DENVER -- Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado expressed frustration with the direction of the club on Monday night, saying he has felt “disrespected” by the team.
Arenado stopped short of demanding a trade in his quotes to various outlets, but his thoughts came in response to general manager Jeff Bridich’s statement to the Denver Post that the club was backing away from trade talks involving the third baseman.
The Rockies emerged from last season’s 71-91 finish -- which followed back-to-back postseason berths with a young team -- believing they still have the core of a contending team if several players bounced back from rough 2019 seasons. Underneath that confidence is the reality of a tight payroll.
What also isn’t hard to figure, after weeks of acknowledging they were listening to teams interested in trades, is that the Rockies didn’t find a trade that would help a post-Arenado club continue to be a contender.
So here is what we know regarding the Arenado situation:
• On paper, a trade does not have to happen. While Arenado’s eight-year contract, which is heading into its second season, gives him a complete no-trade clause and an opt-out after the 2021 season, the Rockies are paying him $260 million and have every right to keep him until Arenado is free to decide.
Arenado’s disgruntlement appears to indicate that he feels that the team he’ll be sharing a clubhouse with simply isn’t good enough, no matter what the front office says. How is that message taken by teammates?
• ESPN's Jeff Passan compared the Arenado situation to that of Giancarlo Stanton with the Marlins after 2017. Stanton used his no-trade provision to block deals with the Cardinals and Giants before finding his way to the Yankees. Finally, the Marlins feel they are on the other side. “The main thing now is we feel it’s time to start talking about winning some games,” manager Don Mattingly said during the Winter Meetings.
The key difference now is the Marlins were clearly rebuilding. They also dealt Christian Yelich to the Brewers and Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals. The Rockies have pieces of value for a rebuild if they chose to go that direction, but there's no indication yet that they wish to. For example, shortstop Trevor Story and right-handed pitcher Jon Gray are productive and arbitration-eligible through next year. But after postseason trips in 2017 and '18 based on starting pitching, the Rockies are finding a hard time scuttling all that because of an unhappy Arenado.
• The fact the Rockies haven’t made a Major League free-agent signing or a trade this offseason appears to be a major fuel to Arenado’s ire, and it has put Bridich in a difficult public-relations position. But let’s step back from that and review the postitives and negatives of Bridich's work.
The signings of veterans Ian Desmond (five years, $70 million in 2017) and Daniel Murphy (two years, $24 million before last season) were questioned at the time, and injuries to both and offensive inconsistency for Desmond have rendered those results mixed at best.
Bridich is being retroactively panned for $106 million in bullpen investment before 2018 for Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. But Bridich was praised at the time, and Davis’ National League-leading 43 saves were a key factor in the 2018 postseason trip. The previous year, picking up Greg Holland on a one-year deal helped. A bounce-back from Davis could reset the bullpen in 2020.
A key criticism is the Rockies don’t make big trades. But Bridich has made some of the right ones at the Trade Deadline. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Pat Neshek helped in 2017, and while the Dodgers were loading up with former All-Stars, the Rockies battled for the NL West crown in ’18 on the strength of an under-the-radar move for Seunghwan Oh.
If Bridich makes an Arenado trade, it must be a combination of his successes -- Major League help (like the aforementioned Deadline swaps) and impact for the future. Sending Corey Dickerson to the Rays before 2016 brought McGee to the Rockies, but the key was getting righty pitcher German Márquez, who is a rotation leader.
• This all leads us to comparisons with the last trade of a prominent Rockies player. Bridich sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, similarly unhappy, to the Blue Jays in 2015.
Getting Jose Reyes, who was released before the following season, helped offset some financial commitments for both teams. Of the players received by the Rox who are still around, neither starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman nor reliever Jesus Tinoco have contributed consistently in the Majors. They have still have a chance. Hoffman, a former top-10 Draft pick, enters this Spring Training out of Minor League options.
But Story’s 2016 arrival made the whole trade work. The Rockies still had an All-Star shortstop.
• What do the Rockies need in a trade?
One would figure they’d get some immediate Major League help. Two areas to watch are starting pitching and catching, where Tony Wolters is the only experienced catcher on the Major League 40-man roster (Drew Butera and Elias Díaz are on Minor League deals).
There would have to be payroll relief. The Rockies may have to take an expensive player back, but a productive one on a short contract would help.
A real key would be continuing to build starting-pitching quality and depth. It’s hard to fathom an Arenado deal without a top pitching prospect.
So far, no team has met the Rockies’ demands. Will the number of teams that can use Arenado allow them to sell high, or will what looks to be an untenable situation in Colorado give them cause to offer less?
And all this has to go to a team Arenado favors.