Who’s No. 2 to Bryce Harper among position players? Meet Rockies’ Nolan Arenado
Let us stipulate that Bryce Harper is the best position player in the National League.
So who’s No. 2?
You could make a great case for Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Anthony Rizzo or Joey Votto. However, you would be ignoring the player who leads the league in extra-base hits and runs batted in, ranks second to Harper in home runs and slugging percentage and wears a spectacularly golden glove at third base.
Nolan Arenado is 24. Other than Harper — and with apologies to Corey Seager and his phenomenal first two weeks in the major leagues — Arenado would be the sturdiest foundation for a team building for the next decade.
Arenado plays for the Colorado Rockies. This is his third season in Colorado, and almost certainly his second last-place finish. In the year the Rockies did not finish last, they lost 96 games.
Arenado grew up in Orange County as a “big-time Dodger fan,” rooting for Adrian Beltre and Shawn Green and Eric Karros, hoping the Dodgers would draft him. If they had, well, Arenado and Seager on the left side of the infield might have had a chance to outshine and outlast Ron Cey and Bill Russell.
In Colorado, Arenado grew close to Troy Tulowitzki, the franchise icon liberated from losing with his July trade to the Toronto Blue Jays. Arenado said he and Tulowitzki talk all the time.
“I ask him how those games are,” Arenado said. “They’re pretty awesome, pretty crazy. They’re winning. They’re playing great baseball. He says it’s a lot of fun.
“He won a lot here early on. Now he’s back with a winner, and I’m happy for him.”
In 2007, with Tulowitzki as the rookie shortstop, the Rockies advanced to the World Series. In 2009, they made the playoffs.
The Rockies have not finished within 18 games of first place since 2010. Since then, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series three times, and the Dodgers have left deep and well-financed footsteps on the rest of the division.
The Denver Post asks this question every day on its website: “How miserable are the Colorado Rockies today? We rate how miserable recent events have been and turn that into today’s Misery Index, measured in the Rockies mascot Dinger’s tears.”
Said Arenado: “Losing wears on everybody. A couple months ago, it was wearing me out. My performance started going down because of it. I’m just trying to focus on the process. I think we all need to focus on that, and I think good things can happen.”
If the Rockies won before, he said, they can win again.
“I think we’ve got some young guys that can do some things,” he said. “I love playing here. I love Denver. I think we’ve got some pieces. But we’ll see. At the end of the day, you see a lot of these good teams now, like the Dodgers, they go get guys. They’re signing guys.”
Rare is the free-agent pitcher who would sign with Colorado when he has a chance to pitch at sea level. The Rockies overpaid for Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, and both deals blew up. They retained Todd Helton and won; they retained Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and did not.
Arenado cannot file for free agency until 2019, but he starts to get expensive next year, the first of four years of arbitration eligibility. If the Rockies do not get better in the next couple years, they might have to consider trading him rather than take the risk of losing him for nothing in free agency.
The Oakland Athletics traded third baseman Josh Donaldson at 28 and got four players in return, but that trade so far is a huge loss, with Donaldson favored to win the American League most valuable player award and the A’s with the worst record in the AL. However, the Texas Rangers traded first baseman Mark Teixeira at 27, got five players in return and revived their franchise.
“That’s a little ways away,” Arenado said. “But, if that happens, it happens. It’s all about winning. They’re going to find any way to win. If getting rid of me is the case, then that’s the case. But I hope that we’re winning before I’m out of here.”
In a season in which so much has gone so wrong for the A’s, they got this one absolutely right: The A’s called up Barry Zito.
Now the A’s need to get one more thing absolutely right: They need to start Zito at the Oakland Coliseum next weekend, against Tim Hudson and the San Francisco Giants.
Zito, 37, toiled in the minor leagues all season, hoping to earn one last shot in the majors. Hudson, 40, has said he is retiring after the season. Zito and Hudson, two of the aces in Oakland’s glory years of the last decade, ought to have the chance to face off against one another, then walk off into retirement together.
The A’s have suggested that Zito is unfit to start because he has pitched one inning since Aug. 5, that they called him up to help a weary bullpen.
If he can pitch one or two innings in relief, then he can pitch one or two innings to start. Neither team would be in a pennant race, and September rosters provide plenty of relievers.
The A’s had seven players in the All-Star Game last year — Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Sean Doolittle, Scott Kazmir, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris and Jeff Samardzija. They have traded every one except Doolittle, who has been limited to 9 2/3 innings this year because of an injury.
Throw the fans a nostalgic bone. It’s the least the A’s can do.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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