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Purple Reign: Nolan Arenado’s Record Deal Is a Win for Both Him and the Rockies

The 27-year-old third baseman has reportedly agreed to a new, $260 million contract with the highest per-year salary for a position player in MLB history, ensuring he’ll play in Coors Field for many MVP-contending seasons to come

A photo illustration of Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Nolan Arenado’s Baseball-Reference page is littered with signals of his extraordinary talent. He boasts a bevy of black ink, having led the majors in RBIs twice and total bases once, and having led the National League in home runs three times, total bases twice, and doubles once. He’s collected copious honors, with six Gold Gloves in six seasons, four consecutive All-Star appearances, and four Silver Sluggers. And his year-by-year chart features reminders of his fame, at least within the baseball world, with four consecutive top-10 MVP finishes that have improved in standing every season: eighth to fifth to fourth to third.

Since Arenado’s debut in 2013, only Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, and Mookie Betts have been more valuable than the Rockies third baseman, who never gets hurt, never stops hitting, and basically never misses a play in the field. And on Tuesday, Arenado took a great step toward never leaving the only franchise he’s ever known, reportedly agreeing to an eight-year, $260 million contract with Colorado to collect the highest per-year salary for a position player in MLB history. The first year of the new deal will override the $26 million he was slated to earn in 2019.

The agreement yields applause on all sides: Arenado for receiving the contract he deserves, Colorado for paying a player his worth in an offseason rife with financial frustrations, and the sport of baseball for reminding fans why they watch. It’s a special thing for a star to remain in one city for his entire career, collecting adulation and inspiring just one fan base for decades. Earlier this winter, the Diamondbacks traded Goldschmidt, the best position player they’ve ever known, a year before he was set to reach free agency. The Rockies faced the same scenario with their newest star, but instead of following Arizona’s lead, they signed him—following the path they established with their own best player to date, Todd Helton, who played all 17 of his major league seasons in Colorado.

Arenado’s not at Helton’s level yet, either by career value or longevity, and he might not ever reach those twin Rockies peaks. (His new contract, for instance, reportedly includes an opt-out after Year 3, along with a full no-trade clause.) But after two straight playoff appearances Colorado’s betting he will, and for good reason. Arenado is the ideal player around which to build a team: an elite two-way presence who, on the eve of his age-28 season, still has seasons left in his prime.

Despite his league-leading home run totals, discussion about Arenado starts with his glove. Defensive metrics grow spottier as baseball history draws further into the past, but even with that caveat, it’s clear that he rates among the best defensive third basemen in the sport’s history. Over the course of his career, he’s been worth 2.5 WAR per 162 games on defense alone, according to Baseball-Reference—the second-best mark for all third basemen with at least 500 games played.

Best Defensive Third Basemen

Player Seasons Career dWAR Games dWAR/162
Player Seasons Career dWAR Games dWAR/162
Lee Tannehill 1903-1912 18.7 1090 2.8
Nolan Arenado 2013-2018 13.3 876 2.5
Brooks Robinson 1955-1977 39.1 2896 2.2
Clete Boyer 1955-1971 21.6 1725 2.0
Manny Machado 2012-2018 11.3 926 2.0
Scott Rolen 1996-2012 21.2 2038 1.7
Adrián Beltré 1998-2018 29.3 2933 1.6
Buddy Bell 1972-1989 23.8 2405 1.6
Joe Crede 2000-2009 8.5 888 1.6
John Castino 1979-1984 6.3 666 1.5

That statistical consistency comes with the requisite array of highlights—Arenado fielding a dribbler with his bare hand, Arenado throwing on the run, Arenado somersaulting over the railing to secure a foul ball.

And on offense, even if some of Arenado’s league-leading numbers are the result of Coors Field inflation, he still produces well above what environmental factors alone could explain, and he does so consistently, with no bad years on his record and improvements every season of his career thus far. On a park-adjusted basis, his batting line is almost identical to Manny Machado’s—both in overall career and recent seasons—at around 20-30 percent better than average.

The Machado comparison is logical for that reason and others. The two are naturally similar players: born just 15 months apart, blessed with transcendent defensive ability at the same position, now division rivals for two teams chasing the Dodgers. Arenado’s new contract makes additional sense alongside the one Machado signed with the Padres last week. While the latter secured more guaranteed years and money, both deals will take the players into their mid-30s, and Arenado will make an extra $2.5 million per year to compensate for the condensed time frame.

His removal from next year’s free-agent market, meanwhile, could induce a domino effect. If teams like the Yankees hadn’t displayed much interest in Machado or Bryce Harper this winter because they were “saving” a star slot for Arenado next winter, they look rather foolish now. Perhaps Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, will use this contract to re-engage potential Harper suitors and bid his pending deal even higher. Or maybe Boras will now help another client, third baseman Anthony Rendon, command a comparable extension before he reaches free agency next winter.

But none of those secondary impacts matter much to Arenado and the Rockies now. He didn’t receive the full 10 years Machado did, but Tuesday’s deal means he will be playing baseball at Coors for a long time to come. What wonderful news for a player who’s always experienced success there. What wonderful news for the team that gets to retire his jersey one day, many more Gold Gloves and home runs and MVP-contending seasons down the line. What wonderful news for a fan base that gets to cheer for him every day from now to then.