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Will Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado opt out after the 2021 season?

Here’s what will go in to that future decision

Nolan Arenado signed one of two contracts with the Colorado Rockies last week. He either A) signed an eight year contract worth $260 million, keeping him in Colorado through 2026, his age 35 season, or he B) agreed to a three-year contract worth $96 million, which will make him a free agent at 30 after the 2021 season. Which contract it ends up being will depend on whether or not Arenado exercises his opt-out clause.

Now’s as good of a time as any to ask the question that will most definitely be asked a lot over the next few years: What’s he going to do, and what circumstances will lead to the ultimate decision?

Let’s first look at how the salary breaks down. The contract is neither front nor backloaded, and there’s a flat $35 million salary (before possible bonuses) from 2020 to 2024. It’s as neutral as a salary structure can get in terms of how it influences a possible opt out.

Nolan Arenado salary, 2019-2026

Year Salary
Year Salary
2019 $26 million
2020 $35 million
2021 $35 million
2022 $35 million
2023 $35 million
2024 $35 million
2025 $32 million
2026 $27 million

The question Arenado and his representation will have to ask after the 2021 season is this: Can I get more than 5 years and $164 million on the open market right now? A lot of factors will go in to the answer to that, and they’ll emerge little-by-little between now and then. Some of the factors are performance and health related, while others have to do with the state of free agency at the time. Here are a few of the things that could tip the scales toward opt out or no opt out.

Arenado may not opt out if

  • He suffers an injury ranging from the serious to the minor but nagging. Anything health issue that impacts his performance will make staying on his current contract a sure bet. The cautionary tale here is Troy Tulowitzki. The difference is that Tulo showed signs of being injury prone early in his career, whereas Arenado has only lost a significant amount of time to injury once.
  • He declines far more rapidly than anyone expects. I don’t think this is likely, but there’s always a chance for a player who seems invincible to go full Nomar. Nomar Garciaparra put up 41 rWAR from ages 22 to 29 and wrapped up his career from age 30 to 35 by adding a grand total of 3 more. It’s unlikely to happen to Arenado, but it happens.
  • The MLBPA agrees to an owner friendly Collective Bargaining Agreement after it expires in 2021, which would mean some form of spending cap that would make it unlikely for Arenado to get more on the open market than he’s guaranteed in Colorado.
  • The Rockies win a World Series. The first two scenarios are worst cases, the third is an external contingency factor, and this one is the best emotional argument for remaining a member of the Rockies for his entire career.
  • He signed this current contract because of an emotional attachment to the Rockies, and those forces come into play again when it comes time to decide whether or not to stay on the contract or opt out of it.

Arenado may opt out if

  • He wins an MVP. Winning the most prestigious award for a position player will elevate his cachet around the league and could make it more likely for him to land a second big contract on the open market.
  • He doesn’t win an MVP, but he consistently gets a lot of MVP votes, wins more Gold Glove awards, or perhaps adds a batting title. Arenado is probably already past his defensive prime, but he almost certainly has more Gold Glove awards in his future. These are the types of things player representatives bring up in arbitration cases, and similarly, they would work as evidence for getting another large contract.
  • Mike Trout receives a gigantic free agent deal after the 2020 season. Trout will enter free agency prior to his age-29 season, just a bit younger than Arenado after 2021. While it is taking longer than usual, big-time position player free agents are still getting lengthy and rich contracts. As perhaps the only player in baseball who is inarguably better than Arenado, Trout should set a new benchmark for AAV that Arenado could test, if not exceed.
  • The Rockies are not competitive over the next three years. Arenado has said he wants to play for a team regularly in the hunt for the playoffs and that he doesn’t want to have a Todd Helton-like career in Colorado — one that’s excellent but rarely sees October baseball.

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Every season and offseason from now until 2021 will clarify how important these scenarios are likely to be. But now, with the least amount of information, what do you think Arenado will decide?


Do you think Nolan Arenado will opt out of his contract after the 2021 season?

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