Colorado Rockies

Have the Rockies set themselves up to keep Nolan Arenado?

The Colorado Rockies locked up one key piece in Charlie Blackmon, but what does it mean for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado?

Without much of a hint that a big move was in the works, the Colorado Rockies agreed to a six-year extension with All-Star center fielder Charlie Blackmon on Monday afternoon. The deal could be worth as much as $108 million if Blackmon chooses to use his player options for 2022 and 2023. For a player who still appears to be ascending, this looks like a very team-friendly contract, and it could have other long-term implications for the Rockies.

Nolan Arenado, who is quickly putting himself in the conversation to supplant Larry Walker and Todd Helton as the best player in Colorado history, will be a free agent after next season. Having seen the contracts that Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson signed this winter, Arenado will be looking to cash in, and the Rockies are working to show him they are serious about continuing to field a sustainable winner.

It may have taken 26 years, but that’s exactly where the Rockies are as a franchise — running out a team that should enter every season with expectations of fighting for a playoff spot. The big contracts for Ian Desmond and Greg Holland were just the beginning. Blackmon’s contract cemented it. The Rockies mean business, and why shouldn’t they?

Developing elite hitters has never been a problem in Colorado. It’s the pitching that has taken longer to come along. The Rockies may have finally figured out the magic formula for keeping the ball in the yard at Coors Field: lots of power fastballs and breaking balls. They’ll never lead the league in ERA, but the staff of young hurlers, led by Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland, has what it takes to keep up with the potent offense.

Keeping their best hitters has never been a problem for the Rockies. Walker spent 10 years of his career in Denver, while Helton played all 17 of his MLB seasons in Colorado. Carlos Gonzalez was also willing to forgo free agency to stay with the team and is back for a 10th season. A good hitter can build a Hall of Fame resume playing 81 games a year in the Mile High City. Arenado has hit .314/.363/.595 with a home run every 16 at-bats at home. Why give that up?

Desmond’s five-year contract with the Rockies looked like a bad deal about 45 seconds after he signed it, but there are few other pockets of dead money on the roster. Closer Wade Davis is signed for only three years, leaving Blackmon as the only other player locked up several years out. It’s a good position to be in for a team in a rapidly growing market and a bad TV deal that will run out in 2020.

Based on population, Denver has always been in the bottom half of the league in terms of size, but the city is growing faster than any other MLB city except Seattle — and it is the right kind of growth, with tech and Fortune 500 companies flocking to Colorado. A mid-market team like the Rockies can afford to back up the Brinks truck (Helton’s biggest deal was for nine years and $141 million) for one player at a time, but must have a steady stream of young talent coming up through the farm system to make it possible to continue winning without signing additional free agents. The Rockies have finally built that pipeline and have the right financial tailwinds that could make it possible to keep their biggest star.

Of course, it’s far too early to make a statement about where Nolan Arenado will play in 2020 and beyond with any type of certainty (because this really is the first time in the free agent era that $300-400 million contracts are actually in play), but the Rockies and their fans have to feel much better about their chances than, say, the Baltimore Orioles when it comes to Manny Machado. Charlie Blackmon chose to ink a long-term deal because he felt confident he would continue playing for a winner. Blackmon signed for nine figures, but he did give a hometown discount, leaving plenty of leftover cash to dangle for Arenado in a year.

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