Nolan Arenado
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Nolan Arenado is one of the best in baseball, but the New York Mets need to stay far away from, perhaps, the best third baseman in the game. 

Reports out of Denver indicate that Nolan Arenado may be looking for a change.

“I really don’t care what’s being said,” Arenado told the Denver Post. “I just know that I feel disrespected over there.”

Perhaps, predictably, Arenado’s words have some New York Mets fans clamoring. If he wants out of Colorado, they’re saying, why not welcome him to Queens? With Arenado anchoring the lineup and the infield, the Mets will probably become clear favorites in the N.L. East. At the very least, the Mets should be on the phone with the Rockies, gauging Arenado’s price.

But while Arenado would be an enormous addition, his price will almost certainly be too high to be worth paying. In fact, for the Mets, trading for Arenado might well be counterproductive.

The simple problem is that the Mets already have several infielders who need and deserve playing time, and not many spots for them. Jeff McNeil should play every day. J.D. Davis should play as often as he can. Luis Guillorme deserves a legitimate shot, but that’s an argument for another day. Even Jed Lowrie might rise from the ashes any day now, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Most of those opportunities, especially for McNeil and Davis, will likely come at third base.

If the Mets trade for Arenado, he’ll take playing time from either McNeil or Davis, and probably both. Arenado is definitely an upgrade over Davis, and he’s probably an upgrade over McNeil (although Mets fans tend to forget how good Jeff McNeil is). But he’s not enough of an upgrade to justify sacrificing an enormous package of talent and taking on $234 million in contract obligations.

Of course, the Mets could give up one or more of those infielders in a trade for Arenado, which would help alleviate the playing time issue. But the fact remains that Arenado would barely be an upgrade over Jeff McNeil, who he would likely replace. McNeil’s .384 OBP last season was actually higher than Arenado’s .379. Arenado hits for more power, and is a better defender, but McNeil is already a championship-caliber player.

Arenado has an opt-out after the 2021 season. Either he’ll hit free agency in two years, or he’ll make the full $234 million left on his contract. Either way, it’s not worth emptying the farm system and assuming an enormous contract for someone only slightly better than Jeff McNeil.

But will Arenado even be better than McNeil? Or, for that matter, will he outperform J.D. Davis on offense? Arenado is a great offensive player, but it’s no sure thing. Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame induction inspired a lot of talk about the end of the “Coors Field Curse,” but in Arenado’s case, Colorado’s thin air seems like it’s benefited him in a big way.

In 2019, Arenado hit .351/.412/.645 at Coors Field. On the road, he batted .277/.346/.521. His road numbers were fine, but certainly not worth $234 million. It was even worse in 2018: he slashed .347/.424/.681 at home, for a 1.105 OPS, while hitting .248/.325/.447 on the road, an OPS of .772.

In his career, Arenado is a .324/.380/.615 hitter at Coors Field. On the road, he slashes .265/.323/.476. For what it’s worth, Jeff McNeil’s career OPS at home is .900. On the road, it’s .893.

Yes, Arenado is a great player. He’s already compiled 38.7 WAR and 242 home runs by age 28: he’s probably a future Hall of Famer. But look at the red flags. He’s almost 29, probably near the end of his prime both offensively and defensively. He’ll make $234 million through his age-36 season. Outside Colorado, his offensive output has been fairly pedestrian. And the Mets already have a very good third baseman who is cost-controlled through 2025.

Pete Alonso, LFGM T-Shirt

The Mets’ farm system is close to barren. They have only two names on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects lists: Ronny Mauricio and Francisco Alvarez are ranked 66th and 67th (Jarred Kelenic, as if Mets fans needed reminding, is ranked 11th).

The Mets can’t afford to give away any more prospects. At the big-league level, meanwhile, any package of talent large enough to entice the Rockies to part with their superstar will surely be a mortal blow to the Mets’ chances in 2020. And Arenado as a Met will probably not measure up to Arenado as a Rockie.

The Mets have opportunities to upgrade. They could try to bring in a better framer and receiver than Wilson Ramos. They could sign or trade for a better fifth starter than Rick Porcello or Michael Wacha. As long as they’re not sacrificing too much, they could even go after Starling Marte.

The one thing they don’t need is an expensive third baseman who will cost an arm and a leg in talent. Nolan Arenado may be a future Hall of Famer, but he’s not what the Mets need right now.

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