Playing Pepper 2019: Colorado Rockies

Every year since 2009, I’ve spent some time before the season starts trying to find out what fanbases are thinking about their team.  It’s so easy to get myopic, especially with Twitter, so it’s a good chance for us (and by us, I mean me) to take a step back and remember there are 29 other Major League Baseball teams.  We’ve got current bloggers, former bloggers that indulge me still, and this year a few media folks chiming in as well.  Get out the bat, ball, and glove: it’s time once again to play some pepper.

Colorado Rockies
91-72, second in the NL West, lost in the NLDS
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

First off, let’s give one last warm round of applause to the Rockies, who went into Wrigley Field last October 2 and left with a Wild Card victory, meaning the Cubs went from NL Central leaders to out of the playoffs in the span of two days.  What a couple of glorious days those were, right?

That’s a little bit afield from our topic for the afternoon, though.  The Rockies couldn’t move on to the deeper rounds of the playoffs last year–can they this season?  With a competitive landscape in the NL West, that’s a solid question to ask.  Which means it’s time to get some answers.  (Please note that these questions were constructed and answered before Nolan Arenado‘s extension, obviously, but the writers had a chance to modify question #2.)

Writer Site Twitter
Kevin Henry Rox Pile Rox_Coverage
Richard Bergstrom RockiesZingers

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? What was good, what was bad, what else should they have done?

Kevin: Colorado had, once again, a very quiet offseason. Two offseasons ago, the big signing was Ian Desmond. Last offseason, it was the bullpen (Bryan Shaw, Wade Davis, Jake McGee). This offseason, the biggest blip on the radar was the signing of Daniel Murphy. Hopefully he will produce better than the last two offseasons’ crop has.

Even with Murphy in the lineup, the offense has questions once again this season. Young players like Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson have the chance to be good … but how will they perform over the entire season. Should the Rockies have bolstered what they have at catcher? More moves could have been made, but Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich seems to be confident in the next generation of Rockies to step up and make a difference. Here’s hoping he is right.

Richard: Well, the Rockies signed a second baseman to play first base, which moves their first baseman to center field and then moved their center fielder to right field so that their right fielder could play left field. They did it in such a way as to block players such as Raimel Tapia and McMahon or Hampson who might’ve been just as good as some of the people being moved around, particularly Desmond. Meanwhile, they still have a hole at catcher. In other words, another weird offseason where the Rockies try to outsmart themselves all in the name of versatility. On the other hand, they have young cost controlled starting pitching and a good left side of the infield so there weren’t a lot of places to upgrade really…

C70: A lot of focus this season is going to be on Nolan Arenado. What do you think the odds are he gets traded mid-season? What are the odds he signs an extension before the end of the year?

Kevin: I don’t think Nolan will be traded so maybe a 5 percent chance on that happening. The Rockies would have to completely be out of the playoff race for anything like that to occur and I simply don’t see that happening. I do think Nolan will sign a long-term deal with the Rockies sometime this season, especially with the lack of movement on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

Colorado wants him back and is willing to shell out a big contract (by Colorado standards) to make it happen. Will Nolan see himself here long-term? I think so, so let’s say it’s 75 percent Nolan stays with the Rockies beyond 2019.

EDIT: I asked Kevin after the extension for his thoughts on locking up Arenado, which are below.

Nolan’s extension not only lifts a cloud on the 2019 season (and removes any questioning about Arenado’s place following this season) but also gives the Rockies a solid window of contention for the next couple of seasons. The young pitching core, along with Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, is locked up now with Arenado’s deal.

Colorado can focus on what it needs to do at the trade deadline and that’s really the next worry the team seemingly has. Arenado’s contract is a winner for both sides and shows the National League that the Rockies aren’t afraid to spend money and contend for not only their first-ever division title but also a deeper run in the postseason than last year’s National League Division Series appearance.

(Richard’s answer came in after the extension, so his thoughts on the deal.)

Richard: It puts to rest the idea that Nolan will end up in any pinstripes other than purple and shows yet again that their ownership will ante up for their franchise players even if they’re considered a midmarket team. Now, Nolan can focus on playing in an environment that’s comfortable for him and he can be the showpiece for the Rockies museum that should be opening across the street in a few years.

C70: The buildup of the bullpen didn’t seem to work as well in 2018 as was expected. Will those results be better in 2019?

Kevin: The results have to be better for the Rockies to make the playoffs again. With the loss of Adam Ottavino, someone has to step up who didn’t last year. Will that be Bryan Shaw, who was horrid last season? It’s very possible. Bud Black and Shaw both think offseason tweaks will make a difference.

Scott Oberg and Seunghwan Oh were solid for Colorado last season, and Chris Rusin had a down year. I think the bullpen will survive Ottavino’s departure and Black will ride the “hot hand” to see who actually replaces him.

Richard: Shaw and McGee were two guys I liked and it is kinda rare, even with how random bullpen performance can be, that they ended up that bad. One of the two (or Mike Dunn) should rebound to competency. Still, the one to keep an eye on is Scott Oberg who has grown under Black’s tutelage and was absolutely lights out in the playoffs last year. There’s also a chance Carlos Estevez will get another chance to contribute.

C70: What is your general outlook for 2019? Where will they finish in the division?

Kevin: Colorado will finish second in the division behind the Dodgers … again. I don’t see Colorado making the moves at the trade deadline if they’re close to LA while LA always seems to wheel and deal to separate space between them and the rest of the division. Plus a full season of Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen will make a big impact.

My prediction is Colorado finishes 82-80 and out of the playoffs. I hate to say that, but I see a lot of NL teams who have improved this offseason and could leapfrog Colorado for a playoff spot.

Richard: Under general manager Jeff Bridich, the Rockies have been more active at the trading deadline than in years past. However, while the Dodgers scoop up the best players on noncontending teams, the Rockies pick up useful but midrange parts and more ex-Rockies. I think they’ve got a lock on second place barring a spring training surprise from Brendan Rodgers or one of the other Rockies young second basemen. To get to first, they also need Gray’s results to live up this peripherals and to remain as fortunate with overall roster health as they have in recent years.

C70: What’s the biggest question for this team going into the season and what’s the answer to it?

Kevin: The biggest question is at second base and who takes over for DJ LeMahieu, now with the New York Yankees. I have predicted Garrett Hampson wins the Opening Day job but Ryan McMahon will get more at-bats than Hampson by the time the season ends. I think the young players will step up but it’s very hard to take over for a former batting champ and two-time Gold Glove winner.

Richard: Second base is the biggest question. They have the options and could’ve saved themselves some headache if they had given McMahon or Hampson more at bats. Underscoring that, without DJ LeMahieu at second base the right side of the infield defense might get interesting though Murphy’s metrics have looked decent in limited playing time. 

C70: What do you expect will give you the most joy watching this team on a regular basis this season?

Kevin: The play of the left side of the infield. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are fun to watch in the field and at the plate. Both could contend for MVP honors this season while also taking home Gold Gloves (something that is common for Arenado). What they do every night is worth the price of admission, in my opinion.

Richard: Arenado does things I have never seen before. Not just his defensive play, but his situational awareness is off the charts. You never see him making the wrong play and often see him making plays no one else saw. Story has also really improved his defense and has drawn comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki. In general though, Coors Field has come to life since about May of last year. It’s always a sellout with a lively crowd and they’ve even killed the wave. Denver’s rocking and Opening Day will be another city holiday as the fans pack into LoDo for suds and sports.

My thanks to Kevin and Richard for giving us a little look at the Rockies.  Colorado always seems like an interesting team no matter the results!

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