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2021 Colorado Rockies: What the Arenado Trade Means for the Team

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Well, it’s done. The 2021 Colorado Rockies will be a lot less fun to watch. The Nolan Arenado trade has finally happened.

After seemingly years of rumors, the Colorado Rockies have traded superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals. The deal was first reported on January 30th by Ken Rosenthal and took a few days to be finalized due to the complications of Arenado’s contract and the eventual return the Rockies would get. But on February 2nd, it was confirmed. The trade was complete. The Rockies sent the Cardinals quite a bit of money and Nolan Arenado in exchange for the package of players you can see down below:

To say the move wasn’t popular is the understatement of the century. Rockies fans all over social media ripped the franchise apart in a mixture of disbelief, sadness, and anger that’s really hard to put into words. Media outlets of all levels, from local stations to national reporters, openly laughed at the Rockies for the move. The entire baseball community seemed to be unified in one thought: “How could the Rockies be so dumb?”

Me, personally? I went through an initial state of pure sadness, like the many Rockies fans did. The forums at places like Purple Row were filled with grief, people were going crazy on Twitter. I felt like crying for a second, I really did. Why? Well, it’s not just the player himself. It’s just not that I won’t be able to watch Nolan at the hot corner for my favorite team every single day. It’s not just that I’ll seriously miss his evident intensity and will to win, his refusal to be anything less than excellent, his intolerance for mediocrity. It’s what the trade represents.

Being a Rockies fan is tough. The team is run by people who oftentimes come across as either inept, delusional, passive, or a mix of the three. Rockies hitters get dismissed because of “Coors”. Rockies pitchers get overlooked because their ERA’s are not that shiny even when they’re good. The team has rarely experienced stable winning in its 28 years of history. There’s a reason Rockies fans hold onto 2007 the way they do, you know? It’s the only true success this franchise has ever had.

When your favorite team is so frustrating, you get attached to individual players as a basic instinct, and blindly rooting for the logo is almost impossible. And that’s why this trade was so painful for many. Nolan Arenado represented the Rockies’ best chance in recent memory at sustained success. He was the leader of a group of talent that included Trevor Story, German Marquez, Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, and others. A group strong enough to push the Rockies towards being a legitimate contender for the first time.

And now he’s gone.

We won’t get into why that group failed to carry the team because that’s worthy of another piece altogether. But as of right now, Nolan Arenado is gone, the Rockies are coming off two horrendous seasons, and the fanbase is well past the point of simple apathy. They’re enraged. And they should be, especially since ownership seems to believe they had little or nothing to do with Nolan wanting out. Oh, and they also believe this team is “very talented” and should “compete” this upcoming season. Pretty laughable as far as I’m concerned, but that’s not important right now.

Rockies baseball will go on. As hopeless as the franchise seems right now, they have games to play and that’s not going to stop anytime soon. So what does the Nolan Arenado trade mean for the 2021 Colorado Rockies?

2021 Colorado Rockies: The Arenado Trade Makes a Bad Offense Even Worse

Here’s something that the average fan might not know: Colorado’s offense has been horrible as of late, and that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. Here are their ranks in some important offensive stats among all 30 teams since 2017:

StatRank
wRC+28th
BB%23rd
O-Swing%24th
Hard Hit%24th

It’s bad. And that’s with Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, and Charlie Blackmon, by the way. This is a team with a combined wRC+ of 86 since 2017. Even if you think advanced stats are too harsh on Rockies hitters, that’s terrible, and they just lost their best and most reliable hitter. Here’s a non-Arenado lineup prediction with each player’s wRC+ over the past two seasons next to their name.

OrderPlayerPosition’19-’20 wRC+
1Raimel TapiaLF80
2Josh Fuentes1B71
3Charlie BlackmonRF118
4Trevor StorySS120
5Ryan McMahon3B85
6Brendan Rodgers2B8
7Sam HilliardCF101
8Elias DiazC60

Not pretty, right? Of those eight hitters, only two are clearly above average, let alone good, and one of them (Charlie Blackmon) is 34-years-old and showed some alarming signs of decline last season. And don’t get too excited about Sam Hilliard either: that 101 wRC+ is mainly fueled by his insane cup of coffee in September of 2019. Brendan Rodgers will be much better, but the 2021 Colorado Rockies are going to lose a lot of 5-2 games, and pitchers are going to struggle to get wins. Speaking of pitchers, let’s talk about the effects the Arenado trade will have on the pitching staff.

Hurts the Pitching Staff

Yet another thing that might surprise the average fan. The best part about the Colorado Rockies since 2017 has been their pitching staff, the starting rotation in particular. A homegrown rotation with the great trio of Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, and Jon Gray at the top, and other young pitchers like Tyler Anderson and Antonio Senzatela was the key to the team’s brief success in 2017 and 2018. In essence, the Colorado Rockies pitched their way into the postseason, as weird as that sounds. And the key to their success? Groundballs. Lots of groundballs.

You can connect the dots pretty easily on this one. Since 2017, Rockies pitchers rank first in groundball% (46.4%) and 22nd in K/9 (8.02). The idea was to keep the ball on the ground to both prevent home runs and to take advantage of the terrific infield defense the team has featured in recent times. That infield defense was, of course, headlined by the eight-time Gold Glove Award winner Nolan Arenado, along with Trevor Story at short and a mix of DJ LeMahieu and Ryan McMahon at second. Here are Rockies infielders as a group and their ranks by Statcast’s Outs Above Average defensive metric since 2017:

YearOAA Rank
20177th
20183rd
20192nd
20204th

Now, Ryan McMahon is a nice fielder at the hot corner, but he’s no Nolan Arenado, and a pitching staff that has so much trouble striking guys out needs every bit of defensive contribution it can get. Yet another spot where the loss of the perennial Gold Glover hurts the 2021 Colorado Rockies.

Of course, it would be disingenuous to not mention Austin Gomber, the only player the Rockies got in return from the Nolan Arenado trade (in my opinion, of course) to have a legit shot at a solid big league career. The 27-year-old lefty has pitched both as a starter and in relief for the Cardinals and he figures to be the favorite for the number five starter job behind the already set-in-stone Márquez-Freeland-Senzatela-Gray.

That is an upgrade that cannot be overlooked, because the quality level of the number five starter before Gomber arrived was, eh, not great. Is Austin Gomber Sandy Koufax? No, but he has a classic four-pitch mix (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup), okay Velo, and throws from a high overhand release point that’s pretty different to the other starters the 2021 Colorado Rockies have to offer. He has a legit shot to be a back of the rotation type, which is valuable, and he won’t be a free agent until 2026, which is also valuable.

So in short, the 2021 Colorado Rockies will have worse infield defense in exchange for better pitching depth. Gomber is likely a legit big leaguer, even if he’s never a star, so that sounds about even. He better learn to use that slider effectively.

Patience and Hope Rockies Fans Had Left

And now we tackle the elephant in the room. We can go on and on about the effects of the Nolan Arenado trade on the field, how the prospects they got in return might or might not help three years down the road, how the glaring hole he leaves affects the depth chart right now, but that’s only the surface. The true consequences of this trade will be felt in a much more personal way.

I mentioned before that the reason the Nolan Arenado trade is so painful is due to what it represents. That core of players that should’ve catapulted the Rockies to stable World Series contention is no more. The window has officially been shut. Even if some Rockies fans wanted to believe there still was a chance, this move puts an end to all hope for good, and now we see where this is headed. We see the end of the line, right there in front of all of our stunned faces.

  • Charlie Blackmon is not the same player he was two or three years ago and will likely decline, playing out his final years in Colorado because his contract is such an albatross that no one will take him.
  • Trevor Story has one year left under team control, after which he’s extremely unlikely to stay with the team. Why would he want to stick around? He’ll likely be the best shortstop available on the market even in a stacked class and the Rockies have no hope to contend shortly. That, and he’s seen how Arenado was treated. No chance he stays a Rockie.
  • Jon Gray also has one year left before he hits free agency, and there’s very little chance he stays in Colorado as well. The Rockies have mishandled his abilities for long enough, and I think he knows it too.
  • Germán Márquez is the best pitcher in franchise history. No hyperbole. He’s the best and the most talented hurler this organization has ever had, and he’s being constantly mentioned in trade rumors. Remember how a supposed Nolan Arenado trade was in the works every offseason since like 2017, folks? Get ready for some more of that with Germán.

This is a franchise that hasn’t won a single NL West title in 28 years of existence. This is a franchise that constantly goes against all logic in terms of personnel moves, philosophy, and so on. This is the team preaching “pitch to contact” in 2021. This is a team that likes free swingers in 2021. This is a franchise that has given their dedicated fanbase very little to cheer for across nearly three decades.

So you have all of this combined with an owner who simply doesn’t understand how to run an MLB franchise, a smug, arrogant General Manager who has the owner’s blessing to mess up as many times as he wants to while still retaining his job and a fanbase that’s gone through letdown after letdown while still supporting the team. And now, these loyal fans are watching the entire baseball world laugh at their favorite team and all they can say is “Yep. They deserve every bit of it”.

The levels of hubris and delusion in the front office are absolutely unreal and nobody within the organization seems to be willing to admit the truth. What’s that truth you say? The truth is the Colorado Rockies are an inept franchise. The truth is the Colorado Rockies are the worst run organization in all of baseball. You can tell me about the Pirates and the Orioles all you want, but those teams have a plan. Whether it works out or not, there’s a plan in place. There is a vision. There are goals.

That’s where the Rockies differ from other organizations. The 2021 Colorado Rockies, following tradition, have no baseball goals. The Rockies are a franchise with no competitive direction, owned by someone who has “winning” very low on his list of interests. The Rockies are simply part of the Coors Field experience, which is what Dick Monfort truly sells. And he can afford to be openly incompetent because he knows fans will still show up to games. They’ll still buy merch. Even after the Nolan Arenado trade, Rockies fans will continue to put money in his wallet. That’s what he’s banking on.

So ask yourself this: what kind of leverage do you have as a fan? Well, you’re a consumer. You decide whether or not to pay for a product based on the quality of a said product. If you go to a pizza place but the product is terrible and the owner of the spot tells you “yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? I have no intentions of improving my pizza!” would you go back and give your hard-earned money to that place? Obviously not, right? Do the same with the 2021 Colorado Rockies. You can support the team, of course. But if you financially reward the Monfort family for their horrendous product, then complaining doesn’t make any sense to me.

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Mario Delgado is a sound engineer and amateur (wishing to turn pro) baseball writer. I write for Overtime Heroics, MaxSportingStudio and on my own page.