reporter, to act as proxy GMs for their respective clubs.
I ask you: What can your team give me for Arenado? Please explain your reasoning, and then give me one concrete offer that you think is within the realm of possibilities. And at the end of this piece, I will tell the world which club I think has a better theoretical offer.
-- Mike Petriello
THE CASE FOR THE RANGERS
The Rangers have made it no secret they need a third baseman. That has been their goal from the beginning of the offseason. Though they seemed to fulfill it by signing Todd Frazier, that hardly takes them out of the Arenado pursuit. The Rangers could move Frazier to first base and have Arenado at third base for the next seven years … as long as he doesn’t opt out after the 2021 season.
That is always a possibility. But if the Rangers are going to make that trade, that’s the chance they need to take.
The Rangers have the needed inventory to make a strong offer for Arenado -- at least, from the Rangers’ viewpoint. Whether the Rockies see the Rangers' talent in the same light is up to their evaluators.
Every club has some untouchables. The Rangers' list has to include third baseman Josh Jung and right-handers Hans Crouse and Cole Winn -- their No. 1, 3 and 4 prospects, respectively, according to MLB Pipeline. If I’m the Rangers, I try to wow the Rockies with a mix of upside and depth in a six-for-one swap.
THE RANGERS’ OFFER:
Nick Solak, 2B: Solak has the potential to be an offensive second baseman, especially at Coors Field, and a solid defender. He hit .293 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 33 games as a rookie last season. He will help make up for the loss of Arenado’s offense with McMahon sliding over to third base.
Sam Huff, C: He is clearly on the Rockies' wish list even if he has yet to make the jump to Double-A. That will happen this season. The club’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, combined to hit .278 with 28 home runs, 72 RBIs and a .509 slugging percentage at two Class A levels last season. He was also the MVP of the Futures Game. He is the Rangers' best catching prospect and they don’t see the Rockies doing the deal without him.
Jonathan Hernandez, RHP: The Rangers still see this guy as a starter and will give him that chance in Spring Training. But he averages 97 mph with his fastball and has performed better in short 2-3 inning stints. He could be an impact reliever -- but either way, Hernandez, just 23, is an impact arm.
Leody Taveras, CF: The Rangers' No. 5 prospect is just 21 years old and reached Double-A last season. His offensive numbers have yet to jump out, but he has always been one of the youngest players at his particular Minor League level. His defense is what should make him attractive to the Rockies. He can cover the serious ground needed to play in Coors Field, and the Rockies have lacked a defensive stalwart in center for years.
Kolby Allard, LHP: At age 22, he made a positive impression after being acquired from the Braves this past season. He made nine starts for the Rangers as a rookie and was 4-2 with a 4.96 ERA. His fastball sits at 92-93 mph with some swing-and-miss off the curve. He is probably No. 1 on the Rangers' depth chart behind their five starters going into Spring Training.
Ronald Guzmán, 1B: This does smack of a throw-in because Guzmán has yet to blossom as an offensive player at the Major League level. But he is 25 with five years of club control and a chance to be an excellent defensive first baseman.
-- T.R. Sullivan
THE CASE FOR THE CARDINALS
The Cardinals need offense. They need it bad. Adding an everyday third baseman who hits around 40 home runs every season would be splendid, and adding Arenado’s Gold Glove defense to the Cardinals’ infield would be a beautiful sight to see. Matt Carpenter currently occupies third base for the Cardinals, and utility man Tommy Edman could also see playing time there. But there’s the possibility of Carpenter moving to the outfield, and Edman will see playing time in the infield and outfield this season.
The Cardinals know it will take a huge haul, and there are many things to consider, like the financial implications ($35 million is a significant spike to their 2020 payroll), Arenado’s opt-out after '21 (are the Cardinals getting two years or seven years of control?) and more. But a chance to seriously contend for a World Series this year? It just might be worth it.
Pitcher Jack Flaherty and outfielder Dylan Carlson, the club’s No. 1 prospect, are likely off the table when it comes to trade talks. If I were president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, I’d try to wow the Rockies with a mix of Major League talent and one top prospect.
If I offer this package, though, I’d want to be absolutely sure to address Arenado’s opt-out, so the Cardinals could guarantee more years of control for what they’re giving up.
THE CARDINALS’ OFFER:
Andrew Knizner, C: The Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect seems ready for the Majors, and while Yadier Molina is entering the final year of his contract, it seems likely that the veteran catcher will look to continue his career after 2020. The Cardinals have added depth at the position recently, and they’re still looking to add a veteran backup catcher for this year. Knizner, 24, could give the Rockies the long-term solution at catcher they desperately need.
Harrison Bader, CF: Known for his defense and speed, Bader would thrive in an expansive Coors Field outfield. Bader routinely makes spectacular catches, and his 13 Outs Above Average, according to Statcast, ranked fourth in the Majors in 2019. The Rockies have lacked an elite fly-catcher in center for a while, and Bader would fit the bill.
Dakota Hudson, RHP: Hudson led the Majors in ground-ball percentage (56.9 percent) as a rookie in 2019, which is always helpful at Coors Field. He struggled with his walk rate, also leading the Majors in walks, but the former first-round pick has a lot of upside. With the signing of Kwang-Hyun Kim this offseason, the Cardinals have some depth in the rotation.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP: When the Cardinals acquired Liberatore from the Rays last week, the 20-year-old immediately became the club’s No. 3 prospect. A first-round Draft pick in 2018, Liberatore had a 3.10 ERA in 16 appearances (15 starts) with 76 strikeouts for Class A Bowling Green in 2019. MLB Pipeline has him ranked No. 41 on its Top 100 prospects list, and while flipping him would take a left-hander out of the Cardinals’ future -- something they’ve looked to add recently -- they still have lefties Zack Thompson and Génesis Cabrera in the pipeline.
-- Anne Rogers
THE CASE FOR THE BRAVES
When Alex Anthopoulos was Toronto’s general manager, he traded for a 29-year-old Josh Donaldson and watched him produce an MVP season while helping the Blue Jays win the American League East in 2015 and '16. And now Anthopoulos -- who brought Donaldson to Atlanta last year and just watched him agree to a deal with Minnesota -- could trade for another power-hitting, Gold Glove-caliber, 29-year-old third baseman.
The Braves have a deeper farm system than the Rangers and Rockies, and their willingness to part with top prospects likely rests on whether Arenado is willing to waive his opt-out after the 2021 season and agree to stay with Atlanta for the full seven years on his contract.
If the Braves were assured the seven years of potential control remaining on Arenado’s contract, they would be willing to pay the steep price required to pair him with Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and possibly Freddie Freeman for much of the next decade.
If I were Anthopoulos, here is what I would be willing to give up:
THE BRAVES’ OFFER:
Drew Waters, OF: While some in the Rockies’ organization might prefer top Braves prospect Cristian Pache (ranked by MLB Pipeline as No. 11 overall), the Braves would be more willing to give up No. 2 prospect Waters, who has greater offensive upside than Pache. Waters is a talented young switch-hitter who has drawn comparisons to a young Chipper Jones. He could be deemed MLB-ready at some point this summer.
Ian Anderson, RHP: As with Waters and Pache, there might be Rockies execs who would prefer No. 4 prospect, right-hander Kyle Wright. However, some believe Anderson has the potential to match Wright’s significant upside. He ranks among the game’s top right-handed pitching prospects and his pitching IQ has been lauded dating back to his high school days. He would seemingly be a great fit with manager Bud Black.
Ender Inciarte, CF: The three-time Gold Glove Award winner would give the Rockies the strong defense they are seeking in center field and consequently upgrade the pitching staff. Additionally, Inciarte is owed $15 million over the next two years and has a $9 million option ($1.025 million buyout) for 2022, which would also help offset some of the cost of Arenado’s contract, at least in the short term.
Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP: He’s more of a diamond in the rough, but if Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect continues to command his triple-digit fastball, Colorado could find itself with a potential closer.
-- Mark Bowman
Nolan, thanks for everything you've done for us ... and we hope you enjoy your time in Atlanta.
All three offers were strong. The fact that both the Cardinals and Rangers were willing to supply the catching talent we so desperately need made each of those packages enticing, and, if we're playing to the judges here, the idea of Bader patrolling center field in Coors Field is extremely appealing.
But ultimately, we’re choosing the Braves because Anderson is exactly the kind of top-end pitching talent we're always looking for -- he's the No. 31 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- and because he's closer to the Majors and has more bat-missing ability than Liberatore. Having reached Triple-A in 2019, he could see time in our rotation as soon as this summer.
In addition to taking the best pitcher on the table, when we look at the outfield prospects mentioned, we rate Waters over Taveras by a lot. A lot. He's a top 25 prospect, and like Anderson, he's reached Triple-A and could be in Denver sometime in the summer of 2020. We love that he's a switch-hitter and has the speed to possibly be a plus fielder, and we're interested in finding out if, now that he's no longer blocked by Pache, he can be our long-term center fielder.
While we're waiting on that, Inciarte gives us the elite defender we've needed for years in center. (Statcast has four years of tracking on outfielders, and Inciarte is No. 1 in Outs Above Average.) We can't stress enough how important it is to have fielders to go get it in our massive outfield, because that’s a huge help for our pitchers, and that might offset any concerns over his bat. If Waters arrives sooner than expected and Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl are both healthy, Inciarte might be a trade chip later.
Finally, we don't mind one lottery ticket, and De La Cruz isn't even that far away, having reached Double-A last year.
Are we better than we'd be if we still had Arenado? Maybe not for 2020. But if we can't be sure he's going to stay here long-term, we're much happier adding all of this talent now than waiting for him to possibly walk away.
-- Mike Petriello
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.
Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.