Mere months away from testing free agency, Nolan Arenado opted to take the guaranteed payday from the only club he’s played for since being drafted out of high school in 2009. On Tuesday, the four-time All-Star signed an eight-year, $260-million deal with full no-trade provisions that will make him the highest-paid position player – on an average annual basis – in baseball history.
While the current face of the Colorado Rockies will remain with the franchise for the foreseeable future and possibly his entire career, it’s still a move that carries league-wide implications.
Let’s break down the winners and losers of Arenado’s deal.
Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon’s biggest offseason competition for a contract is now officially off the market. Here’s how similarly the two stars stack up over the past two seasons:
While Arenado has won more hardware throughout his career – including six Gold Gloves – the two are among the league’s premier third basemen. With Rendon just 10 months older than Arenado, the $280-million extension should set the market for Rendon’s asking price.
Without Arenado reaching the open market, Rendon will hit free agency as the best position player available and will likely compete for top dollars with Chris Sale and Gerrit Cole.
The Rockies locked up one of their elite players and the deal has to be viewed as a major success in the immediate aftermath.
Keeping Arenado in Denver didn’t happen overnight. The club avoided arbitration with a record-breaking one-year pact earlier this winter, and those positive negotiations helped set the table for a record-setting eight-year deal that serves as the cherry on top of an incredibly productive offseason.
The Rockies have had trouble getting over the hump in recent years but are coming off a successful 91-win campaign and have reached the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. With Arenado locked up, their prospects of playoff contention are strengthened.
Keeping the perennial MVP candidate further legitimizes the team’s extension with Charlie Blackmon as well as the two-year contract they gave to Daniel Murphy this winter. A competitive window that looked to be closing has now opened up a bit more.
It also affords the team the luxury of knowing not to groom their top prospect, Brendan Rodgers, to play the hot corner, and possibly makes Colton Welker expendable in a midseason trade if the club finds itself in a World Series push over the next couple of years. As good as Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, and German Marquez are, it would be nice to finally bring an ace to Colorado.
Of course, we have to mention the man who just padded his wallet and seems certain to secure his place among the Rockies’ all-time greats.
By signing this deal, he’s also escaped potential criticisms of his game if he hit free agency or, even worse, signed elsewhere. You can’t take his road numbers as gospel, but here are the road OPS among third basemen in baseball since the 2016 season (min. 400 plate appearances):
That’s a pretty damning list, but one that won’t tarnish his resume now that he won’t hit free agency until after the 2021 season at the earliest.
Arenado will now remain right where he should be. He has job security and a salary that will take care of future generations of his family. He won’t have to worry about a potential free-agent freeze that other stars faced this winter or the lingering questions about his future throughout the 2019 season.
One more year of facing Arenado or eight? The rest of the division would probably prefer the former.
Here’s how the slugger has tormented the other four teams in his division since breaking into the league in 2013:
Eighty-nine of his 186 career home runs (47.8 percent) have come against division rivals. The more familiar Arenado gets with opposing pitching staffs, the worse it’s become for their collective ERA.
Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray has been absolutely owned by Arenado over his career. In 31 at-bats, Arenado has 11 hits, including three doubles and three homers, and four walks for a 1.223 OPS. Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn’t acquitted himself any better over 19 at-bats, also allowing a trio of home runs and three doubles as Arenado has worked a 1.811 OPS.
The Dodgers were reportedly interested in recruiting Arenado once he hit free agency. Now, after failing to retain Manny Machado, the money they may have put away for Arenado is just sitting there idly – for the time being, at least.
The famously wealthy Yankees were unwilling to budge on their offer to Machado and wound up getting outbid by the Padres, of all teams. They were likely offering less than the Chicago White Sox as well.
This entire time, though, that seemed fine. After all, they have Miguel Andujar stationed at third base for now, and they had their sights seemingly set on Arenado next winter. Well, Andujar will have a little bit more pressure on him to live up to the hype, because Arenado isn’t coming.
By all accounts, Andujar’s bat plays at the major-league level. The rookie authored a remarkable .297/.328/.527 slash line with 27 home runs and two stolen bases over 149 games last year. The problem is, the glove might not be able to stick at the hot corner. The 23-year-old cost his club 25 runs last year, according to Defensive Runs Saved.
Whether bringing in both former teammates Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu this winter was part of the plan to recruit Arenado may now never be known. In any case, it doesn’t matter.
Fans of free agency
You thought the free-agency period centered around Harper and Machado was disconcerting? Wait until you get next year’s iteration.
With Arenado off the board, Sale, Cole, and Rendon remain as the key pieces, along with Xander Bogaerts, Paul Goldschmidt, and J.D. Martinez should the latter opt out of his contract.
Not only is there no Harper-level talent on that list, but there’s a chance that none of them actually hit free agency. Sale and Bogaerts have already expressed a willingness to sign an extension with the Boston Red Sox.
While nothing has come out about the Astros and Cole working on anything, Houston retaining its young ace could be crucial as Justin Verlander is also headed for free agency.
The Cardinals parted with major-league ready talent to get Goldschmidt in December, and an extension has been the expectation ever since. Nothing has materialized yet, but St. Louis has been on a roll of late, inking Miles Mikolas and Jose Martinez to extensions. It’s kind of their thing, actually, as the Cards did it last year with Paul DeJong and with Stephen Piscotty the year before that.
Rendon is represented by Scott Boras, and while he is known for avoiding extensions, the Washington Nationals have made it work with the super agent before, inking Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $175-million contract in 2016. Rendon himself has stated he’d be open to an extension.
Prepare yourselves – just in case – for a free-agent class led by Zack Wheeler.