This should be a no-brainer, but yet feels like a longshot.
Nolan Arenado, the star third baseman of the Colorado Rockies, is disgruntled and likely on the verge of being traded. Every big-market team in baseball should be interested in the best third baseman in the sport, including the Phillies.
So far, the Phillies haven’t been mentioned in the rumor mill. While teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers have emerged as possible landing spots, the Phillies are seemingly passing up the chance to bid on a player on the track to Cooperstown.
That, of course, is foolish. But it’s not just opportunity cost being potentially lost here. There’s a lesson to be learned from how and why the Phillies landed Bryce Harper last winter that shouldn’t be forgotten here.
When Harper signed his 13-year, $325M deal last February, part of the selling point of the stretched out deal was to lessen the luxury tax burden on the Phillies and make adding a second superstar next to Harper more palatable. Of course, Mike Trout was the first name that came to mind. But focus on the root of what Harper said on 94WIP during last spring training.
“I think that’s one thing about this contract that I’m able to do,” Harper said to Marks and Reese “Having 13 years into place, I’m able to help recruit guys to this organization … And for me, I can be able to talk to Trout or whoever it is, big-name free agent or whoever wants to come to Philly or is thinking about coming to Philly, I can say, ‘Hey, this is the place to be. This is where the fans are great, ownership understands it, our manager is awesome.’
“And if you don’t want to come to Philly, then don’t come, don’t be part of it. But if you want to come and be part of a winning team and a winning culture, then we’re going to need the best players to do that. And I don’t think [managing partner] John [Middleton] is scared to go out and get the best guys that we need to have.”
That guy won’t be Trout, but it could be Arenado. And the best way to curtail the perception (likely rooted in reality) of Middleton’s sudden fear of the luxury tax? Landing Arenado, flying past the tax and adding a running mate for the rest of Harper’s prime.
There’s also this truth: Arenado has been publicly angry about how the team has failed to improve and spend this winter. We’re probably years away from Harper pushing back on promises Middleton made to him during recruiting pitches in Vegas, but I doubt Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler is what Harper envisioned when taking less money per season than anyone in baseball expected last year. The best way to avoid Harper becoming the next Arenado is to bring Arenado here.
Plus, the baseball case for an Arenado pursuit is obvious.
Since arriving to the majors in 2013, Arenado has averaged 36 home runs per season, owns an .897 OPS and has established himself as one of the best defensive third basemen ever. It’s not outlandish to start looking at Arenado as this generation’s Mike Schmidt. At the bare minimum, Arenado is a better and more durable version of Scott Rolen, the ex-Phillies star that is moving up Hall of Fame voting ranks by the year.
I doubt Arenado would crush 40 homers per year outside of Coors Field (the home/splits are concerning), but 30 home runs and all-time great defense would be a given. The structure of Arenado’s contract (opt-out after 2021, owed $199M from 2021-2026 if he stays) is troublesome and totally in favor of the player. The trade cost (just a guess: Alec Bohm and some combination of Scott Kingery, Bryson Stott, Nick Pivetta, Connor Seabold, and Adonis Medina) would be huge.
The Phillies can preach sustainability and payroll flexibility, but this truth trumps all: The franchise changed its identity and calculus when Harper agreed to a record deal. Now every move should be about maximizing a window to capitalize on that.
When there’s a prime-aged, future Hall of Fame player available, the Phillies owe it to Harper and themselves to make the effort to land him.