If we’re closing in on the regular season, that must mean it’s time to play some pepper! For the 12th year in a row, I’ve contacted bloggers and writers from around baseball to talk about the team they hold dear. It’s a good way for folks to get the pulse of other teams around MLB and see what other fanbases are talking about. It’s a tradition unlike any other (because who would want to copy it): it’s time for Playing Pepper.
It’s possible that Cardinal fans have a little idea about what the Rockies’ offseason was like. It’s hard to know which fan base said the name “Nolan Arenado” more over the winter, especially after his reaction to Colorado GM (and burr in Derrick Goold’s saddle) Jeff Bridich were made public. The Rockies are more than their third baseman, no matter how great he is, so let’s find out more about them–and, of course, Mr. Arenado.
C70: It seems wrong to lead with anything else but Nolan Arenado. Do you think that he will be traded sometime before the July deadline? If he isn’t, how awkward do his recent comments make it for him to stay?
Kevin: Arenado’s future in Colorado depends greatly on how the Rockies start this season. If they surprise people and start strong and stay in contention through June, it would make no sense to deal him. However, if the Rockies struggle, the trade whispers we heard all offseason will only grow louder. A slow start means Arenado is on the trading block come July. Also, with Arenado’s opt-out clause after the 2021 season, if there is any indication he will opt out, don’t be surprised if the Rockies deal him to try to at least get something in return.
It has already been an awkward spring for the Rockies and it likely is only going to get worse.
C70: It was a very quiet offseason for the Rockies. Did you expect them to do more?
Kevin: Honestly, no. Rockies owner Dick Monfort and GM Jeff Bridich told us all in October that the team was likely going to stay the course and use the players they already had for the 2020 season. A lot of big, bad contracts exist on the Rockies right now and, with a new TV deal and its associated revenue not kicking in until 2021, the Rockies were really stuck this offseason.
There is a lot of talent on this roster. Will it bounce back as a collective unit as Rockies leadership hopes? That’s the biggest question and what they’ve banked the entire season upon.
C70: Trevor Story seems to be headed for arbitration again. Is there concern about his relationship with the organization? When you couple that with Arenado, what are the feelings about GM Jeff Bridich? (Story agreed to a contract extension after these questions were written.)
Kevin: Story has the arbitration out of the way through at least the end of 2021, when he technically can become a free agent. That’s the same offseason where Arenado, if he isn’t traded, can opt out of his contract as well. The Rockies could very well go from having the best left side of the infield in the game to starting over. It’s a scary thought. If Arenado is traded, don’t be surprised if the franchise moves quickly to lock up Story with a big contract. He has the chance to be the face of the franchise.
Rockies fans are not at all pleased with how Bridich has handled this offseason. If things go south to start the season, the #FireBridich movement could be incredibly vocal.
C70: What are your expectations for 2020? Where do you think they’ll finish in the division?
Kevin: I predicted them to finish just under .500 in our season projections and I think that’s good for fourth in the NL West. I hope I’m wrong and this team surprises us. However, if the Rockies are anywhere near that sub-.500 neighborhood, this will be viewed as a very disappointing season.
C70: What’s the main topic Rockies fans are discussing that maybe isn’t obvious to other teams?
Kevin: Can Sam Hilliard grab the left field spot? He has power and made a splash last season with seven homers in 77 September at-bats. Fans are drooling for him to get a lot of playing time this season alongside All-Stars David Dahl and Charlie Blackmon in the outfield. However, Ian Desmond isn’t going anywhere and neither is Raimel Tapia so left field is up in the air and likely a timeshare. The Rockies need someone to help solidify the bottom of the order on a regular basis. Can Hilliard be that guy and will be get the chance to play on a regular basis?
C70: What are you looking forward to most about the coming season?
Kevin: Seeing if Kyle Freeland can return to close to what he was in 2018. He has a new delivery that is supposedly going to help in that goal. The Rockies need him to join Jon Gray and German Marquez and provide a solid 1-2-3 punch in the front of the rotation. Freeland is a Denver native so all of the locals are cheering for the hometown kid to return to greatness. It’s absolutely necessary if the Rockies have any shot at the postseason this year.