Given the information we possess about former Rockies’ GM Jeff Bridich—the money he spent on Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy, the money he didn’t spend on D.J. LeMahieu, the awful trade that dealt franchise centerpiece Nolan Arenado not even two months before Bridich’s departure—it’s difficult to view his tenure with the club as anything other than an incredible act of sabotage. The decline of the Rockies, who just a few years ago won 87 and then 91 games, has been so sharp, so quick, and so blatantly caused by obviously dumb front office choices that incompetence alone is not a sufficient explanation, and that apparent truth only shifted into sharper focus after the Rockies got swept by Arenado’s new team, the Cardinals, this weekend.
In 35 games so far this year with his new club, Arenado has swiftly bounced back from a subpar 2020 and established himself as certainly one of if not the very best player on the winningest team in the National League. He’s playing solid defense at third as usual, rarely striking out, and putting up a team-best .851 OPS. But all the numbers in the world can’t match the emotional impact of what Arenado did on Sunday in a 2-0 win against his old club. In the first inning, he had a nifty assist from the hot corner; in the second inning, he hit a solo dinger; and in the fourth inning, he scored from first on a Yadi Molina double.
This do-it-all performance came on top of key contributions in the first two games of the series, as Arenado doubled and scored in both the Cards’ 5-0 win on Friday and their 9-8 victory on Saturday. Compare this to what the Rockies deemed him to be worth at the beginning of February. Austin Gomber, the sole Major Leaguer they got in return for their superstar, has a 6.35 ERA in 34 innings for the Rock Men. Only one of the four prospects included in the trade package is currently playing above A ball.
And, oh yeah, the Rockies are still paying $50 million of Arenado’s contract while he leads the Cards to the top of the NL Central, playing an enormous role in what’s so far a marked improvement from St. Louis’s barely-.500 campaign in 2020. In addition to their flashy new arrival, the Cardinals also have plenty of other tools that make them a contender, including the ageless Adam Wainright (8.1 shutout innings yesterday), the budding ace Jack Flaherty (6-0 with a 2.83 ERA), and the early Rookie of the Year candidate Dylan Carlson, who helped the Cards’ outfield seamlessly weather a preseason forearm injury to Harrison Bader with his team-best .380 OBP. There are more reasons to be optimistic that this great start can continue through the dog days, too, as Molina instantly settled back into the lineup with four RBIs in his first two games after returning from a foot injury, and the Lizard King Miles Mikolas, eyes a comeback in the near future after missing out on all of 2020.
Though he should be overjoyed that he’s on the 21-14 team with a sunny outlook instead of the 12-22 club who won’t dig themselves out of their hole for years, Arenado still sounded legitimately saddened and bothered by the fact that he had to go out and beat his old pals. And like many Rockies fans (and baseball-watchers in general), he doesn’t seem to have fully adjusted to the weirdness that is his new uniform.
“It felt weird, knowing that a lot of those guys I came up with were over there,” he said after the game on Sunday. “It felt normal against the Mets, but it didn’t feel normal against the Rockies. It just didn’t feel right, in a way.”
The good news for Arenado: He won’t have to worry about facing the Rockies in the games that matter most.