The day after trading away their franchise’s biggest star, Rockies owner Dick Monfort and general manager Jeff Bridich tried to explain themselves to the media.
It wasn’t pretty.
The surreal hour-long news conference Tuesday took on the tenor of a public flogging as Monfort and Bridich attempted to explain why they sent Nolan Arenado to St. Louis, and also agreed to send along $51 million to make the deal fly. Monfort could only lament Arenado’s departure as he struggled to come to grips with a trade that had already been widely panned by Rockies fans.
“I’m a fan. I truly am,” Monfort said. “I understand how they feel. And to be quite honest, I would probably feel the same way and maybe I do even feel the same way. When we signed Nolan, it was an attempt to keep Nolan for the rest of his career. But things do change.”
Meanwhile, in another Zoom news conference going on at the same time, Arenado fielded softball questions from St. Louis media about the Cardinals’ glorious past and bright future.
“As a kid, you dream of winning a World Series, and that’s still the dream now,” he said. “To join this organization, they care about winning and about getting things done, and that’s really exciting.”
Less than two years after Arenado signed the biggest contract in Denver professional sports history — eight years, $260 million — he’s gone. On Monday, he was officially traded to the Cardinals in a lopsided deal which saw the Rockies acquire left-handed starter Austin Gomber and four prospects, none of whom were among the Cardinals’ top five.
The trade was more than a year in the making. According to the Rockies, Arenado asked to be traded after a disheartening 2019 season in which they finished 71-91 after going to the playoffs in back-to-back years.
“If I had my druthers, I would rather have Nolan Arenado,” Monfort said. “But it was Nolan’s choice. He wanted to move on. I’ve speculated over the last year (as to) why. I’ve talked to Nolan a lot about it, over the last year. But the fact remains that I think he just felt it was time for him to try something else.”
Reporters pressed Bridich and asked if the trade was the result of the organization’s failure, the result of a feud that developed between Bridich and his third baseman — or both.
“If you’re looking to pass blame, blame me,” Bridich said. “It’s the job of the GM to create a team that competes and wins as much as humanly possible.”
About a year ago, Arenado, upset about the team’s direction, and angry that Bridich had shut down trade talks with multiple teams, famously said he felt “disrespected” by Bridich.
On Tuesday, grinning from ear to ear as he joined his new team, Arenado did not want to revisit the feud.
“I think when you have a contract like mine, and you’re losing, usually a lot of contracts get moved,” he said. “That’s kind of what happened now. I signed in (Colorado) to be there for a long time. I wanted to win there, it didn’t work out, so you move on.”
Bridich, who had never spoke publicly about his deteriorating relationship with Arenado, said: “It wasn’t always peaches and cream. There were bumps here and there and relationships change over time.
“There are relationships in our human existence that do last forever. But we are human beings in a business where sometimes relationships don’t last forever and commitments don’t last forever. … In this case, Nolan’s desire was to move on and be with a different organization. We tried to honor that.”
The Rockies attempted to trade Arenado last year but teams balked at the high asking price. As the losing continued in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and financial losses mounted while the Arenado situation festered, the Rockies decided the time to move was now.
Monfort calculated that Arenado would use his opt-out clause after the 2021 season and figured picking up five players now would be better than getting only a single draft pick in compensation when Arenado walked away.
“We tried to get the greatest return possible,” Monfort said. “Many teams we talked to about deals made no sense. There were times in the last two weeks when I didn’t think the St. Louis trade made sense.”
Arenado, however, said he wasn’t sure he would have exercised the opt-out clause after the 2021 season, thus leaving $164 million on the table during a time when the pandemic has significantly altered baseball’s financial landscape.
“I don’t know if I would have done that,” he said Tuesday. “That would have been a (hard) decision to leave my contract out there, obviously.”
Regardless, the eight-year Arenado era in Colorado is over. He’s taking his eight Gold Gloves, four Platinum Gloves, .293 career batting average and 235 home runs to Busch Stadium, in the shadow of the Gateway Arch.
The Rockies? Despite losing their marquee player, and despite a depleted farm system that ranks in the bottom five, they insist Arenado’s departure is not the first swing of the wrecking ball. Bridich, in fact, discounted the idea that the Rockies are 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.”
Finally, near the end of the ordeal, Monfort was asked if he had thought about firing Bridich based on Colorado’s performance after the 2017 and ’18 playoff runs.
“No, I have not thought about firing Jeff,” he said. “I have thought about firing myself, but I have not thought about firing Jeff.”
How have the Rockies fared under their general managers?
The Colorado Rockies have had three general managers in their history: Bob Gebhard from 1993 to 1999, Dan O’Dowd from 2000 to 2014 and Jeff Bridich since 2015. None possess an overall winning record over their time with the Rockies. The chart shows in what place the Rockies finished in the NL West in each season*. Circle size corresponds to games back from first place. WC=lost in wild card game, DS=lost in division series; WS=lost in World Series. Click/hover for details.
In February 2019, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million contract that owner Dick Monfort believed would keep Arenado in Colorado for his entire career.
On Monday, Arenado was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals. Here are the details of the trade:
- Rockies agreed to send $51 million to the Cardinals, over a number of years, to help pay for his new deal.
- Arenado agreed to defer money, but also added one more year to his contract ($15 million), taking him to 2027 with St. Louis.
- Arenado waived his no-clause contract to join the Cardinals but the no-trade clause has since been reinstated.
- Arenado retained opt-out clauses after the 2021 and ’22 seasons.
- The Rockies received five players in return: big-league, left-handed starter Austin Gomber, as well as right-handed prospects Tony Locey and Jake Sommer, and infield prospects Elehuris Montero and Mateo Gil.