It’s been just a little over a day since the Rockies officially traded away the face of the franchise, Nolan Arenado, and the wound is still fresh. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time a star player has been traded away from the Rockies and it probably won’t be the last. Many comparisons are being made to Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki who were both shipped out of Denver in their prime, but I would like to shed some light on another comp: Scott Rolen.
Prior to the trade deadline of the 2002 season, Scott Rolen was traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition to Rolen, the Phillies dealt relief pitcher Doug Nickle (and cash) for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin.
Game’s best at third base
Rolen’s name was featured in headlines as recently as last week as he received votes on 52.9% of Hall of Fame ballots and is knocking on the door of being inducted. In 2002, he was playing in his seventh season for the Phillies, where he had brought home the Rookie of the Year award in 1997, four Gold Gloves, and one All-Star appearance. Arenado’s trophy case is quite a bit more loaded at this point in his career, having collected eight Gold Gloves (one in each of his eight seasons with the Rockies) and five All-Star appearances.
Nolan owns a career slash line of .293/.349/.541 with 235 home runs and 760 runs batted in with a total of 39.1 bWAR. Rolen’s line during his stretch of time in Philadelphia was .282/.373/.504, 159 home runs, and 559 RBI with a total bWAR of 29.2. Since both players had a handful of partial seasons (rookie years, 2020 pandemic), looking at their full seasons Arenado averaged 5.4 WAR per season compared to Rolen’s 4.3 WAR per season. Their rate statistics are particularly similar: Arenado’s OPS of .890 and OPS+ of 120 compared to Rolen’s .877 and 126, respectively.
More simply put, at the time of their respective trades, these were two premier third baseman in their prime who contributed with power and discipline at the plate as well as Gold Glove-caliber defense in the field.
Appetite for winning
Rolen’s departure from Philadelphia was different from Arenado’s in that he didn’t have an opt-out and was definitely going to be a free agent at the end of the 2002 season. He was reportedly offered an extension to stay with the Phillies but he rejected the deal in the midst of public feuding with manager Larry Bowa.
This is where his story mirrors Arenado’s situation with the Rockies. According to the Associated Press, the Phillies third baseman was “tired of losing, he wanted the team to make a commitment to winning. Rolen figured a higher payroll would be a step in that direction, and wanted a clause in his contract that guaranteed Philadelphia would be among the top teams in that department.”
Arenado was looking to Jeff Bridich and the Rockies for the same level of commitment when he signed an extension with the Rockies in 2019. No surprise. When you’re talking about the best of the best, losing doesn’t sit well.
One big difference: Philadelphia fans (in all sports) have a reputation of treating star players harshly if they can’t meet lofty expectations, which certainly seems to have been the case for Rolen. This is where Rockies fans are scratching their heads. Arenado is so clearly beloved by the Rockies fan base (not the case for Rolen at the time of his trade in 2002). From a fan’s perspective, it’s almost inconceivable to let Arenado walk away from this team.
The return and future implications
The return of Polanco, Smith and Timlin actually turned out not too bad. Polanco replaced Rolen at third base where he did an adequate job for the next three seasons amassing a total of 10.3 WAR in his first stint with the team. Smith and Timlin were non-factors as they combined for a total of 35 ⅔ big league innings in a Phillies uniform (all from Timlin in 2002). Time will tell if the prospect package gained by the Rockies amounts to any big league production.
The front office implications are interesting. Larry Bowa lasted another two seasons in Philadelphia before he was fired and replaced with Charlie Manuel. General Manager Ed Wade was replaced soon afterwards with Pat Gillick. The silver lining to all of this is that the Phillies would go on to win the 2008 World Series. If the Nolan and Rolen (yes, their names even rhyme!) parallels run deep enough, the future in Colorado may involve a fresh start with a new front office that could take the franchise to greater heights. But for now, Rockies fans will continue to mourn the departure of their beloved third baseman.
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Rockies owner Dick Monfort and general manager Jeff Bridich addressed the media yesterday in the wake of trading Nolan Arenado. Our team at Purple Row summarized the hour-long address and highlighted the biggest takeaways. Monfort began with an opening statement expressing, “he understood this was an unpopular decision among fans (himself included), but still believes that the Rockies are extremely talented.” Bridich managed to take the blame, stating, “you can blame me.” They also expressed regret not re-signing DJ LeMahieu indicating that mistake was a precursor to where the team is at now.
Marc Carig of The Athletic rips into the Rockies front office for their role in Nolan Arenado’s departure. He holds nothing back, stating, “smart people would interpret this outcome for precisely what it is: a clear signal of total and complete organizational failure.”
The theme throughout the piece centers on the lack of accountability for the duo of Dick Monfort and Jeff Bridich and the grave error they committed in letting Arenado go. At one point Carig says, “Under Bridich’s watch, the Rockies find themselves wandering the mile-high wilderness with no chance of escape, so blinded by their delusions that they don’t even realize they’re lost.” It’s a point of view familiar to Rockies fans and that has now made its way front and center in the national spotlight.
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