And if the stars didn’t shine on the water
Then the sun wouldn’t burn on the sand
And if I were the man you wanted
I would not be the man that I am
- Lyle Lovett’s “If I Were the Man You Wanted”
★ ★ ★
On January 29, 2020, I wrote “Why the Rockies should trade Nolan Arenado.”
The piece stands up pretty well, I think, especially this:
Watching Arenado has never been anything but a joy. Even during the worst games, Arenado brought something special to the field, and even when things were bad, there was a good chance he would do something amazing. We love him for it, and we love him because in addition to being so very good, every day he plays with his heart on his sleeve, holding nothing back.
I want to see what Arenado can do in an organization that values him.
Here’s the conclusion:
We all get what makes Arenado special. He’s shared that with us for years. Now it’s time for him to play for an organization that will value him and give him what he most wants: A chance to win.
A year to the day later — you cannot make this stuff up — the Rockies sent Arenado to St. Louis in a colossal salary dump. Sorting through the details will take some time: The value of the players being sent to Colorado; the impact on the Rockies’ 2021 season; the effect on the Rockies’ bank account; the hubris of the Rockies’ front office and its betrayal of fans. Every time I think I’ve fully grasped how awful this deal is, some other dimension emerges, and I have to rethink everything.
But the deal is (reportedly pretty much) done, so I want to pick up where I left off a year ago. Since I cast this idea into the universe, I need to see through the consequences.
Nolan Arenado took the lessons he learned from Troy Tulowitzki (always have a no-trade clause), Todd Helton (the Rockies will pay you well if you will accept losing), and DJ LeMahieu (the Rockies will not appreciate your skills), and he put them to good use. He got out.
Imagine what the last year must have been like for Arenado. You feel betrayed by your employer, but there is no move to address the conflict; the team breaks its word by not improving, even though you’ve been clear that a condition of your staying is an investment in winning; your season ends early with a shoulder injury; and the team goes 26-34.
All of this unfolds during a pandemic when you’re stuck at home a lot with nothing to do except think. Maybe he realized — like a lot of did as we essentially lost a year of our lives — that time moves fast. If you want to do something, you’d better get it done because you may not be able to do it tomorrow for reasons entirely beyond your control.
If there is anyone who understands windows, it’s Nolan Arenado, who is 29-years-old and has always been clear that winning is the most important thing — more than the money, more than the prestige. As he told Stephanie Apstein last February, “If we win here, that’s why I signed, right? To win here. But if we’re not gonna win, I’d rather play for a winner. I don’t care where it is. I’d rather win a World Series than have my number retired.”
Arenado is very, very good right now — arguably the best third baseman in baseball — but he also knows that won’t last forever. The time to move is now because every minute he spends as a Rockie is a minute spent not getting to the thing he most wants.
Here’s what Mark Saxon tweeted Saturday morning:
Nolan Arenado had texted at least one #STLCards player more than once over the past year to tell him how much he’d like to play in St. Louis. The Cardinals have always been motivated to get guys who want to be here.— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) January 30, 2021
You’ve got to respect it. Last year, Arenado began articulating a path forward. No one knows what happened behind the scenes, but I tend to believe that since the Rockies refused to act, Arenado forced the moment to its crisis.
As a Rockies fan, I vacillate between rage and heartbreak because everything indicates an utter failure on the part of the Rockies’ front office. As a Nolan Arenado fan, I like this move a lot.
I know we’re all disappointed right now. But we are Nolan Arenado fans because he is a great player, and great players do not let bad front offices (and devoted fandoms) stand between them and their goals. Arenado took control of his baseball future with the same determination he used to bring down his K%. Think about it: If he’d stayed with the Rockies for the money, how would that sit with you?
Clearly, the Rockies wanted him gone, and Arenado was eager to leave. Here’s the irony: In making this move, he was very much #NolanBeingNolan in the absolute best way possible. He took a marketing hashtag and made it his own in ways the Rockies could not have foreseen.
As a fan, here’s what I’m going to do. Yes, I’m still a Rockies fan because, well, fandom is complicated. But my baseball days are going to start early on the East Coast with DJ LeMahieu (I’ve come to enjoy watching him with the Yankees) while keeping tabs on Adam Ottavino up in Boston, and then I’m moving into the Central Time Zone to watch Nolan Arenado and the Cardinals. To be clear, I’m not a Cards fan; I’m a Nolan Arenado fan who’s watching the best third baseman in baseball and a team that, I think, values winning and can help him become the player he wants to be. (Uncle Charlie — Cardinals — please take me in as some kind of contingent fan.)
And then when it’s time for the Rockies game, maybe I’ll watch, or maybe I’ll stay with the Cards. I’ll deal with it when I get there.
But I’m absolutely buying one of those sweet powder-blue Cardinals jerseys with a big ARENADO on the back, and I hope when Nolan Arenado does whatever he’s going to do under the Gateway Arch that he sets aside a corner of his locker for us, a fan base that has always loved watching him play and wants nothing but the best for him going forward.
He tried so hard to make the Rockies a better team: He never gave less than everything he had; he committed to a long-term contract; and he pushed for organizational change. He embodied everything Rockies fans have wanted since the team’s establishment in Denver. The Rockies, however, weren’t interested. But some part of him has to know that he carries our dreams and frustrations with him.
In the end, Nolan Arenado’s success is our success, too.