Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich attempted to clarify Nolan Arenado's status Monday by telling the Denver Post that the five-time All-Star would begin the 2020 season with the team.
Instead, somewhat paradoxically, the superstar’s future remains uncertain.
Arenado’s curt response to the reported cessation of trade talks, via text to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, suggested dissatisfaction with the Rockies’ direction and overall atmosphere. It’s unclear if the Rockies have enough time to allay Arenado’s concerns -- with verbal assurances or roster moves -- before what could be an uneasy start to Spring Training.
On Tuesday, none of the principal figures -- Rockies ownership, Bridich, Arenado or Arenado’s agent, Joel Wolfe -- commented publicly on whether they had reached a resolution. It’s possible the sides preferred to allow tensions to cool Tuesday, out of respect to former Rockies outfielder Larry Walker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, before reengaging later in the week.
The Cardinals and Rangers remain two of the strongest suitors for Arenado if trade talks revive in earnest, sources said Tuesday. Both clubs are trying to add a middle-of-the-order hitter. One of their alternatives, Marcell Ozuna, went off the market Tuesday when he signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves. Unless the Cardinals or Rangers sign free agent Nicholas Castellanos, they will have the flexibility to add Arenado via trade.
The coming days are likely to determine if Arenado’s relationship with the Rockies’ front office can be sufficiently repaired, or if Bridich will feel compelled to trade Arenado before Spring Training opens. The public nature of Arenado’s displeasure could undermine the Rockies’ leverage. If rival clubs believe Bridich is under pressure to trade Arenado, general managers have little incentive to offer maximum value in return.
The opt-out in Arenado’s contract following the 2021 season is a significant consideration in the Rockies’ near- and medium-term strategy. If they believe he will sign elsewhere after two more seasons -- an increasingly reasonable assumption, given his frustration -- there is a compelling case to trade him now. In another year, Arenado will be a rental (with diminished trade value), unless his contract is restructured as part of a trade.
Sources say the Rockies have told other teams that any Arenado trade must improve their 2020 Major League roster. In other words, they don’t plan to begin a rebuild this close to Spring Training and would insist on at least one Major League player in addition to prospects.
The Rockies are interested in acquiring a potential No. 1 catcher for the long term, and an Arenado deal could help them achieve that objective. Both the Cardinals (Andrew Knizner) and Rangers (Sam Huff) have prospects who match that description.
Arenado’s contract is an obstacle in completing a trade, for several reasons. The magnitude of the deal -- $234 million over the next seven seasons -- is prohibitive for some teams. Multiple clubs are wary of the opt-out’s potential to limit the period of control. And Arenado’s full no-trade clause means he has a significant voice in the process.
The White Sox are consistently mentioned by people in the industry as a potential Arenado suitor. While it’s presumed that Arenado would prefer the Cardinals to the White Sox, due in part to his comfort in the National League, the White Sox present an opportunity to compete immediately in the winnable American League Central.
And if Arenado’s antipathy with Rockies management is as sharp as it appeared Monday, then his other options look more appealing than ever.