The Nolan Arenado era in Colorado might be nearing its end.
Arenado has been the subject of trade rumors for the better part of the 2019-20 season, but things exploded on Monday night when the All-Star third basemen voiced his displeasure and “disrespect” coming from the Rockies organization just a few hours after general manager Jeff Bridich all but tabled trade discussions.
Colorado signed Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million extension last February in a move that seemingly made him the face of the franchise. However, a disappointing 2019 season paired with payroll concerns–not to mention Arenado’s opt-out clause following the 2021 season–have given rise to endless trade rumors.
Jeff Passan of ESPN reported Arenado’s frustrations stem from an offseason of inactivity following Colorado’s 71-91 mark in 2019. But given Colorado are unlikely to make a big splash or approach contention this season, it might be reasonable to suggest they have little choice but to deal their star attraction.
The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves seemingly come to mind as potential suitors after missing out on Josh Donaldson, but do not expect either club to make a blockbuster move. Atlanta signaled their willingness to ride things out with Austin Riley and Johan Camargo at third base when they signed outfielder Marcell Ozuna, and the Nationals are reluctant to part ways with young talent like Victor Robles.
With all this in mind, here are the three teams most likely to acquire Nolan Arenado ahead of Spring Training.
3. Chicago White Sox
On the surface, the White Sox do not seem to make sense. Yoan Moncada emerged as a star at the hot corner, and Chicago have talented infield prospects like Nick Madrigal waiting in the wings.
However, the White Sox signaled their desire to compete in 2020 by signing the likes of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion and Dallas Kuechel while also locking up top prospect Luis Robert to a lucrative, multi-year contract.
Trading for Arenado would not only suggest the White Sox are all-in, but might also give them the firepower necessary to match the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.
The White Sox also have the assets necessary to make a deal for Arenado. They can offer a package centered around Madrigal while also including catcher James McCann (although the Rockies desire a young and controllable backstop) as well as one of their top arms, possibly someone like Dylan Cease. Chicago might also flirt with trading Andrew Vaughn. In any case, they would seem to have the pieces necessary to get a potential deal done.
Making the move for Arenado would move Moncada over second base, where he struggled mightily in 2018. Still, the 24-year-old has the tools and athleticism to be an excellent fielder at any infield spot, and Arenado would obviously revolutionize Chicago’s infield defense from the outset.
Additionally, Nolan Arenado would provide protection for some of Chicago’s talented young hitters, including and especially Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson, not to mention steady run-producer Jose Abreu.
The White Sox showed they are not afraid to spend big this winter, but might they also be willing to part with top talent to bring Arenado to the South Side?
2. Texas Rangers
The Rangers missed a huge opportunity to try to sing Houston native Anthony Rendon in free agency, and they quickly removed themselves from the Donaldson conversation when it became clear he would land a four-year deal. But they should be considered a favorite to land Arenado.
For starters, the Rangers can put together the kind of package the Rockies desire. Sam Huff is one of the best catching prospects in baseball, and would almost immediately pique Colorado’s interest. They also have third baseman Josh Jung, who came in at No. 55 on the MLB.com Top 100 list. Not to mention, the Rangers could throw in the plethora of arms they have in their farm system.
Of course, there are reasons the Rangers might be less attractive. They do not have the same kind of competitive outlook as the White Sox in 2020, which looms large especially because Nolan Arenado has a full no-trade clause and can block any deal he so chooses. Moreover, if the Rangers were so hesitant to offer a seventh year to Rendon, would they really be willing to take on Arenado’s contract given he also has the opt-out looming in the near future?
Despite those questions, the Rangers should be a major player should Arenado switch teams. They are desperate to make something happen with a new stadium opening this season, and there is still a glaring hole at the hot corner. Similarly, Texas’ moves to trade for Corey Kluber and bring back Robinson Chirinos indicated they are at least somewhat dedicated to winning in 2020.
In any case, the Rangers absolutely need more production in their lineup. Joey Gallo is coming off a breakout season, but health is a concern. There is also no telling how Danny Santana and Willie Calhoun will perform over the course of a full season.
Nolan Arenado would provide Texas with a power bat in the middle of the lineup and spectacular defense behind a promising starting rotation. He might even make them playoff contenders in 2020.
The Cardinals seem like the most likely landing spot for Arenado. St. Louis has long been a factory for producing quality players, and they still have a surplus on their current roster, paired with a number of interesting prospects.
As is the case with the Rangers, the Cardinals have an elite catching prospect in Andrew Knizer. They could also dangle recently-acquired pitcher Matthew Liberatore or fellow left-hander Zack Thompson.
But the biggest reason St. Louis should be regarded as the favorites? They have a number of big-league ready assets they could move in any deal. From Tommy Edman and Lane Thomas to Tyler O’Neill and Daniel Ponce de Leon, the Cardinals are flooded with young players that could go the other way in an Nolan Arenado deal.
There are caveats here, as well. The Rockies are also looking for outfielders, and the Cardinals are suddenly running a bit short in terms of depth after trading Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire Liberatore. They would might not be willing to part with top prospect Dylan Carlson. Not to mention, the Cardinals would probably want to try to include Matt Carpenter as a means of lessening the payroll burden.
However, these factors could be rather inconsequential if the Rockies have indeed lost leverage in negotiations following Monday’s debacle. Arenado has also stated he prefers to remain in the National League, which naturally benefits the Cardinals.
St. Louis finally returned to the top of the National League Central in 2019, even making it as far as the National League Championship Series. Nolan Arenado could be the piece that puts them over the top in their quest for a World Series, which might promote a greater sense of urgency.
In any case, the Cardinals are in the best position to land Arenado, and their propensity for making major acquisitions–like trading Paul Goldschmidt last winter–should terrify opposing NL clubs.