It’s been a long frigid winter, but hey Spring Training has begun and it’s time to take a look at the moves the Rockies made in the offseason after an exciting but disappointing 2018.
There’s been a lot of grousing about the Rockies lack of free agent acquisitions. How come? Actually, the strategy of General Manager Jeff Bridich, fully supported by Manager Bud Black with the blessing of the Monforts has been clearly demonstrated. They refused to get lured into chasing big name, expensive free agents and concentrated on three priorities:
First, guarantee that third baseman Nolan Arenado remains the leader of the franchise for a long time, which they accomplished Feb. 26 by signing him to an eight-year $26 million extension, making him the highest paid position player in baseball. Also keep super shortstop Trevor Story happy with a good salary deal.
Second, lock in their outstanding young starting pitchers along with the veteran arms in the bullpen.
Third, proceed with confidence in their player development program and give their young prospects a chance to make the big time at second base and in the outfield. Given those priorities, here’s how the current team roster shapes up.
Ask Black and he’ll tell you that if you want to compete with the best teams in the game, it all starts with pitching. The Rockies starting rotation will feature local hero Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzatela and Jon Gray. Not only is this one of the youngest group of starters in the major leagues but they’ve now been tested, delivering top notch performances. Although the Rockies lost shut down reliever Adam Ottavino to free agency, the bullpen is formidable featuring closer Wade Davis, late inning relievers Scott Oberg, Seunghwan Oh, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. Chris Rusin will be there along with Chad Bettis and newcomer D. J. Johnson who showed his worth last September. Yes, Ottavino will be missed but the wild card as the eighth inning “get ‘em out guy” is Scott Oberg. Many fans are not aware that he leads all Rockies relievers with over 200 appearances since 2015. In 2018 after a rough April, from May on he had a 6-0 record with 1.24 ERA.
Now it really gets interesting as we move to the position players. You’re going to be seeing All-Star Charlie Blackmon move from center to right field. “It works for me,” said Blackmon. “It’s easier on the legs and I have the arm to make throws to the plate.” Ian Desmond is slated to take over the center field position, one which he played well for the Texas Rangers making an All-Star game appearance in 2016. Before anyone starts complaining about his offensive production, you might remind them that they seem to overlook the fact that in 2018 he ranked third in the team with 88 RBIs including 51 extra base hits with 22 home runs. And then we have Coors Field’s challenging left field which will be manned by the talented David Dahl. Raimel Tapia, Noel Cuevas and Mike Tauchman will also be vying for playing time.
It becomes even more intriguing when we turn to the Rockies infield. The club has committed to spend a record $260 million to make sure Arenado continues to dazzle us and the rest of the baseball world at third base and at the plate. They committed $5 million to Trevor Story so that the left side of the infield would be considered a detour zone for most hitters. Then we come to the one free agent acquisition the Rockies did make. They signed 33-year old veteran infielder Daniel Murphy to a two-year $24 million contract to play first base. It’s a position where he played 225 games during his eight-year career compiling a fielding percentage of .990. By the way, he can hit. He was the 2015 National League Championship Series MVP. Murphy was hampered by injuries in 2018 but in 2017 he played 144 games for the Washington Nationals recording 93 RBI with 23 home runs. With All-Star second baseman D.J. LeMahieu gone to the Yankees, the big battle for the Rockies young prospects will be to earn at least playing time at second base. The contenders for that cherished spot will include home run slugger Ryan McMahon, the speedy Garrett Hampson, versatile infielder Pat (“Patty Barrels”) Valaika and probably the Rockies top minor league prospect Brendan Rodgers. Finally, to anchor the whole team behind the plate we will have Chris Ianetta, Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy vying for playing time. And before I forget, slick fielding slugger Mark Reynolds will be in camp with a chance to make the roster as the backup first baseman or a dangerous right-handed pinch hitter.
One other note. The Rockies team offense was erratic last season with some big highs and a lot of frustrating lows. This year they’ll have a new hitting coach with Dave Magadan replacing Duane Espy. Dave was the hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2015 to 2018, a team whose prowess at the plate often dominated the Western Division. Under his tutelage they were long-ball hitters but more importantly superb situational hitters – a capability that the Rockies notably lacked. It’s the old school approach. When you’re at the plate forget your individual stats. It’s “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” baseball. Let’s see how that works for the Rockies.
Can the 2019 Rockies win the National League West? Personally, despite the negative vibes from the national media, I think they can. You say why not ask, “Can the 2019 Rockies win the World Series?” Hold on. First things first. They’ve been after that National League West title for 25 years. They’re tired of getting in the race by winning a one game wild card shoot out. By winning the West outright they’re in the Division Series with another shot at the National League Championship — winning that would finally get them into the World Series again.
This is going to be fun folks. A lot of tough decisions will have to be made before opening day April 4. I have a feeling you’re going to like what you see.
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