DENVER -- Eight-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman Nolan Arenado and significant cash considerations are headed to the Cardinals, while the Rockies must face what’s next.
It’s been quite a fall since the Rockies made postseason appearances in 2017 and ‘18, and signed Arenado for eight years and $260 million before the ‘19 season. But there is life -- albeit uncertain -- after consecutive fourth-place finishes in the National League West and trading a franchise staple.
First the details.
The Cardinals receive
• Arenado, a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and eight-time Gold Glover. The Rockies will also send up to $51 million to the Cardinals to pay down Arenado’s salary, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, but the particulars of how and when are not yet clear.
The Rockies receive
• Left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber, 27, the only player with Major League experience (7-3, 3.72 ERA in 43 games, 15 career starts)
• Third baseman Elehius Montero, 22, now the Rockies’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline
• Right-handed pitcher Tony Locey, 22, now the Rockies’ No. 15 prospect
• Infielder Mateo Gil, 20, now the Rockies’ No. 22 prospect
• Right-handed pitcher Jake Sommers, 22, a fifth-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft
Let’s take a detailed look at where the Rockies stand after the trade:
R stands for …
The Rockies have been reluctant to utter the R-word, as in “rebuild.” Then again, the Rockies have said little of anything. The organization called off a season-ending press conference, and general manager Jeff Bridich has made few comments regarding roster decisions.
Dick Monfort’s letter to season-ticket holders saying that “there will be nothing normal about this offseason” proved inadequate preparation for the Arenado deal, judging by the reaction of the fan base. After all, it’s been just two seasons since a contract-signing press conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- one lubricated with Arenado’s happy tears.
While the industry and fans see this as the clear sign of a tear-down, especially with the World Series-champion Dodgers and the surging Padres the clear class of the National League West, there is another option.
The Rockies like their rotation, and they can use whatever payroll relief the Arenado deal provides on veteran position players and relievers on short-term contracts. Then, if the team isn’t contending to its satisfaction at the Trade Deadline, the Rockies could open the sale of the century.
Whatever decision and however painful, fans expect the Rockies to articulate a plan and answer questions.
What’s the Story? Are skies Gray? Will Givens be taken away?
The past few seasons, the Rockies could at least put their left side of the infield against any in the sport. But with Arenado gone, does the club also deal shortstop Trevor Story, 28 and a star at a premium position?
Story is due $18.5 million this season, his last before free agency. Do the Rockies try to sign him to a multiyear deal? As the Arenado experience showed, carrying such a contract means decisions big and small around him must pay dividends.
Or do the Rockies trade Story, before the season or at the Trade Deadline?
The dollars involved in the Arenado contract meant there would be a short list of trade suitors, and those teams weren’t going to give up their top prospects and take on a huge salary hit at the same time. Story is different, since it’s just for one year, and that team could try to prevent Story from hitting the market.
Not accounting for whatever the Rockies end up sending the Cardinals as part of the Arenado trade, the Rockies are committed to $95.48 million for 26 players for 2021, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
They have committed to $41.3 million for five players for 2022, according to Cot’s, with arbitration-eligible players or low-service-time players to be determined.
The Rockies have not had a payroll below $100 million since 2014. They can see the reduction as either savings or room to grow.
Yet another Golden opportunity
Call Ryan McMahon the replacement to the Gold Glovers.
After the 2018 season, the Rockies decided against re-signing three-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman DJ LeMahieu, instead using the same two years and $24 million to sign Daniel Murphy to convert to first base -- a move that didn’t go well. McMahon, who had played first base previously, would move to second. Over two seasons, McMahon made steady strides defensively.
Now, barring other signings, McMahon likely will replace Arenado at third, which means he will be known as the guy who replaced a total of 11 Gold Gloves. The good news here is that third base is where McMahon spent much of his Minor League career.
McMahon looks more comfortable at third than at first or second, and he finished with three defensive runs saved in just 84 innings last season. Arenado led baseball with 15 DRS in 417 1/3 innings.
McMahon’s offense has been up and down. In 2019, McMahon fought off a challenge from top prospect Brendan Rodgers for the second-base job and finished with a .250/.329/.450 slash line and 24 home runs in 141 games. In ’20, McMahon struck out 66 times in 193 plate appearances and slashed .215/.295/.419. The power potential showed when he made contact, with nine homers, six doubles and a triple over a 52-game stretch.
About that lineup
Not only is Arenado gone, but so is outfielder David Dahl, non-tendered before he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Rangers. Arenado and Dahl dealt with shoulder injuries last season, but each batted better than .300 in 2019, with Arenado knocking 41 homers and Dahl 15 (in just 100 games).
Arenado’s departure leaves Story, McMahon, Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond as the only players with as many as 20 homers in a Major League season.
If no experienced reinforcements arrive, it’s up to a lightly regarded Rockies system to prove itself.
Rodgers, a top pick in 2015, has seen big league time the last two years, but he has been limited by shoulder injuries. Rodgers seemed to be growing into his power potential in the Minors -- 18 homers in 95 Double-A games in 2018, nine in 37 Triple-A games in ’19.
Among those who have not appeared in the Majors, 23-year-old corner infielder Colton Welker (Rockies’ No. 7 prospect) has the highest level of pro experience having reached Double-A in 2019. Hopes are also high for first baseman and 22-year-old Michael Toglia (No. 3 prospect) and 21-year-old corner outfielder Ryan Vilade (No. 4 prospect) and 21-year-old first baseman Grant Lavigne (No. 9 prospect).
How good is Gomber?
Gomber's key pitch is a curveball that in 2020 floated in at an average of 76.3 mph, which plays off a four-seam fastball that averaged 92.5 mph in ’20.
Gomber went 6-2 with a 4.44 ERA in 29 games (11 starts) in 2018, did not pitch in the Majors in '19 because of left biceps tendinitis and went 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA in 14 games (four starts) in '20.
The Rockies’ rotation already has right-hander Germán Márquez, left-hander Kyle Freeland and righty Antonio Senzatela coming off solid years, as well as righty Gray trying to bounce back from the right biceps inflammation that reduced his effectiveness last season. Gomber will compete with 2020 rookie righty Ryan Castellani, righty non-roster invitees Chi Chi González and Dereck Rodriguez and possibly the Rockies’ top pitching prospect, lefty Ryan Rolison (Rockies’ No. 2 prospect). Righty Pete Lambert, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is due back later in the year.