All winter — really, ever since July 28, 2015 when the Colorado Rockies traded away one superstar — smart money was on Carlos Gonzalez following Troy Tulowitzk out of Denver soon thereafter. Then, when CarGo caught fire the likes of which Rockies fans had never seen, the sensible theories once the season ended turned fully towards a trade.
From there, Rockies fans spent the winter months dreaming of prospects and pitching in return. We catalogued CarGo rumors, and profiled prospects on some teams, and then for some other teams, and then for some more teams! CarGo is going to go, the prevailing theories have gone, and it's only a matter of time before the outfield market begins to clear up to allow it to happen.
But what if that's been wrong all along?
After all, it's now January 10, and CarGo is still here. In fact, the latest rumor around the Rockies centers on trading an outfielder other than CarGo. Sure, things can change very quickly and January 10 is still more than a month away from spring reporting dates, so there's more than enough time for the Rockies to make a move. Hell, for all we know, CarGo could go in a deal tomorrow and this post will immediately become a moot point.
But it's interesting that CarGo has yet to gain more traction in the market aside from rumors made in passing or unnamed team sources indicating varying (lukewarm) levels of interest. And it's doubly interesting seeing how strongly the Rockies are tied to a free agent outfielder that — without moving a current asset — they just don't have any room to sensibly add to the roster.
Nobody but the Rockies' front office knows the full extent of deals not made and trade options considered, of course, but there are a few things that might be going on with CarGo's trade market this winter that have caused it to lapse so long after the outfielder finished high at the end of 2015:
1. The Rockies have received bad offers for CarGo
In our collective haste to bolster the farm system, acquire young pitching, and plan ahead for the Rockies' next probable contention period in 2017, or 2018, or 2075 (kidding... I hope), let's not underestimate the fact that Jeff Bridich may well be kicking the tires everywhere and getting back return offers of literal garbage.
CarGo's on-field value and financial profile are somewhat unique, of course, and the outfielder does have significant concerns attached (namely his health), but he will be a huge trade piece for anyone lucky enough to land him, whenever that happens. Bridich & Co. clearly realize that, and if CarGo's non-trade this winter is a result of the front office having not yet been impressed with offers tossed their way, it's far better to retain the outfielder right now than to trade him just to make a move, only to get back less than ideal young talent. Don't make trades just to make trades, and all that.
2. The Rockies are overvaluing CarGo
The flip side of #1's bad offers argument, then, is that the Rockies are receiving more or less fair market value offers for CarGo and turning them down, due to the team's front office overvaluing their outfielder and over-expecting what they feel should be a fair return. There's not necessarily a quick fix here; even as the free agent outfield market shapes up (more on that below), there are (probably) enough outfielders out there to keep teams from raising their price signficantly for the Rockies' star in the next month.
From there, July 2016 or January 2017 could both be different stories; if the Rox continue overvaluing CarGo and a team gets desperate before the trade deadline, a fit could materialize and the team's front office will look like a group of geniuses for waiting it out. Or, it could all blow up in the Rockies' faces. Either way, CarGo's value is generally decreasing as his contract gets closer and closer to coming due, and he (most likely) will be unable to repeat his torrid second half pace from last summer.
3. The Rockies don't actually want to trade CarGo
This is a tough one to think about considering the commonly held belief around rebuilding among fans, writers, and baseball people, but there's a non-zero chance the Rockies (whether it be the Monforts, or Jeff Bridich, or another dynamic altogether) may want to keep CarGo around for a while for some mix of baseball and marketing reasons.
As awful as that sounds, I suppose there's something to be said for keeping CarGo for another season (or more?). Die hard Rockies fans — the ones who read and write on this website and similar places, for example — can see the forest through the trees. You and I intuitively understand the importance of accepting a really bad 2016 in order to stock and develop the farm and hedge the team's bets to get much better in two or three years. Lose 100 games? Fine. We can see the future.
Casual fans don't have that same perspective. That doesn't make casual fans wrong! It just means casual fans don't focus on the same things (namely, the farm system) that you and I do, and because websites like this one are such a niche, it's important to remember casual fans make up a far, far greater number of people who follow the club.
With that, there's something to be said for the Rockies — who are running a business trying to cater to a larger market share in the greater community, after all — wanting to keep a star around as long as they can, especially after having just traded another star abruptly last summer. For better or worse, on some level, perception matters — even if it damns the on-field product in certain ways for die-hards.
4. The Rockies do want to trade CarGo, but would rather take the risk midseason and hope for a desperate team at the July trade deadline
Rumors aside, the actual discussions swirling around the trade market for a player of CarGo's caliber might be relatively tepid right now. Even if teams are offering fair market value, maybe Bridich & Co. don't like where the market is this winter; it's a risk considering CarGo's injury history, but what if a team gets really desperate by about July 15 and CarGo is healthy and slashing .300/.370/.450 up to that point?
That may not be the likeliest outcome — and CarGo's health is a huge risk to take — but the outfielder is immensely talented and there's a non-zero chance it could happen. After all, the Rockies have an extra year to work with if it doesn't happen, anyways, and their backs wouldn't be to the wall on CarGo until 2017 when his contract expires. Perhaps Bridich is counting on scarcity and high demand among contenders come July. That's not an automatic guarantee, of course, but wacky things do happen at the trade deadline every year, it seems.
5. Teams are still scared off by CarGo's injury history (or Coors Field splits, or contract, or something else)
After CarGo played a career-high 153 games in 2015, the elephant to acknowledge in the room is, of course, the four years before that when he only crested 127 games once, and combined for just 180 games total between 2013 and 2014. (I know I'd rather not think about it, at least.) CarGo's injury concerns are still as real as ever, then, and any team looking to acquire him is undoubtedly taking that into account.
His Coors Field splits are a problem, too. Well, let me rephrase: they shouldn't be a problem to those who understand how to best contextualize the Coors Effect — and hopefully internal metrics in front offices around baseball understand exactly what's really going on — but to the greater public and media handicapping hypothetical CarGo trades, analysis will always come down to "yeah, but why can't he hit away from Coors Field?" If we see it with should-be, slam dunk Hall of Famers, we're going to see it with CarGo.
As for his contract, $37 million over two years is far from a deal breaker for most teams around baseball, but it's also not cheap. If everything else worked out, I honestly couldn't imagine the money alone holding up a deal for most contending team that wants the outfielder, but $37 million is a big number and it's another variable the Rockies must overcome if they want to ship off their star right fielder.
Taken all together, these issues — injuries, Coors Field, contracts, and whatever other variables there may be — all serve as speed bumps and road blocks of varying levels of difficulty along the way to potential trades. Surely some teams are scared off by the money, others by the injury history, and others by his home/road splits, but CarGo's trade (like that of any star player) is and will always be a complicated ordeal with lots of moving parts. The more variables there are, the less likely it is that things get done. It doesn't mean impossible, of course, but CarGo's unique and fluid situation could be informing his lukewarm market.
6. The Rockies are quickly losing trade partners... maybe even in part because of their own actions
The latest round of Rockies rumors focuses upon Blackmon, a man one year younger than CarGo with one more year of control — at arbitration costs, no less — than what a team would get with CarGo. If a team needs a left-handed hitter that can play all three outfield spots and they feel Blackmon is a suitable target, what's the incentive to go get CarGo at a higher cost with a likely larger trade package sent back to Colorado?
Double down on this with Corey Dickerson, who is allegedly available, too — or, at least the Rockies are listening to offers around the left fielder. The Mississippi native is nearly four years younger than CarGo, hasn't yet been to arbitration, and will be under team control for four more seasons compared to CarGo's two. Again, Dickerson probably doesn't have the same value as CarGo, but if teams feel he's a suitable trade target and can help their lineup, why not go after the cheaper, younger option and eschew the veteran with injury issues?
Add to this the movement going on around the greater outfield market lately, with Denard Span heading to the Giants, Ben Revere heading to the Nationals, other free agent signings earlier this winter like Jason Heyward (Chicago Cubs) and Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals), and you've got a dwindling market for CarGo that the Rockies themselves may be further dampening by making available their other outfielders.
7. Something else entirely
There's a lot else that could be going on! Maybe stuff I didn't consider. Maybe stuff we will never know. I don't presume to think that these options here are the only ones informing us of why CarGo hasn't yet been traded, just that they are some of the likeliest in my mind. What about you?