Nolan Arenado gets green, stays purple

Colorado’s splendid third basemen nets a lucrative extension and secures a Rockies core that’s surrounded by young, affordable talent. He’s worth the cost, especially with October on the mind in Denver.

I’m a big Nolan Arenado fan. I once wrote about his glove. It answered fan mail. He’s my Twitter banner photo—his glove and his arm are wearing stylish red sunglasses, and even though I never figured out how to format it correctly, I can’t really bring myself to change it. The three of them—Arenado, his arm, and his glove—look great.

I also like the Rockies. Gorgeous use of purple, mythical home run kingdom tucked away between scenic ice caps. The 2007 team was a fun watch, and they’ve had a steady string of intriguing ballplayers over the years. Arenado is cut straight from the cloth of Colorado mashers. I saw him once hit a home run to one of the deepest parts of Citi Field that was a no-doubter at contact. His bat crackled like it carried a Denver echo everywhere.

Arenado re-upped with the Rockies Tuesday, signing an eight-year, $260 million extension that gives him the largest per-year number for a position player in baseball history (possibly for just a few more days; let’s see what Bryce Harper ultimately gets). The 27-year-old third baseman could stay in Colorado on this deal through 2026, though Jeff Passan tweeted that the extension has a third-year opt-out. It also includes a full no-trade clause.

With the deal, the Rockies avoid watching their best player hit free agency, which may not have been as significant a threat to retaining his services anyway, given the way the free agent market has played out over the past few winters. Still, Arenado’s impending free agency was allegedly the reason your favorite team (lookin’ at you, Yankees fans) didn’t enthusiastically recruit the top ballplayers this offseason. Now he’s off the board a full year before we can fret about why no one wants to pay a player of his ability.

That ability is MVP-tier. Arenado pairs all-star-level offensive production with platinum glove-level defense at the hottest corner of the keystone and comes out of most seasons a top-five MVP candidate. In the past four seasons, he’s played a minimum of 156 games every year, led the N.L. in home runs three times and RBI’s twice. He is lethal at Coors Field, and not quite as destructive away from home—his power doesn’t travel well compared to his hometown splits. But his hometown splits are also comically overwhelming. A .984 OPS, a home run every fourth game, and a double or better every 7-ish at-bats are idyllic numbers. They’re real, and they count at Coors, too.

In a different era, they’d write folk songs about Arenado’s glovework. In this one, they make binge-worthy montages. Just start typing ‘Nolan Arenado’ in YouTube and the world’s second-busiest search engine will autofill your results with pages of web gems. Even coming off a personally down year, Arenado is a goalie perched at third. Per Fangraphs’ Inside Edge Fielding, which measures successful defensive plays separated by how difficult the play was to make, Arenado makes unlikely plays 45.5% of the time, tied with Manny Machado for the best rate since Arenado entered the league in 2013. He’s done it while facing twice as many such scenarios as Machado. He converts outs on remote opportunities about one out of every 10 times, second only to Oakland’s own talisman, Matt Chapman. Arenado has faced 164 more remote opportunities than Chapman to date.

Moreover, Arenado’s glove has the endorsement of the patron saint of defensive third basemen: Brooks Robinson.

Like many other teams, the Rockies are both ready to win now and have reinforcements waiting in the team-controlled pipeline. Two straight Wild Card Game appearances, one of which ended with an NLDS trip, has Colorado setting their sights on longer October stays for years to come. Arenado is a crucial piece, and he and Charlie Blackmon, who re-upped during the 2018 campaign, are supported by talent across the roster, including the fabled Kyle Freeland (fabled given that he is a phenomenal pitcher in Denver, something I thought didn’t exist), the burgeoning Trevor Story, and a couple of well-regarded prospects, including infielder Brendan Rodgers, who is due for a call-up sooner than later. Colorado tends to teeter on the edge of the playoff picture, especially in projections, but they clearly expect to be in the hunt, both now and later.

With no major commitments coming up, Arenado’s record-setting extension is palatable, and a fine premium to pay for a beloved fan favorite who also happens to be brilliant at baseball. We think of hometown extensions as the place to get discounts, but they can often pay out some of the biggest dollar totals. Players like Arenado should be rewarded both for their production and what they mean to their team and its fanbase (and the team’s jersey sales). A third-year opt-out gives Colorado some protection against decline, but unplayability usually starts on the defensive side, particularly in the N.L. He’ll likely remain a viable option through age-30, when the opt-out kicks in, and he could continue to produce power numbers while not regressing into a defensive mess for the next five years after that.

In the meantime, we get to watch a well-paid master go to work in purple for the better part of the next decade.

He really is must-see. He’s worth every penny.

Khurram Kalim is a senior writer for Bronx to Bushville.

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