It would be hard to come up with a more-disappointing season in Rockies history.
For good reason, a lot was expected of Colorado in 2019. They were coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history. They had taken the Dodgers to the brink in the National League West, missing out of their first-ever division title when they lost the tiebreaker game in Los Angeles. And most of the important pieces in that success were returning.
So starting 3-13, being out of the race by the All-Star Break, flirting with the worst record in franchise history and winning 20 less games than a season ago wasn’t in anyone’s plans for the year. That includes the Rockies owner and general manager.
Yesterday, Dick Monfort and Jeff Bridich met with the media to discuss the just-completed season, the hot stove league, 2020 and beyond. And for baseball fans in Colorado, it was a depressing press conference.
Looking at the roster, as well as the contracts associated with the team’s most-expensive players, common sense suggests that next year’s Rockies will look a lot like this year’s team. The seven highest-paid players are all under contract for at least 2020, so there won’t be a lot of money available to spend this year in free agency.
Some held out hope, however, that Bridich could shed some of those deals, trading players who underperformed in purple pinstripes to a team that believes a change of scenery could lead to an uptick in production. Names like Ian Desmond and Wade Davis jump to mind.
But based on yesterday, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
“I’m confident there’s much better baseball to be played by this same group,” Bridich said about the Rockies current roster. “I do think there is a good foundation and construct to build from or expect from.”
Of course, Colorado’s general manager thought the same thing heading into 2019. He believed in a bullpen built around Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, as well as his big-money acquisition last offseason, first baseman Daniel Murphy.
“We had high expectations this year,” Bridich added. “I don’t think they were out of line coming out of playoff baseball.”
That’s true. Everyone else was right in line with that idea.
But Bridich was the one that decided to let D.J. LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino leave via free agency. He was confident that the players mentioned above could fill the void.
LeMahieu had a monster season in New York, hitting .327 in his first season wearing Yankees pinstripes. And Ottavino posted a 1.90 ERA in a team-high 73 appearances out of the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Murphy hit .279 and struggled defensively at first base. Davis posted a 8.65 ERA, lost six games in relief and blew three saves. Shaw blew five others saves, while putting up a 5.38 ERA. And McGee gave up 11 home runs in just 41.1 innings of work.
“Some of those guys had down years for us this year,” Bridich said about his highest-paid players.
Um, that’s putting it mildly.
But it’s not just Bridich who sees 2019 as a blip on the radar. The team’s owner also is expecting things to turn around next year, even with the same roster.
“I’m patient,” Monfort explained. “I believe in our players. I believe in (manager) Buddy (Black). I believe in Jeff.”
Fair enough. An argument can be made that drastic changes after one bad season would be an overreaction. It’s better to focus on the positives that have occurred during the previous three campaigns combined.
Nonetheless, the clock is ticking. Mid-market teams inevitably have a short window to win; they have to capitalize when given the chance, before taking a step back to reload and try again. See the Kansas City Royals for a recent example.
So there should be some urgency for the Rockies. Their best player has only two seasons remaining on his contract before he can opt out, as Nolan Arenado’s $260 million contract extension is only guaranteed to keep him in Colorado through 2021. And Charlie Blackmon, the team’s other star, will turn 34 in the middle of next season.
As a result, winning with the current group has to happen soon. At least that’s what one would think.
“I think we have a huge window of time,” Monfort explained.
That’s debatable, to be kind. The Rockies don’t have multiple seasons to turn the existing roster into a championship one. In fact, the huge step backwards the team took last season would suggest that it’s already closed; an argument can be made that 2018 was their golden opportunity, yet they failed to go all-in when the NL West was there for the taking.
But that wasn’t the only topic that Monfort seemed to be in denial about yesterday. The Rockies owner also seemed unconcerned about the idea that too many losing seasons would tempt Arenado to opt out of his deal and head elsewhere in a couple of years.
“If there’s a list of issues we need to deal with, that’s like No. 775 on the page,” Monfort added, all but dismissing the notion. “I don’t think any of us are really worried about it at this time.”
They ought to be. Arenado has suggested that he has zero interest in being a part of a rebuilding project. He won’t be Todd Helton during the “Todd and the Toddlers” era (2001-06).
And the Rockies gave him the perfect opportunity to escape if things are heading that direction. Inexplicably, it was the club that offered Arenado the option to opt out of his deal; the third baseman didn’t request that contract clause.
But the Rockies don’t seem worried.
“I don’t think anyone losing sleep about Nolan opting out or staying in at this time,” Bridich added, doubling down on Monfort’s comments.
In order to avoid it becoming an issue, Colorado should be prepared to show their star third baseman that they are all about winning. That would suggest they need to be active during the offseason. Instead, they’re prepared to give the current roster another shot at producing a winner.
“How many times did he say patient or patience?” Bridich asked after Monfort’s comments. “That’s not a departure from who we are.”
In other words, don’t expect much to change prior to next season. The Rockies are going to stand pat, trotting out the same roster in 2020 that fans watched in 2019. Meanwhile, a doomsday scenario looms not far in the future, one that the organization doesn’t’ seem to see coming.
Fans better hope this year was an aberration. Otherwise, they’re in for another long summer in Colorado.