Nolan Arenado is one of the best players in baseball, and with a glaring hole at third base, he would seemingly be a perfect fit for the Atlanta Braves. The 28-year old is one of the best defenders in the game, can be relied upon for at least 5 WAR when healthy, and can be expected to put up somewhere around a 125 WRC+. On Monday night, the star slugger made it clear that he wanted out of Colorado, where he recently signed a big money extension.
The contract contains seven years and $234 million left on it and includes an opt out two years from now, which adds to the complexity surrounding a potential trade for him. The AAV is relatively consistent at $35 million per year until it decreases slightly in the final two years. The way I see it, contract situation sets a potential trade to be something similar to what the Yankees gave up for Giancarlo Stanton. I’m not sure that the contract discussion that Arenado will have with teams trying to acquire his services will impact what the Rockies expect in return in any substantial manner, but it certainly should impact what teams are willing to give up. I think the Braves should look to include Austin Riley in as a primary piece in a deal for the gold glove third baseman as Riley would be left without a clear spot to settle into in Atlanta in the future. I could see a package something like Austin Riley and some mid-level pitching prospects getting the job done given the salary, but the Braves might have to add in a guy like Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson to finish the deal, and may want to add someone like Shane Greene or Ender Inciarte to both sweeten the deal for Colorado and offset some of the money they will be receiving with Arenado. The way his contract is structured, there are three ways this trade can work.
Scenario 1: He waives the opt-out, no strings attached
This situation would require Arenado to be so desperate to leave Colorado, or excited to join Atlanta, that he is willing to out-right waive his opt out as a way of convincing the Braves (or another team) to come and get him. This situation presents the most value for a team trying to trade for Arenado, but also seems unlikely. Arenado would likely request some compensation for waiving his option like adding an extra year to his contract, and teams would have no real leverage to negotiate from, other than using his clear desire to get out of Colorado. That being said, this is the best way for Arenado to get out of Colorado as it is the most friendly thing he could do towards whatever team is trying to trade for him, and could encourage the team to offer just a little bit more.
Scenario 2: He waives the opt-out in exchange for another year
This scenario seems the most likely to me as it both gives a team trying to trade for Arenado the clarity of knowing exactly how many years of control they are trading for, while giving Arenado some compensation for getting rid of his opt-out. I could see an agreement being reached at something like adding an extra year with $17-23 million to his contract in exchange for him waiving the opt-out. This would be going into his age 36 season, but given that Josh Donaldson (who is not as good as Arenado) was just signed for a higher AAV than that through his age 37 season with an option on top of that, this would be entirely reasonable for the team.
Scenario 3: He refuses to waive the option
This scenario makes it far less likely that a trade gets completed, because the team trading for Arenado will have to operate under the assumption that they are trading for only two seasons of Arenado’s services at $35 million per year. Teams would be less willing to meet the Rockies’ asking price in this situation given this assumption, although given the Braves’ front offices preference for shorter deals, this may not deter Atlanta much.
The Braves are somewhat boxed into a corner right now after missing out on Donaldson and desperately needing to add a middle of the order bat. Arenado seems like a prime option for a trade and, being one of the best defenders in the game, seems like a great fit for a front office that puts a premium on defense. If they can find the budget to take his contract, the Braves certainly have the prospect depth, particularly in pitching, to deal from. I think that if they can get Arenado to waive his opt-out through altruism or by giving him an extra year, this is a deal worth pulling the trigger on.