Possibility of Nolan Arenado trade to Dodgers


The Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts barely more than nine months ago, then signed him to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension through 2032. Amid the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dodgers maintained the National League’s largest payroll this year.
Then they won the World Series.
For

The Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts barely more than nine months ago, then signed him to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension through 2032. Amid the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dodgers maintained the National League’s largest payroll this year.

Then they won the World Series.

For a moment, let’s contemplate an alternate world in which the Braves — not Betts’ defensive genius — prevailed in the late stages of the NL Championship Series. The Dodgers would’ve failed to turn an NL West title into a World Series triumph for an eighth consecutive year.

Surely, they would’ve responded by renewing their on-again, off-again trade courtship of Colorado superstar Nolan Arenado.

Here’s the thing: They’re poised to do that, anyway.

One source said Thursday that the Dodgers — who have liked Arenado for years — remain interested in trading for him. If anything, there are more reasons to believe in the viability of an Arenado trade with the Dodgers today than last offseason, when his future was a dominant industry topic.

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The Rockies must remain open-minded to trading Arenado for a variety of reasons: Even with him, their chances of finishing ahead of the Dodgers and Padres in 2021 are not especially good; Arenado can opt out of his contract and sign elsewhere following the ’21 season, leaving the Rockies with only a Draft pick as compensation; and if Arenado doesn’t opt out, he’s due $164 million from ’22 through ’26, a significant obligation as the Rockies contemplate the financial implications of COVID-19.

Arenado, 29, grew up as a Dodgers fan in Lake Forest, Calif., and certainly would waive his no-trade protection to play for his childhood team. The famously intense Arenado — long frustrated by the Rockies’ inability to succeed in October — would bring new desperation to a clubhouse of champions.

To make the obvious point on the Dodgers’ motivation, Justin Turner is a free agent, and the team needs an everyday third baseman. If the Dodgers re-sign Turner or trade for Kris Bryant, of course, the Arenado conversation is probably moot. But it’s overly simplistic to characterize this as a choice between Arenado and Turner or Bryant. From the Dodgers’ perspective, the better comparison is between Arenado and Corey Seager.

While it’s difficult to imagine the Dodgers without Seager — the reigning NLCS and World Series MVP — the reality is that he’s entering his final season before free agency, and there is no indication that the Dodgers have made progress in extension talks with his agent, Scott Boras.

The Dodgers would like to add a right-handed power hitter to the middle of their lineup, and Arenado is one of only three players to hit more than 200 home runs over the past six seasons. (Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout are the others.) Arenado’s OPS tumbled from last year’s career-best .962 to .738 in 2020, but the drop can be explained by a left shoulder injury that is not believed to be a long-term concern, as evidenced by recent video of him swinging at full strength.

Even with diminished offensive production, Arenado’s play at third base didn’t suffer: He won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove Award earlier this month.

So, can the Dodgers fit Arenado into Andrew Friedman’s future payroll projection?

Yes.

Among Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Seager and Chris Taylor, roughly $70 million comes off the books following the 2021 season. The Dodgers likely will need to apply some of that savings toward raises for Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías, but there should be plenty left for Friedman to spend elsewhere.

And while Arenado’s $35 million salary would make him the team’s highest-paid player next year, Turner was due to earn $20 million this season before proration. Thus, a big salary at third base won’t throw the team’s payroll structure out of alignment. (The lack of clarity on whether the NL will have the designated hitter in 2021 is another variable to consider.)

Arenado’s contract is where the nuances of a possible Dodgers-Rockies deal become particularly fascinating. If he remains with the Rockies and they struggle through another losing season, the emotional and competitive decision would be to opt out — meaning the Rockies would lose their opportunity to receive a package of players for him via trade.

Yet, the business component could give Arenado pause. One year in advance, it’s impossible to judge two influences on next offseason’s free-agent market: the ongoing effect of COVID-19 and the renegotiation of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. Arenado could enjoy a strong 2021 season and still not be certain of equaling the five-year, $164 million deal he has in place.

Importantly, Arenado can ask that his opt-out date be moved back to a later season as a condition of waiving his no-trade protection. The Dodgers — or any acquiring club — likely would welcome that adjustment, since it ensures more years of control.

If the Rockies trade Arenado, they’d prefer not to deal with a division rival like the Dodgers, but the reigning World Series champions are among a small group of teams with the financial resources to afford Arenado and young talent to make the move worthwhile for Colorado. Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux is a trade candidate this offseason after a difficult 2020, and rival general managers are certain to ask about the team’s young arms: Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Brusdar Graterol and Mitch White.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.





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