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Inbox: Is Arenado-Bryant swap a possibility?

@harding_at_mlb
January 31, 2020

DENVER -- A new week brings new trade rumors involving third baseman Nolan Arenado.

DENVER -- A new week brings new trade rumors involving third baseman Nolan Arenado.

I have been told to not dismiss the idea of the third basemen being swapped, but I would imagine if a trade happened there would have to be more to it.

From the Cubs’ end, they surpassed the luxury tax threshold last year, and are trying to bring down the payroll. Swapping Arenado’s $35 million this year for Kris Bryant’s $18.6 million adds $16.4 million to a payroll already projected to push over this year’s $208 million threshold. Even with the reported Arenado flirtation, the Cubs will be seeking to shed payroll.

As for the Rockies, it would be a lower payout at third base this year, and Bryant is eligible for arbitration next before potentially going to free agency after 2021. (Arenado, incidentally, can opt out of his eight-year, $260 million deal after '21.) Dealing for Bryant, the '16 National League Most Valuable Player, would give the Rockies a playoff-tested player in his prime -- something none of the rumored deals so far have offered.

However, the Rockies still would have a high payroll, and a report Thursday from ESPN Chicago suggested the Rockies would pay a good portion of Arenado’s contract throughout the life of the deal. So it would be a wash at best in 2020, and the Rockies would be paying significant money for a player not on the roster.

One possibility for the Rockies could be to seek another player. The best fit from the Cubs would be left-handed starting pitcher José Quintana, who is due $10.5 million this year after the Cubs picked up his contract option. Before the Cubs acquired Quintana from the White Sox, the Rockies were linked as a possible suitor.

Such a move would help the Cubs shed payroll, and add a seasoned pitcher to the Rockies’ rotation. Last season, Quintana was solid overall -- 13-9, 4.68 ERA in 32 games (31 starts). Quintana, however, struggled at the end of the year (8.58 ERA in his final seven starts).

Pitcher Tyler Chatwood, once with the Rockies, and outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward are listed as players the Cubs could look to move. Schwarber’s solid left-handed bat would be most intriguing in Colorado, but there would be defensive questions at spacious Coors Field.

Another issue is the Cubs appear to be seeking young pitching, something the Rockies cling to dearly.

The Rockies have said they can rebound with improved starting pitching, by having more relievers pitching well than not, and by finding more production throughout the lineup. Because of the hitter-friendliness of Coors Field (and, conversely, the pitching-adverse nature of the park) a lineup with improving younger players and the possible rebound of veteran first baseman Daniel Murphy is the best bet.

It could be argued that the Rockies could seek upgrades in all of those areas, but a tight payroll has forced them to look inward -- even though the lack of acquisitions has created much strife this offseason.

In 2021, outfielder Ian Desmond’s contract reduces from $15 million this year to $8 million (with a $2 million buyout on a $15 million club option for '22). Murphy’s contract ends this year (although '21 is a mutual option with a buyout of $6 million or $7 million, depending on incentives). Relief pitcher Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw all have contracts that expire this year, although if they perform well, they could reach incentives that make next year possible.

So, the possibility of a less-bloated payroll and new television money coming in should give the Rockies some payroll relief, although several players (outfielder David Dahl, pitchers Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland, to name a few) will be on the arbitration timeline.

The key player to watch is Sam Hilliard, who provided power at the end of last season. For now, left field seems to be a possible platoon with the right-handed-hitting Desmond and a lefty hitter, possibly Raimel Tapia or Hilliard. But Hilliard has the power and speed to force himself into some form of regular playing time. There’s also catcher Dom Nuñez, who saw time at the end of last year.

As for new faces, keep an eye on lefty reliever Ben Bowden, a second-round Draft pick in 2015 who dealt with injuries early in his career but made it to Triple-A last year.

Do you think the Rox will carry three catchers with the expanded roster?
-- Grant Mitchell (via email)

The increase to 26 players opens many possibilities for creativity. There would be some merit to keeping Nuñez with Tony Wolters and one of the veterans on Minor League contracts -- Drew Butera or Elias Díaz. But I would suspect it would be only in a situation when Nuñez can receive playing time.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.