Can the Rockies be a playoff team in 2022? I doubt Thomas.
I have an email correspondent named Thomas who is the ultimate optimist in the Rockies.
He’s a pretty savvy baseball guy, but when it comes to his Rockies he wears purple glasses. If I write something that he considers too harsh, he inevitably criticizes me for being “negative”. As for Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla and Sean Keeler, let’s just say Thomas doesn’t like them very much. I will stop there.
Late Friday night, after the Rockies beat the Phillies 11-2 in Philly, Thomas felt the Rockies “are very close to coming back to the playoffs.” He added: “Next year Bud Black could have his best team.”
Black was named manager of the Rockies on November 7, 2016. He inherited a team from Walt Weiss that went 75-87 and suffered six straight losses.
In 2017, Black led the Rockies to an 87-75 record and a wild card spot. They were beaten, 11-8, by the Diamondbacks in the wild card game.
In 2018, the Rockies went 91-72 and made the playoffs again. Had they defeated the Dodgers in Game 163, the Rockies would have won their first NHL title. Alas, they did not. The Rockies beat the Cubs in the wildcard game, but were unceremoniously swept aside by the Brewers in the NLDS.
Since then, well …
But back to Thomas’ main point. Are the Rockies really about to be a playoff team again?
The 2021 team is on track to finish 74-88, essentially the same record as the 2016 team. The main players in ’16 were Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra and starters Chad Bettis and Jon Gray. The bullpen, with a 5.13 ERA, the worst in the major leagues, was a mess. The starters’ 4.79 ERA was the fifth-highest for the majors.
The main players Black inherited in 2017 were Arenado, LeMahieu, Blackmon, CarGo, Para and Mark Reynolds. Receiver Jonathan Lucroy, a trade deadline acquisition, helped immensely in the aftermath.
The biggest improvement came from the pitching side, where German starters Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Gray began to emerge. The starters posted a 4.59 ERA, 15th in the majors. With the addition of closest free agent Greg Holland, the resurgence of southpaw Chris Rusin and the acquisition of Pat Neshek at the trade deadline, the relievers’ box posted a 4.40 ERA (solid by standards Coors Field / Rockies).
So what about the Rockies 2022? I contacted a few respected baseball men who know the Rockies very well.
One of them said to me: “This season is madman’s gold. I really wish the Rockies had lost 100 games to force bigger changes.
The other said: “Outside of the starting rotation there are too many questions. They have to add a lot of parts.
No argument here.
In order to make Thomas’ playoff fantasy a reality, here’s what should happen this upcoming offseason, and what should happen on the pitch in 2022:
• Convince Story to sign a friendly contract extension or accept the qualifying offer. I consider this highly improbable.
• Re-sign CJ Cron, who was Colorado’s top offensive player and has become a successful first baseman. There’s a chance Colorado will keep Cron, but with the National League likely to adopt the designated hitter, competition for Cron will drive up the price. If the Rockies can keep Cron, he could share DH duties with Blackmon.
• Sign starter Jon Gray to a friendly arrangement with the team. He’s the third or fourth starter for most quality teams, but he’s proven he can win at Coors Field and that makes him more valuable to the Rockies than to other teams.
• Sign or trade for at least two quality relievers. In a playoff team, Carlos Estevez and Daniel Bard are sixth or seventh inning pitchers, not pointers or playmakers.
• Hire a quality free-standing outfielder who could boost the offense. The Reds’ Nick Castellanos tops the list, but he could be out of Colorado’s price bracket. Versatile Chris Taylor, who plays in the infield and outfield for the Dodgers, would also be a good pickup.
• Hope Connor Joe is the real deal in left field. Hopefully Colton Welker quickly emerges as a solid hitter in the league who provides a quality first and third place glove. Hopefully Sam Hilliard understands that and cuts his strikeouts. He’s the Rockies’ best option in central field.
That’s quite a wish list. So sorry, Thomas, I doubt 2022 will be a playoff year for your Rockies.