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Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado waves to fans after the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Sports

Checking in on the Worst Trade in Baseball History

Seven months after the Colorado Rockies traded Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals, we look at who won the transaction. (Hint: It’s definitely not the Rockies, but it doesn’t look as bad as some people originally thought.)

In February, Colorado Rockies fans’ worst fears were realized when the club announced it had agreed to trade All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals. In exchange, Colorado received five prospects who were almost universally regarded as “meh.” Oh, the Rockies also paid the Cardinals $51 million for the favor of taking the club’s best player off their hands. No wonder at least one local scribe called the deal “the dumbest trade in Denver sports history.

The Cardinals’ season has done nothing to dispel that opinion. Arenado is helping lead the Cardinals on an active 16-game winning streak, and the team is nearly a lock to make the playoffs. He’s hit 33 home runs, tallied 103 RBIs, and, as sure as the sun rises through a thick fog of wildfire smoke, played stellar defense. (That $51 million? Up about 11 percent if the Cards stuck it in a standard S&P 500 index fund, like my Dad advised.)

But—and trust us, we know we’re grasping at straws—there is some hope to be found among the prospects the Rox got in return. With the end of their first season in the organization looming, we decided to check in on each player that the Rockies picked up to see how they fared this season, and whether the Arenado trade still looks as dumb as it did at the outset.

Austin Gomber, starting pitcher
The only player the Rockies got from the Cardinals that played for the MLB club this year, Gomber is still a tough call. His overall stats don’t look exceptional: 9-9 record, 4.53 earned run average (ERA), 115 innings pitched (IP). But those numbers are marred by a terrible August that saw him surrender 26 earned runs in 24.3 IP. And that dreadful month might have been injury-related.

On June 20, Gomber went on the injured list (IL) with tightness in his pitching arm. According to Purple Row, Gomber was good before the injury, posting a 3.68 ERA. But after returning to the mound, his ERA skyrocketed to 6.32 from July 21 and August 31. In September, the Rox put him on the IL for the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his lower spine.

Is the real Gomber the stable innings-eater we saw at the start of the year? Or is he another hurler who can’t handle Coors Field’s thin air? There’s not a large enough sample size to know for sure. Fortunately, he won’t become a free agent until 2026, so there’s enough time to find out.

Elehuris Montero, third base
Before the 2019 season, Baseball America ranked Montero the 81st-best prospect in baseball. The Dominican proceeded to miss just about every pitch hurled his way that season, hitting just .194 for the Cardinals’ Double-A and Rookie affiliates. COVID-19 derailed minor league games in 2020, so Montero looked every bit the bust when he was sent to the Rox this past February.

His 2021, however, has once again shown that same promise that had the Cards penciling Montero into their infield of the future. Montero racked up 22 home runs and 69 RBIs for the Rockies’ Double-A Hartford Yard Goats before he was called up to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, where he has driven in 13 runs in 22 games.

There is a chance that Montero, only 23, replaces the man he was traded for at third base. However, at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, the Rockies might also end up moving Montero to first base. Either way, the front office is expecting the prospect to someday become a power hitter in the middle of the big club’s lineup—and that’s something that comes natural to Montero. “The power is inside me,” he told the Denver Post in August, “but I’m not sure where it comes from. I just try to hit the ball and away it goes.”

Mateo Gil, infielder
From Fernando Tatis Jr. to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., bloodlines are all the rage in Major League Baseball. And though Gil might not have that sort of ceiling, following in his father’s footsteps (Benji Gil played eight years for the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels) would gift the Rockies a solid utility infielder.

Of course, the Cardinals had more than that in mind when they drafted Gil in the third round of the 2018 draft and paid him a $900,000 signing bonus to skip college. Given the 21-year-old’s natural feel for shortstop, MLB.com says it’s the development of Gil’s power at the plate that will determine his future success. This year’s results at Single-A Fresno? Mixed: Gil hit only nine home runs in 94 games, but he did come through with 56 RBIs.

Tony Locey, right-handed pitcher
2021 was the former University of Georgia star’s first full season of pro baseball, and Locey, picked in the third round of the 2019 draft, posted a solid 3.34 ERA in 64.2 innings. A little concerning, however, is the fact that the 23-year-old seems to have less control than a blindfolded Rick Vaughn: Locey walked 6.1 batters per nine innings.

Jake Sommers, right-handed pitcher
Already a little old to be in Single-A ball, the 24-year-old recorded an ERA of 5.59 this season in Spokane. This might be the last time you hear his name outside of an episode of The Bachelor (he’s very handsome).

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