Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series! OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter. It’s Playing Pepper! Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season. I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole. So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!
You might imagine that I was the last person Rockies bloggers wanted to see in their inbox, especially since I started the Playing Pepper process the weekend of the Nolan Arenado trade. However, these guys are nothing if not gracious and were willing to talk about the trade, the organization, and what it all means for Trevor Story. Dive in and enjoy!
C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?
Kevin: Kudos to MLB and the players for actually making the 60-game season and entire postseason happen. Looking back, it was such a big time for change in baseball, but the love of the game overtook any frustrations with protocols, etc. Regarding the rule changes, I wish the DH had stayed in the NL. I think pitchers will have enough to worry about this year with stretching their arms out after a 60-game season last year. I liked having the DH in the lineup and I’m hoping that it returns next year.
That being said, that’s really the only rule change that I loved. Not a big fan of the 7-inning doubleheader or starting the guy on second. While I may not be a purist in hoping the DH is a part of the NL moving forward, I certainly feel like I am when it comes to changing too many things about the game. If double headers need to happen, make the best of it and plan on some day-night splits to help fatigue. My two cents.
Patrick: As much as a full 162-game season would have been more desirable, the bite-size variety was a blessing following months of no live major sports. The rule changes were great, except that three-batter minimum. The seven-inning doubleheader isn’t ideal, but that could be of some benefit to the players during the slog of a normal season. The extra-inning rule is fantastic and fair; it’s also everything the idea of “overtime” should be, but hasn’t been in our game of baseball. Bring back the DH to the National League and scrap some of those Wild Card berths. Make it three Wild Card seeds and we’ll be alright.
And there’s one more change from 2020 we’re all glad to see gone. Welcome back, fans!!
C70: So I guess we better address the elephant in the room. What are your thoughts on the Nolan Arenado trade and can you explain why the organization chose to take the side of the GM in this dispute?
Kevin: The Arenado trade was horrible for the Rockies. Austin Gomber may become a good addition to the rotation at the back end, but trading for him and four other players to take over for one of the best players in the game simply doesn’t make sense. If the fear was truly that Arenado would walk at the end of the year, why was that opt-out clause ever put in the contract? If the team had just built around Arenado as he believed they would, everything would’ve been OK. Bring in some more offensive weapons and show the NL West you’re serious about winning. That’s what needed to be done.
There’s honestly no legitimate explanation for the trade. When you pay to have another team take one of the best players in the game onto their roster, you can’t explain that. Rockies fans are angry, disappointed, frustrated, and many other emotions … and they deserve to be.
Patrick: Colorado completely mismanaged the entire ordeal. From the initial value of the contract (don’t pay him more than you’re willing to spend), to the unnecessary opt-out and the overall relationship between GM Jeff Bridich and Arenado, it may be the worst handling of a superstar in the history of professional sports. If the Rockies were not going to build a perennial contender around him, they should not have made overtures to Arenado suggesting otherwise. As for the return of players and the added $50 million to the Cardinals checking account, the entire ordeal has set back the franchise close to five years.
C70: What are the chances that Trevor Story signs an extension before the end of the season? What are the chances he goes somewhere else in free agency?
Kevin: I believe Story is done in Denver. Why would you sign a deal to stay here when you’ve seen what that did for Arenado and his relationship with the front office? I look for him to be traded before the deadline and then explore the market in free agency.
Patrick: Normally, money talks. But it seems that both the Rockies don’t want to open their mouth and Story doesn’t want to hear what’s coming out of it. The expiring Collective Bargain Agreement and influx of free agent shortstops to free agency next offseason make any kind of decision by Story and his agent a difficult one to pin down. Odds still suggest Story will not sign an extension with Colorado. Unless he receives several Brinks trucks, a no-trade clause and a few opt-outs (sound familiar?), it’s highly unlikely Story will return for 2022.
C70: What do you think is the strength of this team overall?
Kevin: The starting rotation. If Jon Gray can stay healthy, on paper, they have a solid 1-4 in the rotation with Gray, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela. It’s been a long time since you could say pitching is the thing to watch at Coors Field this season, but here we are in 2021. Man, what a weird couple of years.
Patrick: Starting pitcher is the obvious strength, with one caveat. The depth at fifth starter could be troubling. One injury to Márquez, Freeland or Senzatela – not to mention a trade of Gray – could greatly bring down expectations for the rotation. Should any of that happen, the bullpen could be the surprise strength of the roster as any number of moderately experienced relievers could develop into the next Scott Oberg.
C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?
Kevin: I don’t think they’ll lose 100 games. That being said, this is a team that is very thin on depth, especially in pitching. If an injury happens to one of the four players I mentioned above, it’s going to be an even longer season in Denver. I’m predicting 70-92, and the Rockies still won’t ever have had the number one overall pick in the MLB draft.
Patrick: The Rockies have proven time and time again to expect the unexpected. However, it seems hard to fathom a scenario where this club isn’t among the worst in the National League. The pitching will be good enough to prevent a 100-loss season, but that’s a heck of a thing to feel good about. There’s some worry that the defense could really sap any upside of the pitching and if that’s the case, Colorado could cruise to the century mark.
C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?
Kevin: Right now, there’s no way to not give it an F. I feel sorry for the players because they don’t deserve to be in the middle of this, but fans are angry and there’s no real thought of this team contending any time soon, especially with the Padres and Dodgers loaded. We’re seeing the end of an era with Story nearing the end of his contract and Charlie Blackmon playing out his final years. Can Ryan McMahon rebound? Can Brendan Rodgers show his hype as a prospect was warranted? Will Ryan Rolison be a pitcher who can make a difference? How quick can Zac Veen and Drew Romo get to the Majors? These are the biggest questions the Rockies are facing over the next few years, and they will determine how quickly that failing grade can be upgraded.
Patrick: As a business, the Rockies ownership has excelled. Denver has been established as a Major League city, Coors Field is a baseball cathedral, LoDo has been revitalized and controversy has largely been kept away at arm’s length. The loyalty to employees of the organization places the value of people over all else. Well done. A+
As a baseball team, it’s largely been a failure. The financial side of the game has been the focus more than the one on the field. In 2021, the analytics department is one of the most critical facets of a professional sports organization and yet the Rockies are still years away from catching up with even the bottom of the pack. Once they do, if they do, expect a bit more consistency with their windows of contention and quite possibly the first NL West pennant after 30-plus seasons. Since teams like the Pirates and Marlins exist, not to mention that great 2007 Rocktober squad, they’ll pass. But they need to change their ways. D-