DENVER -- Will arrival at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick be the magic coolant for a disagreement between third baseman Nolan Arenado and the Rockies’ front office?
The dispute became public on Jan. 22. After weeks of trade rumors, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich told the Denver Post that Arenado would be in the club’s purple and black. Arenado told MLB.com and other media that there was “disrespect that I don’t want to be a part of” in comments directed at Bridich.
But the Rockies insisted that the team was still a contender, and that last year’s 71-91 finish was an aberration for a team that went to the postseason the previous two years. After the club was unable to find a trade that would not be a step back, Arenado figures to be on hand. Assuming no trade, how the Rockies, Arenado and teammates move forward will be the biggest story of Spring Training.
Bridich has not commented, and owner Dick Monfort described the conflict as “blown out of proportion” on Saturday. Arenado released a statement to the Denver Post saying his comments were “out of character” and added, “I’m working hard to get better for my teammates and fans.”
Monfort, Bridich and manager Bud Black have said the team, as constructed, could be much better if those who struggled find success in 2020. And the Rockies have made no Major League trades or free-agent signings.
So what will happen when the Rockies arrive in Scottsdale, Ariz.? Players tend to arrive long before the report dates -- Tuesday for pitchers and catchers, Feb. 16 for the full squad. Can they keep the potential for continued conflict from seeping into preparations?
“Just keeping it simple -- we’re all baseball players on the same team, and we all want to win,” right-hander Jon Gray said. “I don’t know the ins and outs of what happened, but I know our guys are going to show up ready to go, and that’s all I really care about. As long as it’s not affecting us getting better as a team, everything’s going to be fine.”
Still, it’s a good time to examine what we know and don’t know.
When Arenado signed a new contract last spring, it gave him the highest average annual value for a position player ($32.5 million) at the time, the right to opt out after 2021 and a full no-trade clause. Yet, less than a year later, there are rampant trade rumors and hard feelings.
How we got here can be described in a timeline that leaves some questions unanswered.
From a lack of interest to open ears
At the MLB General Managers Meetings this past November, other clubs arrived thinking the Rockies would retool but found them uninterested in trading star players. Teams’ inquiries for Gray, for example, went public. As for Arenado, teams’ inquiries were met with no interest.
After-dinner conversation gone wrong?
Several MLB sources say Arenado, his agent Joel Wolfe, Bridich and other club officials met for dinner at a Scottsdale restaurant during the GM Meetings. Bridich has acknowledged discussing the season with Arenado, but he didn’t divulge details. Wolfe said the meal was “uneventful.”
But at some point, something changed. By the Winter Meetings in San Diego in early December, Bridich was saying teams were asking for Arenado. His response suggested he didn’t dismiss the requests out of hand. Bridich explained that the Rockies “at least listen to teams and go, 'OK, well, should we try to investigate and put something together?' … I can't sit here and go, 'No, never, ever.'”
And what seemed unthinkable when the season ended soon grew into specific rumors of interested teams and possible offers.
Who wants what?
Given how the Rockies' public stance changed, the question is whether Arenado pushed for a trade. No one is addressing it.
Wolfe said, “We don’t feel it’s anyone’s interest to discuss the details of this outside the clubhouse," and praised Monfort for being “very communicative.”
Bridich has declined all interview requests on the situation. On Saturday, Monfort was asked directly if Arenado had asked for a trade. In a response that could be taken a number of ways, he said, “Did Nolan ask me for a trade? No.”
Of his disgruntlement, Arenado said on Jan. 20 “there’s more to it” than trade rumors, and several sources said his issues are more nuanced than merely the club’s quiet offseason.
So unless there is a deal, Arenado and his teammates will gather soon, looking to rebuild in 2020. But will the winter discord situation cloud that vision?