One of Major League Baseball’s superstars, third baseman Nolan Arenado, was traded from the Colorado Rockies to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this week. The Rockies handed Arenado and $50 million to the Cardinals in exchange for one major league ready pitcher and four other prospects. Usually when trading a superstar, teams want to get a major league ready prospect that can contribute right away. However, Arenado is not the first superstar player to get traded for, at the moment, practically nothing. This got me wondering why baseball superstars seemingly get traded for very little in comparison to other sports.
First, we need to talk about some recent baseball examples. Arenado is one of the three superstars to get shipped off in the last calendar year. The other two are outfielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Fransico Lindor. Betts was shipped along with David Price from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers in what was essentially a salary dump in February of 2020. Lindor was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the New York Mets in January of this year and Cleveland got back a similar trade package to what the Red Sox got almost a year prior. They both got a young starter to replace each star player and each got multiple decent prospects as well. They also had a similar reason for getting traded. Both of their contracts were expiring heading into their upcoming seasons and both teams could not afford to retain them, so they decided to get some assets for them.
I understand why these two teams traded the faces of their respective franchise. What I do not understand is why the Rockies traded Arenado now. They just signed him to an eight year, $260 million extension in the February of 2019. Why not just try and build around him, like they have failed to do for his tenure up to last week when they shipped him out of town. It also boggles my mind how a top five player at his respective position can get shipped off like he is a journeyman role player. It made me wonder why baseball superstars get traded for so little, but in other sports like basketball, star players get traded for a lot more
In the NBA, Superstar guard James Harden was traded this season in a big trade that sent him from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets for in total, eight first round picks going back to Houston. In the NFL, the Lions and Rams swapped quarterbacks (Matt Stafford going to the Rams, Jared Goff going to the Lions). The Lions got two future first round picks in addition to a mid-round pick for giving up Stafford. This is massive compensation and more of what you would expect of players of higher caliber. These recent examples of what other star sport athletes are worth made me wonder why those values are so different.
After pondering this question, one big reason I thought of is because of how pro-ready the players are. Usually in basketball or football, the draft eligible players are ready to make a major impact to their respective teams. In baseball, most of the time the players aren’t major league ready for a while, usually taking about 3-5 seasons depending on how good they are. Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, spent 2-3 seasons before getting called up to the big leagues. At the end of the day, I just find it fascinating how the same caliber of players in different sports can get traded for completely different amounts of value.