On Monday night, a bombshell report dropped that Nolan Arenado was highly dissatisfied with his situation with the Colorado Rockies. The club had openly gauged his trade value earlier this winter, but Arenado claimed that his displeasure with the team went far deeper than mere trade rumors. The superstar made it clear he wanted out, and soon.
This may not seem particularly important to the Yankees. The team has signaled it’s happy with Gio Urshela at third base, and the signing of Gerrit Cole likely marked the end of New York’s big spending for the offseason. It also appears unlikely Arenado could end up within the division. Baltimore is deep in a rebuild, the Blue Jays have a third baseman of the future, and neither the Red Sox nor the Rays have shown a desire to spend money. In all likelihood, Arenado will end up with a team where he won’t have much of an impact on the Yankees’ fortunes.
Yet the parallels here are too strong to the last time a disgruntled star hit the trade market. Just two offseasons ago, the Yankees stunned the baseball world in swiping Giancarlo Stanton away from a cratering Marlins franchise. The odds are long that they’d do it again, but the possibility is so tantalizing, and the situation so eerily similar to the one with Stanton in Miami, that it’s impossible not to fantasize just a bit.
Let’s look at Arenado. He and the Rockies agreed upon a long-term extension prior to last season, one that locked Arenado up through 2026. He’ll earn $35 million per year through 2024, $32 million in 2025, and $27 million in 2026. However, Arenado can opt out after the 2021 season, which would allow him to forgo $164 million worth of guaranteed salary over the final five years of his deal in order to hit the free agent market at age 31.
That opt-out clause complicates things. What’s less complicated is the fact that most teams should be thrilled with the opportunity to pay Arenado those salaries for what he’s likely to produce.
Since 2015, Arenado ranks eighth in baseball in fWAR. He’s posted a 129 OPS+ in that time, smashing 199 homers, second most in the league, while providing all-world defense at third. DRS rates him as 117 runs above average in the field for his career, a mark only bested by Andrelton Simmons over that span.
Arenado at his peak is essentially a lock for a Gold Glove and top-five MVP support. Having yet to turn 29 or show any signs of decline, he looks likely to remain near his peak for the near future. That would make him a steal, even on his mammoth contract. Consider Anthony Rendon, who is a year older than Arenado and has worse defensive numbers, earned a larger guarantee this winter for the next seven years than Arenado secured with his extension.
Of course, should Arenado play at his established level for the next two seasons, he’ll opt out and hit the market. This provides some concern for any acquiring team, as they have to weigh the likelihood that their new star reaches free agency after just two seasons. That opt out also draws a direct parallel to the Yankees’ acquisition of Stanton.
Stanton was in a remarkably similar situation to Arenado when the Yankees struck back in December 2017. Stanton had 10 years remaining on his mega deal, along with an opt-out clause looming three years in. The Yankees took on $265 million of Stanton’s salary in the trade. In Stanton, the Yankees scooped up a 28-year-old, MVP-caliber player from a rebuilding NL team with a big contract and the potential to opt out. In Arenado, we see a 29-year-old MVP-caliber player in the same exact quagmire.
Now, the Yankees were able to secure Stanton seemingly because most other teams were wary of paying him for a decade. Those teams may even be proven right, given Stanton’s injury troubles that threaten to mar his time in the Bronx. An Arenado deal would likely cost more than what the Yankees yielded for Stanton (namely, Starlin Castro and Jorge Guzman).
If Arenado’s displeasure in Colorado leads to the Rockies accepting a somewhat watered-down offer, though, the Yankees should obviously get in the conversation. Such a deal clearly would push their payroll into uncharted territory, but the team prints money, and has never breached the final luxury tax threshold. Many of the arguments made for the Yankees splurging on a previous star third baseman, Manny Machado, hold here, except Arenado is probably an even better player, and is on a less expensive contract.
Arenado would make Miguel Andujar superfluous, likely necessitating Andujar’s inclusion in such a deal, and would allow Gio Urshela to play utilityman/depth role, one to which he’s well-suited. The upgrade Arenado would provide undoubtedly would push the Yankees past all other competitors. While the Yankees are arguably the best team in baseball on paper right now, the Astros and Dodgers could posit the same. Arenado would end the argument immediately.
It’s all a long shot, but given the sticky situation the Rockies find themselves in, and the complicating factor of Arenado’s opt-out clause, there’s no reason the Yankees couldn’t meet the price. The team would have to decide how much is reasonable to surrender for possibly just two years for Arenado, and whether they’re willing to breach the final luxury tax threshold. Given how little they yielded the last time they entered the fray and traded for an unhappy star, the Yankees have to at least give Colorado a call, and consider bringing yet another Rockie over to New York.