2 star infielders. 1 giant Hot Stove dilemma

MLB.com roundtable: What should Rox do with Arenado, Story?

December 18th, 2020

has once again become a hot topic during Hot Stove season, with rumors swirling around the Rockies' star third baseman. But Arenado isn't the team's only major trade chip. 's name has not come up as much, but Colorado's slugging shortstop is scheduled to reach free agency after the 2021 season, just like and three other highly accomplished young stars at his position. (Arenado, by contrast, signed an extension with the Rockies that will pay him $199 million through 2026, unless he exercises an opt-out clause after this coming season).

All of that has the baseball world wondering what the Rockies should do with the left side of their infield, coming off back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the NL West, combining for a 97-125 (.437) record in that span. To that end, MLB.com gathered a roundtable of reporters to discuss Arenado, Story and the Rockies' predicament.

Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB, moderator): Let's start with a simple question. Setting aside contracts for the moment, who is the better player right now: Arenado or Story? Whom do you take if you're building a team to win in 2021? Reminder, Arenado is entering his age-30 season, while Story will be in his age-28 campaign.

Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, MLB.com reporter/editor): I think it’s Story. Arenado is a great player -- no disrespect whatsoever. But Story has shown that he isn’t just the rookie who hit all of those homers in his first handful of games in 2016. He’s shown all-around ability, with defense and speed in addition to that power. His defense may not be at Arenado's level (albeit at a different position), but the all-around nature of his game stands out.

Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello, MLB.com analyst): I agree, and that's partially because, while I'm not willing to put too much into Arenado's down 2020, the reason behind it -- an injured left shoulder -- is at least a little worrisome. So while this is a "You can't choose wrong" thing, if I'm picking one, it's Story.

Manny Randhawa (@MannyOnMLB, MLB.com reporter based in Denver): I'm taking Story. In the last two full seasons (2018 and '19), Arenado's Baseball-Reference WAR is 12.5, while Story's is 11.7. Both had an identical expected wOBA (xWOBA) over that span: .352. Story is two years younger and the better all-around player, as Sarah mentioned. It's certainly not an easy call, but Story's the guy.

Simon: As Mike said, it's hard to put too much stock in 2020, but it's also hard to ignore that Arenado put up by far the worst offensive numbers of his career (.738 OPS), while Story basically repeated his 2019 numbers, if you adjust for the 60-game season. How much concern is it fair to have about Arenado's 2020?

Langs: I agree with what Mike said: Underlying injury concerns me more than the results themselves. But part of it could also just be the aging curve and time catching up with him. He played 155-plus games each year from 2015-19, and at some point, that catches up to you.

Randhawa: Arenado is such a routine-oriented guy, and I think the shortened and delayed season may really have had an impact. Combine that with the shoulder issue, and it's no wonder his body language was so uncharacteristic in 2020. I'm not worried about his production in the future. And defensively, he was his usual self. He's going to be a superstar going forward. The question is: Where?

Petriello: I don't know how much of this was injury-related, but you know what struck me about his poor year? He made too much contact. Arenado's strikeout rate was a career-best 10%, well below his career mark of 15%. You'd generally think, "More contact is good," and especially so at Coors, where even a hard-hit bunt might turn into a triple. But he turned all that extra contact into career lows in any power category you can think of -- slugging percentage, hard-hit rate, etc. And he's never been a Judge/Stanton type of hard-hit monster in the first place. But it struck me that maybe he was making contact with the wrong pitches or was trying to accommodate for the injury.

Anyway, it was a shortened season in which he wasn't healthy, and we knew he likely was not happy with a team that wasn't competitive -- and that was before the team spiraled into fourth place. I'm not that worried about it.

Randhawa: Mike brings up a really good point here. It seemed like Arenado was trying to use his home park even more to his advantage, much like DJ LeMahieu did there, but at what cost? Or maybe it was mostly the shoulder. Or both.

Petriello: If it sounds like we're down on Arenado, I don't think we really are. He's great! But it says more about Story that I prefer him right now. And then obviously there's "The Other Thing," which is that Story is signed for just one more year at a reasonable price ($18.5 million), while Arenado has the whole, "I have an opt-out and a no-trade and $199 million coming to me," which is a super complicating factor.

Randhawa: Story is the much easier sell if you're the Rockies, I would think.

Langs: Exactly. Story’s skill set and current status, age-wise and contract-wise, make him a perfect fit for the "start a franchise" conversation -- which inevitably leads to being a better trade chip, too. Or more attractive on the free-agent market, since he’s closer to it. None of that is against Arenado at all; it's just the stage each is at in his career.

Petriello: Story is definitely a more valuable trade piece. We hear so much about who is trading for Lindor, but not nearly enough about who is trading for Story, who I think is not far off from being an equally valuable player. But then it gets even more complicated. You think Arenado's unhappy now? Try life without Story next to him. So then what?

Simon: That brings up the question of the bigger picture for the Rockies. If they trade one of these two stars, should they go ahead and trade both? Of course, if Arenado is traded, Story might soon follow via free agency even if he isn't dealt.

Randhawa: Given where they are roster-wise and the fact that the Dodgers probably aren't going to up and move into another division, the Rockies are in a situation where they need to trade both of them. Arenado will be more about unloading the contract. Story will be more about a big haul in return to try, once again, to figure out how to win up here in this altitude.

Petriello: And if you trade both, why are you bothering to keep starters Jon Gray and ? Rebuilding has never been less popular -- correctly so -- especially because in normal times, the Rockies fans do a great job of showing up. They have such a good core. But when I ranked the 30 teams headed into the offseason, they were ... No. 30. I cannot see a path to them competing in 2021 without some pretty giant free-agency moves that seem terribly unlikely to happen. So do you just play out Story's last year (before free agency) and Arenado's last year (before an opt-out, though it's not clear he'd take it if he can't match the contract, no matter how unhappy he is)? It's a mess.

Langs: It’s hard to suggest a full rebuild, but it does seem to make sense. Trading one without the other probably doesn’t set the team up for as much success as trading both does -- with an Arenado trade freeing up money and a Story trade bringing back a larger haul, as Manny said. Might as well really try to revamp at that point.

Simon: This actually reminds me a little bit of the White Sox four years ago, when they had some good players (Chris Sale, José Quintana, Adam Eaton, etc.) but not enough around them. Savvy trades of those stars then set them up to contend, as they are now. Could Colorado potentially pull off something like that?

Langs: Imagine if they could recreate their own versions of the Sale and Eaton trades, positions notwithstanding. That seems like the ideal, but the White Sox didn’t have an Arenado-level contract that they were trying to trade.

Petriello: I don't think so. I like Márquez very much, but he's not as as valuable as Sale (who returned Yoán Moncada and Michael Kopech). I love Story, but he's not bringing back Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo López like Eaton did, because Eaton was signed for a few more low-cost years.

Besides, when you look at the current successful Rockies players, they are pretty much 100% drafted by Colorado, right? Aside from Márquez, who was a low-level prospect when he was acquired. There's not a lot of value on the Major League roster that the front office has added. So I'm not sure I'd trust a ton of the trades made if it went that way.

Randhawa: I think a lot of it depends on their front office going forward. How do they learn from past mistakes? Do they beef up their analytics department? Do they start looking around the league and try to emulate other teams a little bit more? And the perpetual question is, how will they view their home park and the resulting road woes of going down to sea level and seeing pitches that actually break? It's a mountain of a challenge -- see what I did there? -- for any GM. But hey, you've got to figure out how to win, somehow. As Mike noted, the Rockies' major problem has been that they have not put enough valuable pieces around their best players. You can't win like that.

Petriello: Manny, did you know that you can't simply trust home/road splits for Colorado hitters leaving Coors? I feel like you know that.

Randhawa: I do. But that doesn't help if you're the Rockies. In other words, it's basically a given that you're going to lose 39 games or something on the road. How do you counter that?

Petriello: Anyway, I think Colorado's at a big disadvantage here. An Arenado trade, with all of its complications, won't bring back Huge Talent. (Think: the Giancarlo Stanton trade.) A Story trade, despite his very obvious talent level, won't bring back huge talent, not for one year of his time. (Think: the Mookie Betts trade. Story is not Betts, and the Red Sox were desperate to unload David Price.)

Langs: And that division is perpetually ruled by the Dodgers, for the foreseeable future.

Randhawa: That's the issue with Story, yeah. One year to go until he's a free agent. So you're even limited there.

Petriello: If it were me, I'd trade them both together, and make sure to throw in 's contract, too. I'd accept I'm not getting a ton back, but I'd demand some kind of near-ready catcher. (Which might make the Dodgers work: Keibert Ruiz?). Then I'd start and at 3B and SS. I'd use the savings to sign 10 of the 25 million available free-agent relievers and one big outfield bat. And go from there.

Simon: Someone like Márquez could act as a sweetener in a deal for either player, too. He's owed only about $34 million over the next three seasons, with a club option for 2024. And he'd be escaping Coors Field.

Petriello: Well, in my scenario, I'm trying not to lose 120 games next year, but yes, definitely.

Randhawa: Now I'm imagining what a guy like Márquez would do away from Coors. (Hint: He'd be incredible.)

Simon: He has a career road ERA of 3.51 vs. 5.10 at home.

Simon: So that brings us to the ultimate question: Who gets traded in the next year, whether it's this offseason or at the Deadline: Arenado, Story, both or neither? Let's get your predictions.

Petriello: Arenado gets traded this offseason. They'll try and fail to extend Story, and he'll leave as a free agent next year.

Langs: I was typing pretty much the same as Mike. I think Arenado gets traded, and Story doesn’t -- but that they aren’t able to get Story to stay beyond 2021.

Randhawa: I'd be surprised if Arenado is a Rockie on Opening Day. I can't see Story going this offseason, and then the return for him gets even smaller.

Simon: None of that sounds too promising. Anyone want to let Rockies fans leave this chat on a high note?

Petriello: Coors Field is an absolute treasure, the Rockies own a very great baseball color and I don't enjoy any team's fans on Twitter more (obvious pandering alert).

Randhawa: Coors is just as beautiful today as it was 25 years ago.

Langs: I have not been to Coors, but it looks lovely, and @Rockies is one of the BEST team accounts. Plus, there’s that new Hall of Famer who will (hopefully) get his induction ceremony moment next summer!