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In 2020, Nolan Arenado was the best defensive player in baseball

But for the Rockies, that may not be enough

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Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 5, Nolan Arenado: 1.4 rWAR

Like the rest of us, Nolan Arenado had a 2020 that was, well, very 2020.

Not even a year after signing an eight-year, $260 million contract, rumors began circulating that the Rockies were shopping their All-Star third baseman. The organization was distressingly silent, and Arenado said he felt “disrepected.” (I wrote about that here.) When spring training began, we learned Arenado and Bridich had not spoken, and fans agonized over whether the Rockies would go through with a trade.

But that was in the Before Times.

With the disruption of baseball and, literally, everything, the Arenado-Bridich Cold War fell to the wayside, especially as baseball organizations grappled with implementing COVID protocols and playing in empty stadiums.

MLB: JUL 11 Rockies Summer Camp Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In June, we were so grateful to have Summer Camp and then baseball back — to see Nolan Arenado play — that we lived in the moment and ignored the possibility of a trade.

For Arenado, 2020 would become even more bizarre. Defensively, he was masterful, earning a DRS of 15, the best in baseball and almost twice that of the closest Rockie, Josh Fuentes with a DRS of 8. Because it’s always a good time to watch #NolanBeingNolan, let’s take a moment to appreciate a truly Arenado-esque play:

He earned his eighth Gold Glove nomination and his fourth Fielding Bible award, tying Adrián Beltré. Defensively, Arenado was terrific.

“I felt like my defense was better than it’s ever been,” he said. He’s not wrong. And getting to watch Josh Fuentes at first scooping up those throws was a treat in a year that didn’t offer many of them.

You know what? Let’s watch two more breathtakingly-awesome-totally-Nolan catches.

Offensively, however, he struggled. Arenado slashed .253/.303/.434 with a wRC+ of 76. In 48 games, he hit only eight home runs and 26 RBI, numbers comparable with his rookie season (.267/.301/.405).

There was more to it, however. When the Rockies played the Athletics on July 29, Arenado made a diving stop to get to a Stephen Piscotty grounder. The play jarred his left shoulder. Arenado attempted to play through it (#NolanBeingNolan), but the injury eventually resulted in an inflamed AC joint and bone bruise. On September 21, for just the second time in his career, Arenado was placed on the IL.

Now that the season has ended, Rockies fans are back to agonizing about Arenado’s future with the team.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t have any inside knowledge, but here’s what I think will happen. Dick Monfort’s willingness in his email to season ticket holders to shoutout Raimel Tapia, Charlie Blackmon, and Daniel Bard without mentioning Nolan Arenado — who, to reiterate, had the highest DRS of any player at any position in baseball — is a tell.

I suspect the Rockies will continue to shop Arenado throughout the offseason. Because MLB has decided it’s broke (and may be trying to depress player salaries), Arenado will begin 2021 as a Rockie. When the next season begins to play out and teams have more financial certainty, the Rockies will move him at the trade deadline, assuming they are not in the postseason race.

I’m deeply ambivalent about this. On one hand, watching Nolan Arenado play is a gift. How many of us have sat through some pretty bad baseball because no matter how miserable the game, there’s a good chance Arenado is going to do something gravity-defying that you want to see live? Plus, there’s the joy that comes with getting to watch someone get to do the thing they love to do and do better than most anyone else. That’s our guy, and I don’t want to give him up.

The Rockies should understand that when fans tweet “That’s MY third baseman,” they mean it. The front office may not appreciate Nolan Arenado, but fans do.

But because I want to see how good he can be and because I know he wants to win, I’ve accepted that maybe a trade is better. Put yourself in Nolan’s spikes for a minute. Who wants to go to work when you can’t talk to your boss? (I’ve done that. It’s miserable.) And who wants to play for an organization that won’t invest in analytics or building a robust lineup or facilitating a working relationship between management and an employee? The best third baseman in baseball deserves better.

If the Rockies trade Nolan Arenado, it will be both devastating to fans and the most 2020 thing ever.