Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado's availability doesn't affect Kris Bryant's potential trade market

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USA TODAY

Nolan Arenado's availability doesn't affect Kris Bryant's potential trade market

Add another player to this offseason’s loaded third base market. Wednesday, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported the Rockies are willing to listen to trade inquiries on star third baseman Nolan Arenado.

In addition to Arenado, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is also potentially available for trade, based on several reports, while Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson are free agents.

Being “willing” to listen to trade inquires and seriously considering a deal are two very different things. Like the Cubs and Bryant, the Rockies would be foolish not to listen to inquiries regarding Arenado — or any of their players.

Arenado is a superstar and has averaged a .300/.362/.575 line, with 40 homers and 124 RBIs since 2015. Even playing in hitter-friendly Coors Field, that’s impressive. The 28-year-old has been an All-Star each of the past five years and has won seven-straight Gold Glove Awards.

In theory, Arenado’s availability affects the Cubs and Bryant’s trade market. Players like Arenado don’t grow on trees, and if teams want him bad enough, they could elect to pursue him rather than Bryant. This would take away suitors for the Cubs third baseman.

But in actuality, Arenado’s availability doesn’t change much for the Cubs.

Arenado signed a monster eight-year, $260 million deal with the Rockies in February. The Rockies may have to eat some of his salary in a trade, as it’s questionable if a team would take on Arenado’s full contract and give up a decent return package.

Example: when the Marlins dealt Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees in December 2017, Miami also sent $30 million to New York. In turn, the Yankees took on $260-$265 million of the $290 million left on Stanton’s contract, sending Starlin Castro and two prospects to Miami.

Arenado is much greater commitment than Bryant — both financially and in years. Bryant is projected to make $18.5 million in arbitration next season, a little more than half of Arenado’s $35 million salary.

There is a caveat with both players’ contract lengths. Arenado’s deal runs through 2026, but he can opt-out after 2021. Bryant is under contract through 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he’ll hit the open market next winter.

Arenado also has a full no-trade clause, which would complicate any possible negotiations. 

Teams will have to weigh acquiring Arenado and taking on his massive salary, all while considering how he may leave in free agency in two years. The latter is true about Bryant as well, but he's the more affordable player.

And, ultimately, numerous teams are seeking a third baseman this winter. Once Rendon and Donaldson sign, the focus will shift to Arenado and Bryant for the three teams that lose out. 

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The Javy Effect: How Baez's fearless nature has rubbed off on the Cubs

The Javy Effect: How Baez's fearless nature has rubbed off on the Cubs

The lasting image of the Cubs' annual trip to Coors Field will be Javy Baez's reaction to his bomb in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 10-1 victory.

Just a few pitches after the Rockies had plunked Anthony Rizzo and the Beanball War seemed to be ready to erupt, Baez retaliated in the most effective way — on the scoreboard:

While his pimp job and the sheer distance of that homer stand out, it was yet another positive result for Baez on an 0-2 or 1-2 count.

On the season, he is now hitting .278 with a .570 (!) slugging percentage, 5 homers and 15 RBI in counts that end on 0-2 or 1-2 pitches. By comparison, MLB hitters are batting just .154 with a .243 slugging percentage in 0-2/1-2 counts.

So why is Baez so good when he's down in the count?

"It's about fearlessness," Joe Maddon said last week. "I think that's what it really comes down to. He's developing a better eye on two strikes, but I don't think that guy goes to bed one night and worries about how many times he struck out that day. 

"Now, of course, I'm an advocate of striking out less. But I'm also an advocate of not messing with Javy and his ability to play this game. I think that's just indicating to you how full throttle he plays this game. 

"He doesn't overthink it; he's not worried about it in a negative way. He's really anticipating a positive outcome."

Baseball is a game fraught with failure and it's very easy for anybody — even the most established big-league veterans — to get caught up in the fear of failure.

But somehow, Baez seems to have been born without that gene. He does not spend his time worrying about potential failure or trying to avoid making mistakes. 

He just plays the game his way. It's a way that nobody else can duplicate, but Baez's fearless nature is certainly something the entire Cubs team is trying to adopt. 

"He's definitely a guy that you try to look at and it's like, he goes out and plays as hard as he can," Albert Almora Jr. said. "He really brings the kid out in you. You really think a lot about, 'Oh man, I used to play like that.' 

"But he does it at the highest level, which is something special. You can definitely see it in the team. He changes the whole attitude and the atmosphere."

The Cubs have been talking about Baez's sensational baseball IQ for the last five years, but it's gotten to a point where they now lean on him and that "sixth sense" during the course of the game. 

On the last homestand, Baez came out to the mound for a chat with Kyle Hendricks and it was later revealed he was letting the Cubs pitcher know what he saw about the current hitter/at-bat from his shortstop position. Hendricks said he now routinely looks back to Baez during the course of the game to get the shortstop's perspective.

And then there's the baserunning.

Baez is one of the most aggressive baserunners in the game, always looking to take the extra bag or put pressure on the defense. This week was another great example as he went from first base to third base on a groundout Monday night in Colorado. The Rockies were caught in a shift without a player at third base and Baez took advantage, prompting a brief "JAVY! JAVY!" chant at Coors Field after the play.

Yes, Cubs fans travel well, but it's not every day the crowd chants for an opposing player following a groundout.

When Kris Bryant helped the Cubs eke out a win over the Phillies with a pair of heads-up baserunning plays last month, it was Baez's name that was brought up unprompted for partial credit.

"Not trying to take away from KB 'cause I feel like he's secretly one of the best baserunners in the game — he always runs hard and he plays the game like an MVP — but that's one of the effects that Javy has on us," Jason Heyward said. "I feel like you see other guys making plays like that on the bases and we're aware those things can happen if we stay in tune."

Of course, that same game, Baez wound up coming off the bench to connect on a walk-off single despite dealing with a painful heel injury that kept him out of the lineup. 

As he tried to work through that heel injury, Baez wound up slumping at the plate, striking out in half his at-bats (20-of-40) over the span of two weeks. 

But he's since righted the ship — crushing 4 homers and knocking in 12 runs in his last 10 games including Wednesday.

"He could go bad for a couple days, but you don't worry about that," Maddon said. 'He doesn't overthink it. And he wasn't going home and beating himself up about it. He wasn't trying to reinvent himself. 

"He knows it's coming back to him. He knows he's good. I love that. That's why he can be as good as he is and better for so many years to come. It's really awesome to watch him play."

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Everything is coming up Kyle Hendricks right now

Everything is coming up Kyle Hendricks right now

Everything Kyle Hendricks turns to a gem right now.

After making a strong case for the National League pitcher of the month in May, Hendricks kept the good times rolling as the calendar flipped to June — throwing another stellar outing and even picking up an RBI single in the Cubs' 6-3 win over Colorado Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Pitching against the Rockies for the first time since he took the loss in the National League Wild-Card Game last October, Hendricks struck out 10 across 7 innings, surrendering only 3 runs. 

He also broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the second inning when the Rockies intentionally walked Addison Russell to get to the light-hitting Cubs pitcher with two outs and a runner on third. On the first pitch he saw from Jeff Hoffman, Hendricks blooped one into shallow left-center — his 5th hit of the season (second only to the 8 hits he recorded in 2016).

Oh yeah, and Hendricks even touched 90 mph on the radar gun.

"He was hitting the edges really well — changeup was outstanding," Joe Maddon said. "You saw several of their hitters having a really hard time with the changeup. The arm speed was perfect with that. 

"And then he threw some nice curveballs. He's just pitching well. Pitching really well, drives in a run, just had himself a wonderful evening. He set the whole thing up."

Maddon let Hendricks climb up to 111 pitches to finish the seventh inning, and the right-hander said he felt strong all night even as his pitch count ticked up. He also realized early on the Rockies were sitting on his changeup, so he dipped into his arsenal and threw his fastball more.

The result was 21 swings-and-misses by Rockies hitters — 8 on the fastball and 7 on the changeup. Colorado leadoff man Raimel Tapia accounted for 7 of those swings-and-misses all on his own, as he struck out three times against Hendricks Tuesday night.

Hendricks now has a 2.09 ERA and 0.77 WHIP since the calendar flipped to May, throwing at least 7 innings five times in seven starts in that span.

"In a way, yeah [I'm in a groove]," Hendricks said. "Physically, I feel good, so my mechanics are good and my lines and from there, I'm just able to focus on the mental. Willy [Contreras] and [Victor] Caratini — they've both just been keeping me locked in. 

"Aggressive, establishing the fastball, coming right at guys, getting Strike 1. When I have that kind of mentality, everything else just falls back into place."

On the season as a whole, Hendricks leads the Cubs with 6 wins and sports a 3.16 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.

He's been getting a ton of swings-and-misses lately, totaling at least 7 strikeouts in five of his last seven starts.

"I'm just doing a real good job of being aggressive early, so I'm getting to two strikes and I'm just finishing hitters right now," Hendricks said. "I'm still trying to pitch to contact and make good pitches and it just happens right now that my good pitches are ending up in swings and misses. It's just how it goes sometimes.

"My focus is always on making good pitches — whether soft contact or they miss it, that's the goal."