The reported trade of Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals is hitting everyone in the Rocky Mountain in about the same way.

While all the elements of the deal haven’t been finalized, the speculated details are more than enough to know this will be bad for the organization in every single way. Some positives can come from this, but it seems light years away from the present.

With hundreds of angles from which this can be viewed, there will be no shortage of stories to file in the days and weeks ahead.

In the wake of this monumental move will be a lot of innocent bystanders, such as current Colorado players faced with answering questions about Arenado’s departure and manager Bud Black, who had nothing to do with the decision.

It’s hard to get back proper value for a future Hall of Famer, but it seems GM Jeff Bridich and owner Dick Monfort have essentially given away their golden boy.

The accuracy of the names coming to Colorado may not be accurate. What does appear clear is that Rockies will not be getting a projectable impact player from the Cardinals’ system. However, one can hope there is a player who’ll develop better than expected like a certain flat-footed high schooler that slipped to 59th overall spot in the 2009 MLB Draft.

Of course, that still won’t be enough for the man that could go down as the greatest third baseman of all-time.

What’s hard to consider in this trade is anything other than financials, especially when breaking down the specifics and comparing it to another recent deal of a superstar on a record setting contract.

Following the 2017 season, new ownership of the Miami Marlins looked to shed payroll and increase the odds of creating a perennial contender through homegrown talent. They dealt the entirety of their talented young outfield: Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton.

While a strong case could have been made that those three represented a great opportunity for the Marlins to win going forward, there were issues with holes in the rotation and roster depth, not to mention a farm system considered to be one of the MLB’s worst.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately for Miami, Yelich won the National League MVP the next season with Milwaukee and Ozuna hit .429 in his first taste of the postseason with St. Louis. As for Stanton, his production in New York mattered little to his old club who simply needed someone to take the remainder of his record-setting 13-year, $325 million contract.

In similar fashion, Colorado wanted to rid itself of Arenado’s remaining $199 million.

Exploring the Similarities

Both deals included a transfer of about $40-50 million: for the Rockies, that means cold, hard cash of nearly $50 million, as reported; for the Marlins, it meant taking the contract of four-time All-Star Starlin Castro, owed $40,428,572 million over the next four seasons.

Stanton was two years younger than Arenado at the time, with approximately $105 million more due on his deal. After subtracting the offsetting money and factoring in the additional year at the back end of the contract for $15 million the Cardinals will include, both acquiring clubs were set to pay their new superstar approximately $24 million per season: Stanton, $25.5M AAV; Arenado, $23.4M AAV.

While the numbers line up well annually despite the massive difference in overall money owed, the return of prospects certainly does not appear to be balanced between Miami and Colorado, especially when factoring in the Marlins’ on-field addition of Castro, a veteran second baseman coming off an All-Star performance in his age-27 season.

Despite the financials suggesting the Rockies should be receiving a similar package of players, it appears they were bested at the negotiation table.

Though the prospects rumored to be acquired by Colorado are all outside St. Louis’ top 10, Miami received two promising upstarts in their deal. RHP Jorge Guzman had just come off a remarkable season and began the next year as the Marlins’ 2nd-rated prospect. International signing Jose Devers had yet to play in the U.S. at the time and quickly shot up to the 11th-best in Miami’s system once he did.

At the end of the day, the biggest difference between these deals is the ownership of the respective franchises. For Miami, Derek Jeter’s group purchased the club with hopes to rebrand the franchise after years of losing under Jeffrey Loria. They wanted a reset and to begin doing business their way. A fresh start for a new leader looking to win as many championships as he won as a player with the Yankees.

For Colorado, it’s the same ownership that has failed to win the NL West for 28 consecutive seasons. It should be noted the financially-motivated move comes during a pandemic after MLB has claimed losses in excess of $3 billion; however, many other teams around the sport are adding free agents and spending money to contend.

Miami has to yet to reinvest since drastically cutting their payroll in that 2017-18 offseason, but they’ve already begun to reap the rewards. Players acquired for their trio of outfielders, in addition to those who came over in the J.T. Realmuto deal to Philadelphia, helped take the franchise to its first postseason in 2020 after a 17-year drought.

It’s still unclear how the Rockies will spend the savings of $149 million. Some of that capital could be used to extend Trevor Story and Jon Gray, free agents following the 2021 season. Perhaps a state-of-the-art analytics team can allow Colorado to contend even without one of the highest payrolls in the sport, much like other small market clubs, such as the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics.

With only $41.3 million guaranteed in contracts for 2022 and just $27.8 million beyond that, there would normally be reason to think adding payroll is how Monfort and his front office will proceed. Based on the impetus for this entire discussion, it might be anything but that.

On his MLB Network Radio show, former general manager Jim Bowden said of the deal, “If the initial reports are accurate, this is one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. It will go down in history as one of the worst trades ever made by a major league team on behalf of the Rockies. It’s almost unfathomable.”

Even if Rockies’ fans hold out hope that some of the details in the reported trade of Arenado are inaccurate, it still won’t be pretty.

Perhaps Colorado could also acquire the Cardinals’ Competitive Balance Round B selection, the only type of draft pick that can be traded. By receiving the 68th overall pick – two slots after the Rockies’ 66th – Colorado would have four early selections in the 2021 MLB Draft.

Unfortunately, that goes against everything this deal represents.

If the goal was to improve the on-field product of the Rockies or even to improve the farm system, Colorado would have been able to pry the pick from St. Louis, as it would have been foolish to decline a deal of this magnitude over a competitive balance selection.

But this likely wasn’t a sticking point for both sides as the 68th selection comes with the burden of spending an additional $953,100 to select an amateur player, an action that goes against everything that ownership is looking to accomplish in the trade of Arenado.

In the end…

The discussion of a boycott by Rockies’ fans – their only real recourse – might normally make the ears of any business perk up during these financially challenging times.

With limited attendance expected for 2021 and no guarantee anything will be markedly better in 2022, the loss in revenue at the ticket office may only be a fraction of what would be expected in a pre-pandemic world.

Until both MLB and the MLB Players’ Association give their approval and the trade is finalized, together we must wait in purgatory for our next destination.

  • Patrick, at this point I want to wait for the final details of the deal to burn any Monfort/Bridich effigies, but I think this does give us more insight into recent past and near future. To have inked Nolan to that deal with the opt out pushed the Bridich tells us they wanted to push for a WS in 2019/2020. They were buying two years of labor solidarity with Nolan, and hoping to push one final try for a WS. Okay, totally get that. Clearly they never wanted Nolan to stay beyond 2021. And to be blunt, smaller-market clubs should only ink big contracts for age 30-35 players if their name is Trout or Aaron. Could Nolan be a stud in age 30-35 season? Of course…but the risk was always too great. Since Nolan never would have signed an extension for a couple of years, it gave both sides protection. And assuming baseball finances continued to boom (a good belief in January 2019), Nolan could have opted out and make big money somewhere but Rox would have gotten 2-3 more seasons of prime Nolan. They were buying short on margin, and figured a liquid market would protect them.

    But then 2020 happened. If the details don’t move much, this tells you all you need to know about how baseball views 2021-2022. There was no way the union would have allowed Nolan to opt out if his contract shrunk by $5-7m/year, as it would have next winter. And the Rox truly believe they do not have the budget to have Nolan and anyone else beyond 2021 in that environment. The talk out of Arizona, the potential fan limits for 2021, and the death of cable deals has changed the financial calculus for a lot of clubs. The Rox put themselves in a corner with an unhappy ball player they couldn’t afford where all but perhaps half a dozen other clubs were in the same situation. And to free themselves…a major margin call has come due. To be honest, aside from providing the fig leaf of cover the union contact requires, I’m not sure any prospects would have been included. The NHL we see prospects going as part of Nolan just to save the salary cap situation (ie, get the other team to take a bad contact). Given what is clearly the Rox financial forecasts (and I do believe this may give a picture of Monfort’s overall business portfolio which is clearly cashflow-starved due to Covid), this was what they were stuck with. Well, this or Nolan and the Toddlers. While I think Bridich is an awful GM (because player relationships are part of it), the mistake was betting in January of 2019. Maybe it was the right move, coming off a Game 163 loss of a West division banner and a better run to WS. But the bet blew up big in their faces…along with a lot else the past few years.

    Maybe we should just be grateful it’s over. But unless a new GM and staff are in place to build for 2022 and beyond, it’s hard to think past mistakes won’t be repeated.

    • A few great points here, Christopher, specifically, “They never wanted Nolan to stay beyond 2021.”

      As for this, “Rox would have gotten 2-3 more seasons of prime Nolan (with the long-term deal that includes an opt-out).” This is part of the problem. Colorado left itself with only two options: the relationship is great and he stays; Nolan opts out and Rockies get out from under the contract and can still look like the good guy. Had they considered what the opt-out would do for drastically reducing his trade value, they wouldn’t have given the opt-out. They wanted to have their cake and to eat it, too. That’s something that someone who thinks they’re incredibly intelligent would do. Sound like anyone you know?

      “There was no way the union would have allowed Nolan to opt out if his contract shrunk by $5-7m/year, as it would have next winter.” I don’t know how true this is at the moment. After 2021, Nolan was due 5 years at $164M. With a normal Nolan season, he certainly could have gotten close, if not matched that deal. Regardless, the MLBPA cannot prevent a player from opting out. They can impress upon the importance of not opting out, but they could not prevent him from doing so. Sure, if he opts out and got 6 years at $164 – very reasonable – the money is the same, but not the average annual value. Some union mates would be pissed, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

      “Unless a new GM and staff are in place to build for 2022 and beyond, it’s hard to think past mistakes won’t be repeated.” I couldn’t agree more. A broken clock is right twice a day. Major changes need to be made in order for this franchise to ever win a World Series. It’s not bad luck that keeps a team from not winning its own division for 28 consecutive seasons.

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