Nolan Arenado is a remarkable, complete baseball player. In addition to playing all-world defense at third base, he swings a powerful bat. In fact, he appears to be getting better at the plate with each passing year. Since 2015, his wRC+ has steadily increased: 121, 126, 129, 132. He also has averaged nearly 40 home runs a season over that span.
When Arenado hits free agency following the the 2019 season, a bevy of teams will line up to be suitors. The Yankees, however, probably shouldn’t be one of them. If the Bombers find themselves in the mix for the third baseman next year, that means they likely passed on adding one of the two premiere bats available this offseason.
Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) speculated that the Yankees could sit out on the Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sweepstakes because they may prefer to play the long game with Arenado.
“Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has gone public with his concerns about Machado’s “Johnny Hustle” comments. The Yankees seem lukewarm on Harper, in part because their only position available for him is first base. Could it be the team prefers to focus on pitching this offseason and then pursue Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado as a free agent next winter?”
Rosenthal later compared the three, and gave the edge to Arenado.
“We can debate the three as players. Harper is the best hitter according to park- and league-adjusted OPS, but the least accomplished defender. Machado and Arenado are comparable hitters and defenders, at least when Machado is playing third base. The consensus in the industry, though, would be that Arenado rates the edge in intangibles, and is the best leader.”
This scenario proves troublesome for a few reasons. For one, as Rosenthal notes in his story, Arenado is the oldest of the three. He will spend most of the 2019 season at 28. Machado will turn 27 in July, and Harper will play out the year at 26. Both have posted better offensive numbers on the whole than Arenado, too.
Waiting on Arenado also doesn’t help the Yankees in 2019. The Bombers won 100 games last season, but that doesn’t mean they can rest on their laurels. Sure, the team needs pitching help, but there’s no such thing as having too strong of a lineup. Teams that don’t upgrade do so at their own risk. Machado or Harper can get the Yankees a win next season. Arenado, meanwhile, will try to get the Rockies to the playoffs again.
On the subject of the Rockies, there’s no guarantee that Arenado even leaves Colorado. Rosenthal explains in his story that the team will make every effort to retain the superstar. He’s their franchise icon at the moment, and while that didn’t stop the organization from trading Troy Tulowitzki, one would think they pull out all the stops for Arenado. The Yankees can pass on Machado and Harper, only to come up empty handed next offseason.
Finally, and perhaps most important, such a scenario opens the door for the Yankees to continue to hide under the luxury tax. For five years the team railed on the importance of clearing the threshold because they had a spending spree in mind. The 2018-2019 offseason seemed like the ultimate endgame.
Remember this idea?
Finally: In 2019, Yankees down to just $57M. If they can reset below luxury-tax threshold in '17, watch out. They'll go full drunken sailor.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 12, 2015
Passing on Harper and Machado to wait for Arenado doesn’t scream “drunken sailor.” Plus, at that point, all bets are off. Next winter it will be a story about how the Yankees aren’t in on Arenado because they’re waiting for Mike Trout. Then they will repeat the process again and again. If the Yankees don’t spend big this winter, that should be a telling sign that the club values managing payroll above all else.
For now this appears to be just speculation, and that’s a good thing. While adding Arenado would be cool, the Yankees should focus on the here and now. Sign a Harper or Machado and enjoy the benefits in 2019.