The framework for an agreement that will send Nolan Arenado to Cardinals is in place, but because it will involve rewriting some contract terms, both the league and the union will still have to approve it.
But assuming that is done, it means that one of the most bankable bounces in the last five years – a first round lock to this year, averaging 39.8 homers and 124.2 RBI from 2015 to 2019 – has a new home . And since the home is not Colorado, the land of perpetual crime, some questions arise.
The complicating factor for Arenado is that the draft of his share had already fallen before this agreement. Normally a first round, he has gone in the third round on average after a disappointing 2020 where he played through some soreness in his shoulder.
So trust in him was already shaken even before word came that he would leave the safe harbor of Coors Field, a place known for making kings out of the Narrows. What happens to Arenado when he leaves? During his career, he has beaten .322 with a .985 OPS at Coors Field vs. .263 with a .793 OPS everywhere else.
Of course, it is a mistake to assume that he is “everywhere else” by default now. Few players achieve the perfect balance between home and away splits, and for Rockies especially for players, it can be a hangover effect when they first hit the road after a period in their distorted home environment. So when they leave the thin air for good and join another team, their splits tend to level out. That doesn’t mean they turn out to be as good as when they played in the most favorable environment – not always, anyway – but they are always better than the Road version of their Rockies self.
A recent example is DJ LeMahieu, which had most of us fearing the worst when he left the Rockies to Yankees two years ago. Now we just wish he had traveled earlier. Perhaps the most appropriate historical example is Matt Holliday, which was equal to growth for Arenado before leaving Colorado. He hit .319 with a .938 OPS in five seasons there before hitting .304 with a .899 OPS in the five seasons that followed.
The majority of the second five-year period Holliday spent with – you guessed it – the Cardinals.
Maybe Arenado’s transition is going so well. Maybe some worries about him leaving Colorado are completely overwhelmed. But I keep coming back to his 2020 season and the fact that we have already downgraded him. Why was that? Is it because we can not be sure that the shoulder was completely to blame in his struggles? Is it because we can not be sure that he is completely past it? I was willing to give him a pass and enjoy the discount in the third round, but that was when I assumed he would still play in Colorado. Now that he is not, it seems that an additional downgrade is in order.
Basically, I will still feel like I’m enjoying a discount when I choose Arenado, given the uncertainties, and the middle of the third round no longer does that for me. I’ll drop him behind Anthony rendon, which I already considered his almost equal, but also Rafael Devers, which has shown similar upside in the past and at this point has fewer question marks. But yes, if Arenado is still there in the 45-50 series, I will gladly choose him.
As for those who will benefit from his departure and now reap the benefits of Coors Field, it is difficult to say exactly what the Rockies will do given the options they have. Trevor Story are locked in at shortstop, but they were already less than settled in all other infield places. Ryan mcmahon will probably play one of them. My guess is the first base, which will leave the second base to Garrett Hampson if the Rockies are interested in giving him a more common role.
Train the top prospects Brendan Rodgers could instead play second base or take Arenado’s place at third, and he would be the main post-hype sleeper after losing some luster due to his own shoulder problems over the past two years. In 143 bats on Triple-A Albuquerque back in 2019, before the problems began, Rodgers hit .350 with nine homers and a 1,035 OPS.
In stock for Rodgers, who is officially mixed league-viable, and stock up a bit for Hampson, who is still exciting as long as he still steals bases and still calls Coors Field his home.