Nolan Arenado is mad at the Rockies for reasons predictable to everyone besides the Rockies

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The last few months have seemed like years thanks to the various scandals and general awfulness of Major League Baseball, but even so, you probably remember that weird moment in October where the Rockies decided they were just going to say whatever was on their mind without a filter. If not, well, let’s take you back to that day, and my coverage of it:

GM Jeff Bridich had some awkward honesty in his own presser, telling everyone that he’s the one who pushed for the opt-out in star third baseman Nolan Arenado’s lucrative extension. Why would he do that, you ask? Well, according to The Athletic’s Nick Groke: “Bridich said he feels no pressure to prove a winning team as a way to keep Arenado.” So, the Rockies locked up their most popular, best player to a long-term deal, earning some goodwill, which was much-needed after years of losing previous franchise icons for one reason or another. They also provided that player with an escape hatch he didn’t ask for, and straight-up said they don’t feel like they need to try in order to keep him from going through it. So, should Arenado leave because Colorado decides being a garbage fire is better than trying, the Rockies can at least hypothetically blame him for taking off: it was out of their hands, you know, he had the option to bail.

And now let’s look at this week’s news, courtesy Jeff Passan:

After Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich declared that the team had ended trade talks for Arenado, the third baseman shot back to, accusing the team of “a lot of disrespect from people there that I don’t want to be a part of.”

The disrespect, sources told ESPN, centered on the Rockies’ winter of inaction less than a year after the team signed Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million contract extension. When the organization signaled early this offseason that it did not intend to expand its payroll this winter, Arenado expressed betrayal, according to sources, believing Colorado was not doing enough to improve a team coming off a 71-91 season.

Less than four months separate that interpretation of the opt-out’s existence and Arenado’s now-public disillusion with the Rockies. Colorado set themselves up for an eventual blowout with their star by including the opt-out in his deal because they wanted it, and then essentially bragging that they didn’t feel like they owed Arenado a thing in terms of surrounding him with a quality roster. Obviously, that wasn’t going to end well: they simply assumed it’d fester long enough for the team to benefit from having him around in the early part of the contract, and then he’d opt-out or force a trade rather than cause a public scene that’d reveal their ruse for what it is, saving them from paying the vast majority of his deal in the process. And if it were a trade that got him out of the org, well, they’d surely get back such a package that Rockies fans could be easily consoled.

That blowout either came faster than expected, or the trade market for Arenado hasn’t been quite what they imagined it to be, which now means they’re “stuck” with one of the game’s better players. (A Rockies plan, not working out as envisioned? I’m as shocked as you.) The Rockies imagined they’d get everyone banging down their door to take Arenado from them, but the presence of the opt-out they forced into his deal has chilled his market: why would any team give up loads of prospects or near-ready young players for a guy who might vanish in two years? And if he doesn’t, is it because he’s hurt, or his ability fell off, and now they’re the ones saddled with his deal?

This isn’t me signaling agreement with not trading for Arenado, by the way: he’s going to be just 29 in 2020, and after the 2021 opt-out passes, will still be owed another $164 million over five years, through his age-35 season. Even if he’s still Nolan Arenado for the next couple of years, there are reasons for him to not just opt-out after 2021 — especially with labor tensions being what they are, and the current collective bargaining agreement expiring mere weeks after Arenado’s chance to opt-out. And, again, he didn’t ask for the opt-out: the Rockies are the ones who signaled they want him to have the chance to use it. Chances are pretty good that, if a team that trades for Arenado decides to actually try to win baseball games, that he’ll want to stick around for his guaranteed near-$33 million average annual value. And, whichever team did trade for him does get 2020 and 2021 no matter what: there’s real value in that, the kind that could push a team on the bubble into MLB’s version of what amounts to guaranteed contention.

Regardless of whether Arenado would stay, though, teams aren’t going to pay for him as if it’s a guarantee when it is not. And so the Rockies aren’t going to get what they want in a trade of their superstar. Per Passan, “Colorado’s demands were excessive enough that no deal has come close to being finalized. The Rockies, sources said, have sought a significant return for Arenado, despite the size and structure of his contract.” Colorado has to hold firm, because otherwise, they’re giving up their best player, a popular player who just called out the organization for disrespecting and crossing him, for far less than he’s worth… which would ruin the original plan of forcing Arenado to bail because of greed, not because of anything the Rockies could have helped by, you know, trying.

So, the Rockies’ options at present are to 1) trade Arenado for what’s offered, even if it’s not what they should get back, or 2) stick it out with a supremely unhappy superstar who will not draw the ire of fans; fans, who, by virtue of watching the Rockies play like garbage, will understand where he’s coming from. Neither is very appealing, but the available options come from self-inflicted wounds, so save your sympathy for someone who deserves it.

No one made the Rockies force this opt-out into the deal, one that now is going to make it difficult to deal a player they never had any real intention of keeping throughout his contract, a la the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton. No one made the Rockies avoid upgrading their team a priority, which in turn caused Arenado to speak up in the first place: that was on ownership and management. If the Rockies had simply tried to build around Arenado, or signed him in good faith, or just let him work his way through arbitration and try to deal him this winter when it was clear he wasn’t going to want to stick around with a team that’s tripping over itself while trying to run in place… basically, if the Rockies had done anything besides their first instinct, they’d be better off right now.

  • I wrote a freelance feature for Baseball Prospectus on Jeff Luhnow, who has been suspended from MLB for a year and fired by the Astros: and yet, his shadow looms large over a game whose integrity is suddenly in question, largely because of his own behaviors and the culture he’s helped spawn in the league. You don’t need a subscription to read that, by the way: just login with a basic account and enjoy for free.

  • Speaking of Luhnow and sign-stealing, we should appreciate Mike Fiers opening up, not bash him for snitching.

  • The Red Sox aren’t as done trying to trade Mookie Betts as they’ve publicly claimed, and apparently, they’re trying to attach David Price to any Betts’ deal, to boot. But sure, winning is on Boston’s mind, definitely.

  • CW: This Slate feature on the rape of a woman by three of the 1980s New York Mets is not an easy read, and neither is any reflection you’ll have on how that era of players are celebrated even today.

  • Craig Calcaterra discussed the latter issue at Hardball Talk.

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