Just when it seems like the Rockies have hit a new low point of the season, they manage to top themselves. The 2019 campaign has been one abyss after another.
Was it limping out of the gates to a 3-12 start? The repeated blown saves by the bullpen, particularly that 11-5 lead they blew to the Padres in the ninth on June 14? Last year’s fourth-place finisher in the Cy Young voting being sent down to Albuquerque? Or Jeff Hoffman turning the first inning of last night’s game against the Diamondbacks into extended batting practice?
Any of those would be solid choices, as they all caused Rockies fans to cringe, bury their heads in their hands, shake their fists in frustration and/or swear off baseball forever. The team’s bandwagon has made repeated stops in 2019, providing chance after chance for everyone to disembark.
But in reality, the mass exodus should’ve occurred during the offseason. That’s when Colorado, coming off their second-best season in franchise history, did a horrific job of parlaying last year’s 91-win campaign into bigger and better things.
They let Adam Ottavino, fresh off of a stellar season in the bullpen, walk in free agency. The right-handed pitcher who can be unhittable at times signed a three-year, $27-million-dollar deal with the Yankees.
Apologists will suggest that the Rockies had no chance of re-signing Ottavino, that the reliever always dreamed of playing in New York. That seems a little too convenient. In reality, they didn’t have the financial wherewithal to keep their best bullpen arm because they had already shelled out big contracts to Wade Davis (three years, $52 million), Jake McGee (three years, $27 million) and Bryan Shaw (three years, $27 million).
Colorado wasn’t going to continue to invest in their already-expensive bullpen. Instead, they were going to have to rely on the pitchers they’d paid handsomely to get the job done. As has been the case over and over and over again in 2019, that simply hasn’t happened.
Davis has been so bad at Coors Field that he lost his closer role to Scott Oberg. McGee has been a gas can on most nights, as evidenced by his performance on Monday night, when he surrendered three runs and the lead without recording a single out. And Shaw is pretty much the same thing on a nightly basis, offering an adventure on the mound that is often painful to watch.
But that’s just the beginning of the Rockies offseason blunders. Not bringing back Ottavino because their hands were tied by previously signed bad contracts was just step one.
Colorado also decided to not bring back D.J. LeMahieu. One year removed from his second All-Star appearance and two seasons after winning the National League batting title, the second baseman was also allowed to leave via free agency.
LeMahieu also signed with the Yankees during the offseason, inking a two-year, $24-million-dollar deal. It’s been money well spent for New York, as he earned another invite to the All-Star Game and has been atop the American League hitting leaders most of the season.
The Rockies decided it would be a better idea to give that exact same contract (two years, $24 million) to Daniel Murphy. That’s right, rather than retaining their 30-year-old infielder, they decided to pay a 34-year-old option who isn’t as good at the plate or in the field.
But it doesn’t end there. The Rockies also blundered when they failed to bolster their starting pitching staff.
Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. After all, free-agent hurlers aren’t exactly lining up to pitch at Coors Field.
But Colorado could’ve made a trade, either last season at the deadline or during the offseason, to add a veteran arm. Instead, they chose to believe that their young, relatively inexpensive staff would be able to build upon their 2018 success.
For the most part, that hasn’t happened. Freeland has been a disaster all season, German Marquez has been up and down, and Antonio Senzatela has been mediocre at best. Jon Gray has been a bit of a bright spot, showing flashes of greatness, but he’s still only 10-8 with a 4.06 ERA. Meanwhile, the revolving door of Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Hoffman failed to secure the final spot in the rotation.
As a result, the Rockies have been forced to use Chi Chi Gonzalez and Peter Lambert for a combined 17 starts in 2019. That’s a recipe for disaster that anyone could’ve seen coming.
That’s why it’s difficult to point the finger of blame too much at Bud Black. Yes, Colorado’s manager has made a few head-scratching moves this season; that goes without saying. But for the most part, he hasn’t had a lot of options.
With a seventh-inning lead, who is Black supposed to call on in the bullpen? He can’t avoid Davis, McGee and Shaw entirely, especially given how much the team is spending on that trio. For $35 million combined, they’re going to get their chances on the mound.
And when he’s not getting production from his big-money bats, who should the skipper turn to? The Rockies bench is mostly comprised of a bunch of guys earning the league minimum. There’s only so much Garrett Hampson and Pat Valaika can do to jumpstart a team. Relying on them for significant at-bats is a foolish plan.
Which turns the attention to the man who put Colorado in this position – Jeff Bridich.
Yes, the Rockies general manager deserves credit for building a team that made it to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. And admittedly, he did a great job of re-signing Nolan Arenado during the offseason; keeping the best player in baseball in the Centennial State was no easy task.
But that doesn’t excuse all the missteps. If anything, it only makes them worse.
Colorado had the chance to do something special last season, but Bridich sat on his hands. The opportunity to win their first NL West title ever was there, but they didn’t make any significant moves at the trade deadline.
While other teams pushed their chips to the middle of the table, the Rockies added Seunghwan Oh, Matt Holliday and Drew Butera. They wound up tying the Dodgers for the division title through 162 games, only to lose it in the tiebreaker tilt in Los Angeles.
During the offseason, Colorado had the chance to build upon last year’s success, but Bridich played his cards poorly. He let the wrong players leave, in part because of his previous mistakes, and signed another bad deal. As a result, the 2019 season has been among the most disappointing in franchise history.
And Colorado had the chance at the trade deadline to shed some of their albatross contracts, but Bridich couldn’t pull it off. He wasn’t able to sell contenders on Ian Desmond’s resurgence, Davis being solid away from Coors Field, or McGee needing a change of scenery. As a result, next year’s Rockies will look a lot like this year’s edition.
There’s no denying it; this is on Bridich. He built the contender, which raised expectations. But then, he failed to play his cards right to capitalize on the window of opportunity.
That’s why he has to get creative this offseason. Because if he can’t find a way to revamp Colorado’s roster for 2020, it’s hard to imagine next season being any different.
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