While Nolan Arenado took questions about the storied tradition of the St. Louis Cardinals, playing rivalry games at Wrigley Field and life on a perennial playoff contender, Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort was being asked whether he has thought about firing himself.
Yes, the trade of the five-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner is going down much better in St. Louis than in Denver. Even Monfort seemed saddened that the franchise ultimately agreed to acquiesce to Arenado’s desire and traded him away from the franchise that drafted him in 2009.
“I’m a fan. I truly am,” Monfort said. “I understand how they feel. To be quite honest, I would probably feel the same way. I do even feel the same way. When we signed Nolan, it was an attempt to keep Nolan for rest of his career. But things do change.”
The Rockies never won a division title with Arenado, but they did make the playoffs in 2017 and 2018 as a wild card (losing a tiebreaker game to the Dodgers for the NL West title in 2018). They went 71-91 in 2019, however, and Monfort said the club had tried to trade Arenado after that season, when he first asked for a trade.
The Rockies then went 26-34 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and they discussed several trade possibilities, finally settling on the St. Louis deal that brought in pitcher Austin Gomber and four minor leaguers, with some cash — perhaps as much as $51 million — also going to St. Louis to help pay down the remaining six years on Arenado’s contract.
Arenado can still opt out after 2021.
General manager Jeff Bridich downplayed the idea that the Rockies are now starting over.
“There are levels and variations of the rebuild process, but this certainly is not a total teardown and rebuild like certain teams have chosen to go,” he said. “I think if that were the case that certain players would have already been traded.”
One of those players would be two-time All-Star shortstop Trevor Story, who is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season. Story is tied for seventh — with Arenado — in WAR among position players since 2018. Bridich said he expects Story to open the season with the Rockies, though adding that it’s difficult to predict what will happen this season.
“His situation is separate from Nolan’s, as is the case with the rest of our players,” Bridich said. “We certainly cherish having Trevor as a shortstop. It’s very difficult to predict what the coming months are going to look like, in terms of the deadline, in terms of this season in general … but we do not know what the pandemic and what the virus is going to do and how things are going to work out.”
For now, the Rockies are acting as if they can still contend for a playoff spot in 2021, even without Arenado and without receiving any impact players in return or making any other significant offseason moves.
“We have an extremely talented team,” Monfort said. “They are built to compete. It is time for them to take the next step.”
After two poor seasons, the numbers don’t really back up that assessment. The Rockies were just eighth in the NL in runs in 2020 — after finishing in the top three every season between 2009 and 2018. They allowed the most runs in the league. Still, Monfort believes the team has the pitching to contend in 2021.
“My biggest belief is we have built pitching and we have done it internally. We have a lot of talented pitchers. … Jeff has done a good job of getting young arms and not having to go out onto the free-agency market. I think the pitching is really a core that we’ve never had in our history.”
German Marquez is one of the more underrated starters in the majors. Kyle Freeland finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2018 and bounced back with a solid 2020 after struggling in 2019. Jon Gray has flashed top-of-the-rotation potential, but has had some injuries and struggled with a 6.69 ERA in 2020.
So the Rockies will roll on, without their franchise player, and fans will wonder what will happen to Story.
As for firing himself — or Bridich — Monfort answered, “I have thought about firing myself, but I have not thought about firing Jeff.”