On the Block: Nolan Arenado

Seemingly out of nowhere reports broke on Tuesday night that a number of teams have reached out to the Colorado Rockies to gauge their interest in trading their superstar third baseman, Nolan Arenado.

Over the past five seasons, Arenado has never hit worse than .287 or hit fewer than 37 home runs and 110 RBI. Including three seasons with at least 40 homers and three seasons with at least 130 RBI. So even in all of the Mike Trout and Mookie Betts hype, there’s a case to be made that nobody in baseball has been better as of late.

So why would the Rockies be looking to move on from a generational talent such as Arenado? Well, early indications are that the Rockies have shot down all conversations surrounding their five-time All-Star, who they re-signed to a lengthy extension back in March. But Nolan’s contract has an opt-out clause after the 2021 season, something worth taking a nice long look at, because the front office in Colorado has still been unable to build a perennial contender around him. There’s a chance that after two more seasons stuck in baseball purgatory, fringe contention and early eliminations, Arenado might be a little desperate to jump ship come November of 2021.

Jeff Passan, the ESPN reporter who broke the story, didn’t mention any teams specifically who reached out, but there are a number of blanks that we could fill in. You won’t be hard pressed to find a team who’d like to add Arenado, but we can narrow things down when we zero in on franchises that can afford both his contract, and the shy-high asking price the Rockies would demand for him.

So without further ado, here are the teams who could be in the Arenado market this offseason, and what they could offer up in return:

Los Angeles Dodgers

Rockies get:  LHP Julio Urias, RHP Dustin May, OF Joc Pederson

Why this works for the Rockies: Get ready for your first taste of a phrase that you’re going to start hearing a lot of for the rest of the article: Colorado needs pitching. Because of the high altitude, dry air, and Little League-esque dimensions of Coors Field, hitters tend to tee off when playing against the Rockies. It has been ages since the Rockies had a semi-successful pitcher, so that has to be a big part of their demands in any trade negotiations surrounding Arenado or any other asset.

Colorado gets a pair of young, high-ceiling arms that at worst project as the back two of your rotation, and at best become your 1a & 1B for the next decade. Julio Urias is a lingering pet-project of former Dodgers GM, Farhan Zaidi, who was forced upon Dave Roberts at far too young an age a few seasons back. He still only 23, and many around baseball still project him as a future ace of a staff, which is evidenced by his surging K/9 rate in each season since his debut. It’s easy to avoid serving up the long ball in Colorado when nobody can touch your pitches at all. Dustin May is a bit different, and far more appealing considering that the Dodgers refused to part with him in negotiations for Manny Machado back in 2018. May is a ground ball guy. He has shown flashes of being un-hittable at different pro levels, but his bread and butter is his ability to run off lengthy pitching performances because he’s able to induce a bouncer early and often.

Also, the Rockies get another big bat to subsidies the offense slightly in the wake of Arenado’s departure. Joc Pederson’s playing time has been inconsistent at best since debuting in the Dodgers’ logjam of outfielders back in 2014. He’s been tied up in trade rumors for well over a year, but no new home could do for his career what Coors Field could. He’s a stat-junkie’s dream because of his otherworldly fly ball rate. In the same vein as Rockie-great, Larry Walker, Joc would see himself post All-Star caliber numbers annually simply because he puts the ball in the sky and lets the Colorado air handle the rest. He’d instantly form a ferocious heart of the order tandem with Trevor Story, and help to sure up a long-shaky outfield for the Rockies.

Why this works for the Dodgers: Well this is something of a no-brainer for Los Angeles. They’re in the market for a shiny new piece to pair with Cory Seager on the left side of the infield. They’ve taken several long looks at Francisco Lindor in Cleveland, and will likely be one of the teams that Anthony Rendon meets with in the coming days. But neither really compares to what Arenado would bring to the team. He’s a better player than Rendon on both offense and defense, and while an argument can be made either way between he and Lindor, the fact that Arenado is locked up beyond next season is a massive plus.

Arenado is a So-Cal kid, who grew up rooting for the Dodgers. Even if he decided to opt out of his deal in 2021 to pursue a hefty bonus, odds are LA would receive preferential treatment in their negotiations.

Justin Turner, the current barer of the third base bag in Dodger Stadium, has openly stated that he’d be more than willing to relocate to another spot on the diamond if it meant the Dodgers would bring in a superstar talent to man the hot corner. So it isn’t as if LA has to concern itself with disgruntled personnel.

The Dodgers’ farm system is ripe with talent, and as evidenced by another strong draft and international signing coup in 2019, this is a franchise that has the flexibility to part ways with some of their youngsters. Especially if that means they’ll be getting a legitimate superstar in return!

New York Mets

Rockies get:  RHP Noah Syndergaard, 1B Dominic Smith

Why this works for the Rockies: Allow me to re-state the above: Colorado needs pitching. Quite frankly, there’s no better pitching option available to them than Noah Syndergaard. The burgeoning-ace is locked into the “Game 2 Starter” slot because the New York Mets can trot out consecutive Cy Young award winner, Jacob deGrom, in the biggest moments imaginable. For all intents and purposes, Syndergaard is better than his sidekick role would suggest, and in the eyes of many he is ready to dawn the hero cape and lead a staff.

No other team appearing in this article, or anywhere else for that matter, can offer an instant number one starter, to the degree that the Mets can. Syndergaard can step into Coors Field and utilize his power fastball to play keep away from the opposing lineup. Throw in the fact that he’s young enough to fit in with a quick retool by the Rockies, and Syndergaard can basically be penciled in as their top starter for the next 5 years.

Colorado gets the added benefit of Thor coming off his worst season to date (mind you it’s a great season in the eyes of most other starters), so his trade value gets tarnished just enough for the Rockies to ask the Mets to throw in another big-league ready youngster at a position of need. Enter Dominic Smith, a man with no path to playing time for the Mets, but an MLB-ready bat and a plus-glove at his natural home of first base.

Smith will be benefited by playing 81 games a year in the hitter-friendly Coors Field, while also providing the Rockies with the consistent presence at first base that the franchise hasn’t seen since Todd Helton hung up his cleats a decade ago. With Smith at first, Daniel Murphy can slot back over to second base, and a combination of youngsters (Garrett Hampson, Brendan Rogers, Pat Valaika and Ryan McMahon) can duke it out for consistent playing time at the hot corner.

Why this works for the Mets: I wholeheartedly believe that at this point, every time there’s even the slightest mention of Syndergaard in a trade rumor, the Mets faithful sigh their collective frustration and disappointment in unison. At this point the Mets have supposedly shopped Thor to every team in Major League Baseball over the course of the last two years, and all the baseball world has gotten so far from this are some comical tweets from the 27 year old about how he’s still pitching in the Big Apple.

In this trade, the Mets finally pull the trigger and bring in Nolan Arenado to fill the hole left at the hot corner by David Wright when his injury troubles began. Something to be on the lookout for here is the fact that Coors Field, where Arenado has posted his gaudy offensive stats so far, is a hitters ballpark…Citi Field isn’t. The Mets have struggled mightily to consistently deliver the long ball since relocating here from Shea Stadium back in 2009. So Arenado’s frequent fly balls, which resulted in joyful trots around the bases in Colorado, could just be joyless trots back to the dugout in Queens.

Regardless, the Mets have a legitimate need for a third baseman. JD Davis had a strong offensive year, but his poor defensive ratings at both the hot corner and left field suggest he projects long term as a first baseman or DH…something of an issue for the Mets considering the emergence of Pete Alonso and the fact that they play in the DH-less NL. A returning Jed Lowrie could theoretically slot in here, but he’s not exactly a lock to produce at the same clip as he did back in 2018 with the Oakland A’s, and his decreased arm strength as he nears age 36 means he could struggle to transition from second base. The final option here is the Flying-Squirrel, Jeff McNeil. The contact-specialist has quickly emerged as my favorite player on the Metropolitan’s roster because of his lineup/positional versatility, it’s also for that reason that the Mets would probably like to avoid committing to him being the full-time third baseman, especially when considering the injury troubles that have long plagued the franchise.

Arenado is better with the glove and with the bat (regardless of stadium) than all of the aforementioned options. And with starter depth up the wazoo, the Mets can afford to let go of Syndergaard to solidify a frequently stagnant lineup. Dominic Smith as a throw in does little to hurt the Mets’ in either the short or long term. Despite him turning the corner offensively in 2019, he’s stuck behind rookie-sensation, Pete Alonso, on the depth chart. Experimenting with him as an outfielder panned out poorly for the Mets, so at this point his only path to playing time for the Mets is when Alonso needs a day off.

Chicago White Sox

Rockies get:  RHP Michael Kopech, RHP Reynaldo Lopez, UTL Nick Madrigal, C/1B Zack Collins

Why this works for the Rockies: Hey, tell me if you’ve heard this before: Colorado needs pitching. In moving Nolan Arenado, they’re sort of stuck in this weird in-between space of having a number of players under contract with a win-now timetable, but also a stockpile of young talent who needs some time and experience to develop. Consider the trade to the Mets the “win now” move, and the trade to the Dodgers the “in between” move; that makes this trade the start of a full on rebuild.

The Chicago White Sox have little to offer in the form of MLB-ready talent aside from the likes of Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, and Lucas Giolito (all of whom we can assume are deemed untouchable). So their package is going to have to center around an all-prospect approach which would cause the Rockies to have to sell their other talent off for prospects as well. But in this package in particular the White Sox get a pair of MLB’s Top 100 prospects, an additional high ceiling starter, and a multi-tooled catcher who can either stick behind the plate or transition over to first base full time.

Michael Kopech, the fire baller most baseball fans have heard legends about, is something of a mystery in terms of long term position. He spent most of 2019 on the sidelines with an injury, but all the while, the White Sox were openly contemplating his future as either a potential ace or lights-out closer. Either way he can bring legitimacy to a young core at Coors Field. Nick Madrigal was deemed likely to find his way in to the bigs at some point in 2020 for the Chi-Sox, but that would more than likely mean he’d have to transition to an outfield role full-time. With the Rockies he’d be able to stick to what he knows as a second baseman, and flourish as a guy with long term leadoff potential. Reynaldo Lopez has already spent a pair of seasons in the big leagues, and while his stats to date are nothing special, his insane spin-rate and talent for missing bats have many front office execs believing that he can rise to the ranks of a top tier starter. Lastly, Zack Collins is a defensive wunderkind whose only draw back as a defensive catcher is his less than stellar arm. The Rockies can choose to overlook this because of how incredible his knack for framing pitches is, or they can transition him to be a fulltime first baseman where his soft hands will play well without him having to expose his arm too often.

Why this works for the White Sox: If Chicago’s all-out pursuit of Manny Machado taught us anything a year ago, it’s that they are ready to contend in the AL Central. Machado ultimately opted to head to San Diego, but that doesn’t mean that the team is done with trying to add a superstar by any means. The White Sox are among the teams expected to meet with a who’s who of free agents in the coming weeks, including Anthony Rendon. The plan here would be to transition Yoan Moncada back to second base, and allow Rendon (or in this case Arenado) to slot in at the hot corner.

Nolan Arenado would be an immediate upgrade at third base defensively over Moncada’s 2019 stats, and we’ve already touched on him being better than Rendon as well. Offensively, Arenado could provide the White Sox with the big bat that their heart of the order has lacked for a very long time. Sandwiched between the on-base machine, Jose Abreu (who just re-upped) and the prominent power potential of Eloy Jimenez, Arenado would thrive. He’d get the chance to drive Moncada and Tim Anderson home frequently, as both players saw their on-base metrics jump substantially in 2019 as Rick Renteria moved them to the top of the order.

Getting Arenado on-board via trade would also instantly make this team more attractive to prospective free agents like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, who realize that an Arenado-led offense could produce the kind of run support they’d need to win games in a relatively weak AL Central. This would be a huge coup for the South Siders as they desperately seek to build an immediate contender while maintaining their status as one of baseball’s brightest teams of tomorrow.

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