UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – 5 question marks vs. 1 unknown quantity

The Rockies’ prodigal son returns next Tuesday.  That’s when Nolan Arenado comes to town.

He’ll be dressed as a St. Louis Cardinal, in his uniform of choice. And he’ll be wearing a smile. Why not?

His team is jockeying with the Phillies for a Wild Card spot and remains within reach of Milwaukee and first place in the National League Central Division.

In short, he’s playing meaningful games, as he insisted that he must. (Of course, at the same time he’s telling writers what the Cardinals should do at the trade deadline to be real contenders).

It’s been one year and 154 days (as of today) since Colorado traded Arenado and the equivalent of a couple of fully loaded Brinks trucks to the Cardinals for five question marks.

At the time, critics called it a terrible trade, but it looks like they were wrong. It was worse than that.

Consider this update:

Jake Sommers, a righthanded relief pitcher now 25 years old, has appeared in a total of 25 games—all for high-A Spokane—since he became a Colorado farmhand. He had an elbow problem in spring training, is currently on the 60-day Injured List, and hasn’t pitched at all this year. If you’re 25 and still in Class A ball—not to mention hurt—your chances of making it to The Show are slim.

Burly Tony Locey (6-feet-3 and 239 pounds) recently advanced to Double-A Hartford after going 4-1 with a 3.09 earned run average in 12 starts for Spokane, so there’s hope. But his step up did not go well in July—0-2 and a 9.39 ERA in his first four starts. He turned 24 a week ago.

Mateo Gil has heredity on his side; his dad Benji played parts of eight seasons in the American League and went to the plate 139 times for the World Series-winning Anaheim Angles in 2002. The Cardinals thought enough of Mateo to select him in the third round of the 2018 amateur draft. He’s only 22, so who knows? But at Spokane so far this season, his batting average is below his dad’s .237 lifetime Major League mark. And his natural position is shortstop, which is what Ezekial Tovar, Colorado’s highly rated prospect, plays.

Elehuris Montero has gotten a fleeting taste of the Bigs this season but is yet to rise above the Mendoza line or drive in a run. He hit 28 homers and drove home 86 between Hartford and Albuquerque last year, and he’s hitting well over .300 with promising power and run production this season at Albuquerque. 

Montero won’t be 24 until mid-August, but he has a tough act to follow. By the time Arenado had turned 24, he was in his third season as the Rockies starting third baseman, and he hit .287 with 42 homers and 130 RBI that year. He was an All-Star for the first time and the Gold Glove winner for the third of, so far, nine straight seasons.

That leaves Austin Gomber. After a 9-9 campaign with the Rockies in 2021, he has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen in ’22. His 2022 won-lost record is underwater, and his earned run average is close to 6.00. Safe to say he hasn’t yet been the reliable lefthander the club hoped it was getting. 

As much as Arenado’s whining ultimately provoked the trade, the Rockies could have gone in another direction. They could have stood their ground, made their recalcitrant third baseman honor his word and play out the 2021 season, then let him opt out.

They would have received a supplemental draft choice—as they did when Trevor Story walked—and saved the millions sent to St. Louis.

But owner Dick Monfort and then-General Manager Jeff Bridich, who resigned two months after he engineered the Arenado deal, said at the time that they felt the five players they received were better for the Rockies than one compensatory draft choice.

Starting next Tuesday, St. Louis and Colorado play six of their next nine against each other and seem headed in opposite directions.  St. Louis has a winning record and a remaining schedule that favors claiming at least a Wild Card berth and maybe the Central Division. 

On the other hand, getting back to .500 will be a heavy lift for Colorado—even if Gomber, Arenado’s lackluster successor at third, Ryan McMahon, and their teammates turn things around in a big way. 

I wonder if Monfort and Bridich still think five question marks are better than an unknown quantity.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.