The state of Rockies fandom: Nolan Arenado trade talk, lack of free-agent moves stirs frustration
One reason is 27 seasons without a divisional title. Another is the 91-loss dud of 2019, followed up by no money spent in free agency this winter. And the flame to the discontent was lit with news that superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado, who signed an eight-year, $260 million contract last spring, is on the trading block.
Those factors have combined to create a disillusioned fanbase at a time when optimism usually runs high prior to spring training.
“Nolan is the most talented player they’ve ever had, a generational talent, possibly the greatest third baseman of all time,” said Kyle Farner, a 40-year-old diehard fan from Brighton. “They just signed him last spring and it gave everyone a breath of relief. The front office told everyone they were serious about winning and taking care of their own guys. A year later, here we are — and it makes me question their commitment to winning, their logic, their intelligence.”
Farner, who has attended every home opening game in the 27-year history of the Rockies, said he won’t be at this year’s opener April 3 if Arenado is traded by then. He added he’d “take a long break” from going to games.
And he’s not alone among a fanbase that appears to have lost faith in the front office, if interviews with a dozen season-ticket holders this past week are an accurate gauge.
Tim Rogers, 43, of Arvada, has been a season-ticket holder since 1999 and has only missed one opening day in team history. He explained that while Colorado has traded big-name players before — most notably Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday — trading Arenado “would be like pulling your heart out.”
“To trade Nolan would show the fans that the front office isn’t very concerned with putting a product on the field that the fans want to watch,” Rogers said. “He’s the main draw every game at Coors. A trade would say they’re more concerned about saving money and trying to rebuild, which wouldn’t necessarily work. Whatever they’re getting back for Nolan, there’s no guarantees.”
Fans are well aware of the opt-out in Arenado’s contract that would allow him to walk away from the Rockies following the 2021 season, a clause general manager Jeff Bridich insisted be included. They’re also aware of the negative effect that opt-out is having on potential trade negotiations.
“The three-year opt-out is sort of ruining the value they could get for him, as well as the fact it’s a dangling sword over our heads that he’s going to leave after next year,” said Bill Stahl, 61, an original Rockies season-ticket holder from Wheat Ridge.
But Stahl and others aren’t just frustrated with the potential of the team’s franchise player being dealt. Stahl lamented there are “woes everywhere” with the Rockies, and serious fans are not convinced that Colorado can compete in a National League West where the Dodgers rule and competitors have gotten better this winter via free agency.
Plus, those same fans don’t blame Arenado if he wants out after seeing the writing on the wall last year. Hindering Colorado’s ability to add pieces this offseason are the huge contracts Bridich handed out to outfielders Ian Desmond and Charlie Blackmon as well as relievers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. That quintet is due a combined $71.83 million in salary this year, 48.5% of the team’s 2020 payroll.
“Bridich and (owner Dick) Monfort sat on their back and said, ‘We’re happy with what we have,’ after losing 91 games,” said Harry Simon, 71, an original Rockies season-ticket holder from Greenwood Village. “Nolan is not an idiot; he sees that, and he’s driven to win. He wants to be on a winning team and the front office is not giving him the support they promised him when he committed to this city for eight years.
“They knew they had money issues before they entered into the Nolan contract. Why have they done nothing creative to trim some of the fat that they have? If they have to eat some of the dollars, they eat them. If they have to make a package with some of these young prospects to trade these relievers (like Davis and Shaw), then do it. Don’t sit back and just hope.”
With frustration running high, another season-ticket holder predicts the Rockies will feel it at the ticket office should Arenado be traded.
“It would’ve been like trading Todd Helton in the middle of his career — you’re talking about a move that’s devastating to the team and to the fan base,” said Deborah Furney, 61, a six-year season-ticket holder from Longmont. “It’s going to hurt the business end, because I think a lot of people will quit coming. Coors Field won’t be empty by any means, but people are going to want to send a message to the Monforts.”
The final bit of Furney’s sentiment is where the trap lies for Rockies fans, Simon said. Despite a lack of a consistent winning tradition, Colorado’s never had an issue drawing fans. The Rockies lost 91 games last year and were sixth in baseball in attendance.
“They know no matter who they put on the field, they’re going to get 42,000 people on Saturday night,” Simon said. “So they’re going through the motions, they’re making it look like they’re doing something this offseason (with minor-league contracts). It’s getting old. It’s always, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be good next year.'”
Amid all the doom-and-gloom, there still is some reason for optimism.
Maybe hope won’t be such a bad plan after all, and maybe the Rockies pitching staff will do a 180 in 2020. Maybe Arenado doesn’t get traded, and the Rockies are in the hunt for another Rocktober. And maybe, even if 2020 doesn’t go well, Arenado sticks around and the team’s 2021 prospects will be wide open.
“In 2021, they’re going to have all kind of possibilities for getting rid of some of these bad contracts and getting the money from the new TV deal that kicks in,” said Jerry Arca, 77, a 20-year season-ticket holder who lives in LoDo. “At worse, they’re two years away, and if Nolan sees 2021 as the beginning of the next window, I think there’s a chance he doesn’t opt out. There still is some hope yet for him to stay, and help Colorado contend.
“But there is no hope if he’s traded.”