DENVER — Nolan Arenado hasn’t expressed this much optimism since signing his $260 million contract with Colorado two years ago.
“Excited” was the term the slugging, slick-fielding third baseman used about a dozen times Tuesday at his introductory news conference following his blockbuster trade from the Rockies to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Excited to join a team that’s always in the playoff picture. Excited to join an organization with such rich history.
Left unsaid but just underneath the surface: Excited to flee a franchise that posted just two winning records in his eight years in Denver and that never advanced beyond the NL Division Series.
The eight-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star forced his way out of Colorado by steadfastly sticking to a request to be traded. He’ll be suiting up for a Cardinals team thinking about an NL Central title and more, while the Rockies are looking at some variation of a rebuild in front of a frustrated fanbase.
“They really care about winning,” Arenado said of the Cardinals. “That’s all they talk about. It’s really awesome to be a part of. It’s a little different — we’re hopeful we can win the division title and it feels good knowing we have a chance to do that — a good chance.”
While the Cardinals have had 13 consecutive winning seasons with five division titles during the streak, the Rockies have had nine winning seasons since their inaugural campaign in 1993 — and have never won the NL West.
The disconnect between Arenado and the front office started to take place around nine months after he signed his $260 million, eight-year contract in February 2019. The rift centered around improving the team after consecutive playoff appearances in 2017-18. But the Rockies slid back in ’19 with a 91-loss campaign and missed the postseason again in a virus-shortened ’20 season.
Enough was enough. He voiced his frustration and wanted out. He couldn’t be swayed.
“I have anguished for many sleepless nights wondering why that happened?” Rockies owner Dick Monfort said. “To be quite honest, in all of our conversations with him, he never just said it was this or that or whatever.”
The Cardinals acquired Arenado for what some considered a steal: left-hander Austin Gomber and four minor leaguers. As part of the trade, Colorado will send cash to St. Louis to offset part of the money Arenado is due in his contract.
As part of his agreement to waive a no-trade provision, Arenado agreed to add a season to his deal, which now extends for seven seasons through 2027. His deal had given him the right to opt out and become a free agent after the 2021 season. His new agreement gives him the right to opt out and become a free agent after the 2022 or 2023 seasons.
“When we have an opportunity to get premium players from other clubs for whatever reason, it’s incumbent upon us to bring them to St. Louis,” chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. “Many of them, of course, have contributed to our championships: To name a few: Matt Holliday, Scott Rolen, Mark McGuire, Adam Wainwright, Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter.”
“That’s a pretty good crew right there, and Nolan certainly fits in that group,” DeWitt added. “I’ve always been a believer that great players make everyone else on the team better.”
The backlash from Rockies fans has been swift, with “#FireBridich” hashtags showing up on social media in reference to general manager Jeff Bridich.
Monfort understands the anger from disgruntled fans, who watched the 2009 second-round amateur pick make one highlight play after another.
“I’m aware this is not a popular decision,” Monfort said. “I promise you it wasn’t made with haste.”
Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said talks started last offseason and intensified in December.
“Every time we thought we were close, something else happened,” he said. “The last week or so, I keep feeling nauseous, like it just felt like something was going to go wrong. And it just took a lot of patience on everyone’s side in getting to where we are.”
St. Louis did intensive scouting.
“You can personally Google Nolan and find him playing Wiffle Ball,” Mozeliak said. “And when big league players are playing Wiffle Ball, that just means they love the game, right? And so that’s a telltale. And then when I talk to other players about Nolan and what impresses them about him, they always came back to how hard he worked, desire to learn, high baseball IQ.”
One of the curious questions about the trade was this: Why not hold onto Arenado when he was set to make $35 million this season and let him go free in the fall, gaining a compensatory 2022 draft pick in the process?
Monfort explained they Rockies were able to get Gomber along with four minor leaguers they valued: infielders Elehuris Montero and Mateo Gil along with right-handers Tony Locey and Jake Sommers.
Bridich acknowledged last offseason that he was listening to trade offers on the five-time All-Star, and Arenado said in February 2020 that “there’s a lot of disrespect around there” and “there is no relationship anymore” between him and Bridich.
Like former Rockies stars Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday before him, Arenado grew weary of losing, especially in an NL West ruled by the Los Angeles Dodgers every year he’s been in the big leagues.
“Whenever you’re losing, it’s frustrating,” the 29-year-old Arenado said.
The Harvard-educated Bridich was hired as GM of the Rockies on Oct. 8, 2014. He’s overseen deals that haven’t panned out as expected (Tulowitzki’s trade to Toronto), brought in free agents who didn’t live up to big-money expectations (relievers Bryan Shaw and Wade Davis, outfielder Ian Desmond) and didn’t retain free agents who went on to shine elsewhere (DJ LeMahieu, a decision Monfort said he laments in hindsight).
“If we’re looking to pass blame, you can blame me,” Bridich said. “It’s the job of the GM to create a team that competes and wins as much as humanly possible.”
Asked point-blank if he thought of dismissing Bridich, Monfort responded: “I have not thought about firing Jeff.”
“I have thought about firing myself,” Monfort cracked.
Arenado has turned the page and is looking forward to what he’s calling the “second chapter” of his career. His addition lowered the Cardinals’ odds of winning a World Series from 40-1 to 20-1, according to SportsBetting.com. The Rockies are 125-1 long shots after Arenado’s departure.
“We have an extremely talented team,” Monfort said. “They are built to compete. It’s time for them to take the next step.”
One of the big steps could be locking up All-Star shortstop Trevor Story, who’s eligible to become a free agent after this season.
“His situation is separate from Nolan’s situation, as is the case with the rest of our players,” Bridich said. “We certainly cherish having Trevor as our shortstop.”
Arenado is looking forward to wearing a Cardinals uniform. But saying farewell to good friends like Charlie Blackmon and Story was difficult.
“I’m going to miss some of the boys on the Rockies,” Arenado said. “But I’m just super-excited. I’ve always admired this organization from afar.”
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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