If Nolan Arenado isn’t the best third baseman in baseball, consensus is he’s in the top three, placing somewhere between Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon.
Arenado is everything you would want as the cornerstone of a franchise. His work ethic is unparalleled, he’s one of the best players in baseball both offensively and defensively, and, although a bit reserved, he matches the talent on the field with his presence off the field.
Any general manager would be overjoyed to have him.
That is, unless there’s a GM who doesn’t appreciate his players rocking the boat when they perceive the front office as not offering maximum effort toward fielding a winning product.
That bring us to the events of a very peculiar offseason for the Colorado Rockies. Arenado saw his name pop up in trade rumors, an odd direction to take for a team with its sights on producing winning baseball in 2020.
On January 20, GM Jeff Bridich appeared to put the rumors to bed and said Arenado would remain entrenched at third base as the team headed to spring training. Almost instantly, Arenado texted various members of the media to express his belief that he was “crossed” and “disrespected” by Bridich. Arenado also made explicitly clear that his frustration stemmed from the inactivity of the front office this offseason—not his name appearing in trade rumors.
We need not rehash this escapade again, but to this day, we’ve seen little to suggest Arenado and Bridich are operating on the same wavelength.
It certainly appears as though Arenado will be on the Rockies’ roster to begin 2020, but if the team struggles, it seems inevitable he will be traded at the deadline. And that makes third base all the more important to discuss in this series.
Arenado, 28, is coming off his fifth straight year with a WARP of 6.0 or better (7.1 in 2019). He set career highs in batting average (.315) and on-base percentage (.379), while hitting 41 home runs.
There’s not much more to say about what Arenado can do. He’s a phenomenal player and yet it wouldn’t be surprising if we find out he has even more left in the tank.
Ryan McMahon projects to be the 2020 starter at second base, but he has plenty of experience at third, so can easily fill in for Arenado in a pinch. And in case you hadn’t heard, Arenado also has a cousin in the organization by the name of Josh Fuentes who can impress at the hot corner in his own right. Brendan Rodgers is recovering better than expected from shoulder surgery and can play third if necessary, though he is more of a middle infielder.
The Rockies also brought in Chris Owings on a minor league deal this offseason. Owings can play all over the diamond, but third base is actually one of the positions where he is least experienced (defensive metrics have rated him positively there, however). Ultimately, if we see Owings play third base for the Rockies in 2020, it will mean something went wrong.
On the farm
The Rockies’ farm system has a lot of question marks, but they are in better shape at the hot corner than most other areas.
Colton Welker was ranked the No. 3 PuRP by the Purple Row community. He produced a batting line of .252/.313/.408 for the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats in 2019 and should be on track for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes in 2020, potentially ready for major league action at some point in late-2020. Unfortunately for Welker, his path to the majors is blocked not only by Arenado but also by a handful of other depth options. Welker has been getting exposure at first base to increase the likelihood of an earlier trek to the majors.
Ryan Vilade (No. 4 PuRP) is best-known as a shortstop, but he has plenty of experience at third, and Baseball Prospectus wrote he could be an All-Star caliber third baseman.
Aaron Schunk (No. 9 PuRP) added to the plethora of third base options in the pipeline after he was drafted in the second round in 2019. As Jeff Aberle wrote in his profile, Schunk’s “path forward is somewhat dependent on how the logjam ahead of him gets resolved.”
Terrin Vavra (No. 7 PuRP) could also see some time at third base in 2020, either at High-A Lancaster or in Double-A, as the Rockies’ organization looks to continue preaching versatility. PuRP No. 10 Tyler Nevin (who is on the 40-man roster and could make the big leagues in late-2020 if all goes well) looks to have transitioned more to a first base only role.
And no, we’re not done yet. We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention Julio Carreras (No. 23 PuRP), who has an ETA of 2023. And there’s also Bret Boswell, Coco Montes and Alan Trejo to consider if all else fails.
It remains to be seen what happens with Arenado, but the Rockies organization has plenty of possibilities to try if things go south and he takes his talents elsewhere.