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Rockies Have a Blueprint for Long-Term Deal With Arenado

In the spring of 2001, Todd Helton, already signed through the 2002 season, which would take him through his arbitration years, was involved in negotiations with the Rockies for an extension that would buy out nine years of free agency and pay him $141.5 million.

He figured a bigger deal could be on the table from other teams if he waited two years to become a free agent, but he also knew that other than the Rockies the only two teams he had a real interest in playing for were the Cardinals or Braves, both close to his Tennessee home.

What he didn’t know is if either would have interest in a first baseman.

“Truth is, if my grandchildren aren’t taken care of with this, we’ve got problems,” Helton said. “And I do know I enjoy Colorado. It’s my baseball home.”

So on the final day of spring training that year, Helton agreed to what at the time was the fourth largest contract in MLB history.

Arbitration eligible Service time Projected
Nolan Arenado 5 years, 155 days $26.1 million
Trevor Story 3 years $6.4 million
Chad Bettis 4 years, 96 days $3.2 million
Jon Gray 3 years, 62 days $3.2 million
Tyler Anderson 3 years. 65 days $2.9 million
Chris Rusin 4 years, 92 days $1.7 million
Scott Oberg 3 years, 81 days $1.2 million
Tony Wolters 2 years, 161 days $1.1 million
Total $45.8 million

That scenario looms again for the Rockies this off-season, only this time it’s Nolan Arenado who will be the focus of the Rockies approach to negotiations. Twenty-seven days shy of the six years of major league service time needed to become a free agent, Arenado is among eight Rockies’ players arbitration eligible this off-season.

And he is the one who figures to make an impact on MLB whenever his deal is completed – whether it be through an arbitration ruling or a negotiated deal with the club. MLB Trade Rumors, in its annual projection of arbitration salaries, projects Arenado to receive a record $26.1 million.

Five of the other seven Rockies are first-year eligible – Trevor story, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Scott Oberg and Tony Wolters. The other two – Chad Bettis and Chris Rusin – are both second-time eligible. Story, at $6.4 million, has the highest projected arbitration salary among the seven, according to Trade Rumors, double the amount for Chad Bettis and Jon Gray, who rank behind Story.

Contract Details
2018 Base Salary $14 million
2019 Base Salary $21 million
2020 Base Salary $21 million
2021 Base Salary $21 million
*2022 Base Salary $21 million
*2023 Base Salary x-$10 million
Incentives
$500,000 each 400, 425, 450, 475,
500, 525 plate appearances (2018-22)
$1 million each 550, 575
plate appearances (2018-22)
$2 million 1-3 finish MVP vote 2018-22
$1 million 4-5 finish MVP vote 2018-22
*-players option
x-Could increase to $18 million
Can block trade to 15 teams a year
Hotel suite on road
Source: Cot's Baseball Contracts

Only two previous arbitration-eligible players received more than $20 million, both last year and both in settlements before the hearing – Josh Donaldson, who received $23 million from the Blue Jays, and Bryce Harper, who agreed to $21.65 million from the Nationals.

The current record salary for an arbitration-eligible Rockies player is $14 million that Charlie Blackmon agreed to last winter before working out a six-year deal that guaranteed Blackmon at least $105 million, but gives him ample opportunities to increase the payout.

After the 2021 season, by which time he will have earned $75 million, he has the right to opt out of the final two years, in which he is guaranteed $21 million in 2022 and $10 million in 2023 with the ability for that to increase to $18 million if he chooses to remain with the Rockies.

Contract Details
2018 Base Salary $14 million
2019 Base Salary $21 million
2020 Base Salary $21 million
2021 Base Salary $21 million
*2022 Base Salary $21 million
*2023 Base Salary x-$10 million
Incentives
$500,000 each 400, 425, 450, 475,
500, 525 plate appearances (2018-22)
$1 million each 550, 575
plate appearances (2018-22)
$2 million 1-3 finish MVP vote 2018-22
$1 million 4-5 finish MVP vote 2018-22
*-players option
x-Could increase to $18 million
Can block trade to 15 teams a year
Hotel suite on road
Source: Cot's Baseball Contracts

But more than that, he has incentives for plate appearances, which added $5 million alone to his base of $14 million in 2018 because he surpassed 525 plate appearances. He also has the right to block a trade to 15 teams a year, and a hotel suite on the road.

The contract provides protection to both sides, in that Blackmon can make an additional $5 million annually if he has 575 plate appearances, but if he doesn’t reach 400 plate appearance the Rockies are obligated for the base salary, only, and he can protect himself from being traded to a undesirable team.

It would seem logical that Arenado could receive a similar structure – at higher figures – that would allow him to continue his career in Colorado, but also would give him an eventual escape clause if he felt the Rockies would not remain competitive.

If so, the end result will come down to whether Arenado wants to be a Rockies player from start to finish.

If not, he could be a free agent next fall – or the Rockies could decide to see what the trade market could be this off-season.

The key thing to remember is that emotions can play into what Arenado decides, but the decision does come down to business. It’s an opportunity Arenado has earned.