The disillusionment that has percolated for months in behind-the-scenes meetings between Colorado Rockies leadership and the camp of star Nolan Arenado bled into the public sphere on Monday. After Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich declared that the team had ended trade talks for Arenado, the third baseman shot back to MLB.com, accusing the team of "a lot of disrespect from people there that I don't want to be a part of."
The disrespect, sources told ESPN, centered on the Rockies' winter of inaction less than a year after the team signed Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million contract extension. When the organization signaled early this offseason that it did not intend to expand its payroll this winter, Arenado expressed betrayal, according to sources, believing Colorado was not doing enough to improve a team coming off a 71-91 season.
Late last week, the Rockies informed teams that they intended to slow discussions for Arenado, multiple teams involved in the talks told ESPN, though they continued to exchange proposals with teams over the weekend. Teams that have shown varying levels of interest in Arenado this winter include the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, according to sources.
Executives involved in the discussions told ESPN that Colorado's demands were excessive enough that no deal has come close to being finalized. The Rockies, sources said, have sought a significant return for Arenado, despite the size and structure of his contract.
Further complicating matters are the provisions in Arenado's deal that grant him significant leverage. He holds both a full no-trade clause and an opt-out clause that allows him to void the deal after the 2021 season. Currently, Arenado is owed $234 million over the next seven years. Were he to opt out, he would leave $164 million on the table and reach free agency at 30 years old.
The fraying of the relationship between Arenado and Colorado has progressed throughout the offseason, even after the sides, including Rockies owner Dick Monfort, met in person, according to sources. The organization is puzzled by Arenado's questioning of its leadership and future so soon after he agreed to an extension on Feb. 26, 2019, sources said, while Arenado's concern about Colorado's prospects in the increasingly strong National League West has become more palpable with the team not signing a major league free agent yet this winter.
Coming off an NL Division Series loss in 2018, the Rockies spent a franchise-record $178.9 million on payroll last year; and with a payroll that currently would exceed $170 million, they are in line to be the second-highest-spending team in the division, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At the same time, the Rockies' disastrous forays into free agency in 2017 and 2018 -- they guaranteed a combined $176 million to outfielder Ian Desmond and relievers Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, who have accounted for -4.5 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference data -- have hamstrung them financially. The four will make $50.5 million this season.
Arenado's comments came after Bridich, who is entering his sixth season as Rockies GM, told the Denver Post that Colorado would not deal the five-time All-Star, who has won a Gold Glove in each of his seven major league seasons and is regarded as being on a Hall of Fame track, with a career .295/.351/.546 line, 227 home runs and 734 RBIs.
"We have listened to teams regarding Nolan, and really nothing has come of it," Bridich told the Post. "We are going to move forward pretty much as we expected, with Nolan in the purple and black as our third baseman."
Despite Bridich's declaration, multiple officials and sources familiar with the situation believe that Arenado's comments to the Post and MLB.com could change the calculus for the Rockies. Although Arenado did not request a trade on Monday, the airing of his frustration -- "There's more to it" than simply the trade rumors, he told MLB.com -- combined with the issue potentially hanging over the Rockies during spring training and the start of the season could force the team to reconsider.
Colorado's commitment to moving Arenado, according to executives with teams that have discussed deals for him, has been seen as tepid. One general manager said the package the Rockies sought was "ridiculous," and another said, "I don't really think they want to trade him."
The Rockies' conundrum mirrors that of the Miami Marlins, who traded outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees following his NL MVP-winning 2017 season. Stanton, who also had full no-trade provisions, nixed deals with the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants before agreeing to go to the Yankees. New York sent second baseman Starlin Castro and prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers to Miami in exchange for Stanton and $265 million of the $295 million remaining on his deal. Guzman, 23, is seen as a likely reliever with a triple-digit fastball, and the 20-year-old Devers hit .322/.391/.390 in 47 games in the low minor leagues last season.
Similarly, this situation mirrors the exit of longtime Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, whom Colorado traded in the middle of his 10-year, $157.5 million deal. Tulowitzki, who was seen as the Rockies' franchise player before Arenado, said he was blindsided by a deal that sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2015, and Tulowitzki later told USA Today that he was "lied to" by the team. Bridich told the Post: "I feel we handled our business professionally."
The third-base trade market remains ripe for interested teams after the Minnesota Twins signed Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million. The Cubs have spent the winter entertaining the idea of dealing Kris Bryant, who is awaiting a ruling on what is seen as a long shot grievance seeking an extra year of service time that could allow him to reach free agency following the 2020 season.