The disillusionment that has percolated for months in behind-the-scenes meetings between Colorado Rockies leadership and the camp of star Nolan Arenado finally bled into the public sphere Monday. After Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich declared the team had ended trade talks for Arenado, the third baseman shot back to MLB.com, 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 signing 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 it was not doing enough to improve a team coming off a 71-91 season.
Late last week, the Rockies informed teams they intended to slow discussions for Arenado, multiple teams involved in the talks told ESPN, though they continued to exchange proposals with teams over the weekend. Teams that have shown varying levels of interest in Arenado this winter include the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, according to sources.
Executives involved in the discussions told ESPN that 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.
Further complicating matters are the provisions in Arenado’s deal that grant him significant leverage. He holds both a full no-trade clause and an opt-out clause that allows him to void the deal after the 2021 season. Currently, Arenado is owed $234 million over the next seven years. Were he to opt out, he would leave $164 million on the table and reach free agency at 30 years old.
The fraying of the relationship between Arenado and Colorado has progressed throughout the offseason, even after the sides, including Rockies owner Dick Monfort, met in person, according to sources. The organization is puzzled by Arenado’s questioning of its leadership and future so soon after agreeing to an extension Feb. 26, 2019, sources said, while Arenado’s fear of Colorado’s prospects in the increasingly strong National League West division has become even more palpable with them not signing a single major league free agent yet this winter.
Coming off an NL Division Series loss in 2018, the Rockies spent a franchise-record $178.9 million on payroll in last year, and with a payroll that currently would exceed $170 million, they are in line to be the second-highest-spending team in the division behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the same time, their disastrous forays into free agency in 2017 and 2018 — they guaranteed a combined $176 million to outfielder Ian Desmond and relievers Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, who, according to Baseball-Reference, have accounted for -4.5 Wins Above Replacement — have hamstrung them financially. The four will make $50.5 million this season.
Arenado’s comments came after Bridich, who is entering his sixth season as Rockies GM, told the Denver Post that the Rockies would not deal the five-time All-Star who has won Gold Gloves in all seven of his major league seasons and is regarded as being on a Hall of Fame track, with a career .295/.351/.546 line, 227 home runs and 734 RBIs.
“We have listened to teams regarding Nolan and really nothing has come of it,” Bridich told the Post. “We are going to move forward pretty much as we expected — with Nolan in the purple and black as our third baseman.”
Despite Bridich’s declaration, multiple officials and sources familiar with the situation believe Arenado’s comments to the Post and MLB.com could change the calculus for the Rockies. While Arenado did not request a trade Monday, the airing of his frustration — “There’s more to it,” he told MLB.com, than simply the trade rumors — combined with the issue potentially hanging over the Rockies during spring training and the season could force the team to reconsider.
Colorado’s commitment to moving Arenado, according to executives with teams that have discussed deals for him, has been seen as tepid. One general manager said the package the Rockies sought was “ridiculous,” and another said “I don’t really think they want to trade him.”
The Rockies’ conundrum mirrors that of the Miami Marlins, who traded outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees following his NL MVP-winning 2017 season. Stanton, who also had full no-trade provisions, nixed deals with the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants before agreeing to go to the Yankees. New York sent second baseman Starlin Castro and prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers to Miami in exchange for Stanton and $265 million of the remaining $295 million on his deal. Guzman, 23, is seen as a likely reliever with a triple-digit fastball, while the 20-year-old Devers hit .322/.391/.390 in 47 games in the low minor leagues last season.
Similarly, it mirrors the exit of longtime Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, whom the Rockies traded in the middle of his 10-year, $157.5 million deal. Tulowitzki, who was seen as the Rockies’ franchise player before Arenado, said he was blindsided by a deal that sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2015 and later told USA Today that he was “lied to” by the team. Bridich told the Post: “I feel we handled our business professionally.”
The third-base trade market remains ripe for interested teams after Minnesota signed Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million. The Cubs have spent the winter entertaining the idea of dealing Kris Bryant, who is awaiting a ruling on what’s seen as a long-shot grievance seeking an extra year of service time that could allow him to reach free agency following the 2020 season instead of 2021.