Much of the time we spend dissecting information in sports is spent applying current knowledge to an old question. After a season ends, it’s easy to say that X team should’ve been prepared for Y player to play poorly. It’s easy to know everything and have a list of causes at the ready for an event that already happened. It’s easy to list the ways in which a team should have prepared for their impending struggles after those struggles are revealed through months and months of play. It’s easy to use the present to be the know-it-all of the past.
How does this apply to the Colorado Rockies? Well, consider how much different the world was 12 months ago. Heading into the 2019 season, the Rockies looked good. They had recently signed Nolan Arenado to a huge extension, they brought in Daniel Murphy, and were coming off a 91-72 season where a different ending to Game 163 would’ve resulted in the organization’s first National League West division crown. Even PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus’ projection system) projected the team to, at the very least, be competitive at 84-78. Things were rosy, and rightfully so.
While I want to sit here and say that the team was always destined for the 71-91 record it owned last season, the truth of the matter is that a lot went wrong.
Outside of Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, Jon Gray, German Márquez, and a couple bullpen arms, there was a ton of under-performance and outright poor play. All-in-all, it was quite the season to forget, and one that represented a complete turnaround from 2018.
For the Rockies it’s hard to differentiate 2019 from the upcoming 2020 season because with the exceptions of a few guys hitting free agency, it’s the exact same team. Instead of spending all offseason trying to bolster a roster coming off a dramatically under-performing season, the Rockies spent the winter as the only MLB team who failed to sign a free agent to a full MLB deal. Instead of trying to resupply their roster this offseason the Rockies seemingly resided themselves to floating trade ideas for Arenado, Jon Gray, and/or Trevor Story.
It was this fact that sparked a reaction by their cornerstone, face of the franchise Nolan Arenado. I wrote earlier this offseason about just how insulting it is for the Rockies brass to waste a gift Arenado gave them in complete good faith, but Arenado was quite vocal about it as well. Before backing off a bit as spring training was set to start, Arenado voiced his displeasure that the team showed no desire to improve or be competitive in the coming season.
The back-and-forth between Arenado, General Manager Jeff Bridich, and owner Dick Monfort has calmed down a bit, but I’m sure the frustration still exists... and Arenado is right! The team could’ve gone out and done anything constructive with the roster to make it more competitive, particularly when you consider the fact a large chunk of change drops off the payroll after this season. Not to mention that the team also whiffed on extensions that mean to lock-up potential free-agent seasons for Story and Gray.
Translation? The Rockies did essentially nothing to improve their roster heading into 2020, which is odd for a 71-win team to do considering their claims that they’re going to be competitive. Adding further to the mystique of the Rockies was this wild, baseless claim by Monfort that internal projections peg the Rockies as winning 94 games this season. I’d like some of whatever Monfort is on.
A lot of people have said regression will play a role for many Rockies players in 2020. While that might be true for players whose 2019 struggles do not reflect their true talent level, there’s no guarantee regression to their average talent level will happen immediately. Also, blaming 2019 on a blip that regression will correct in 2020 discounts many of the very real reasons why players struggled last season. If you’re in the regression camp, you’re likely looking for bounce-back years from Daniel Murphy, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and (hopefully) Ian Desmond?
A key player to watch next season is Charlie Blackmon, who is still hitting well but struggling tremendously on the defensive end. The quicker the NL can adopt the DH, the quicker the Rockies can provide Blackmon with some type of mechanism to keep hitting as he gets older and (potentially) continues to fade on the defensive end. The best scenarios involving the Rockies likely involve a continued breakout by Sam Hilliard, and I think that’s certainly possible.
However, guys like David Dahl, Ryan McMahon, and Ramiel Tapia enter this season largely with the same questions they had entering last season. Since health has been such a factor, you’d like to see that whole group put up over 500 plate appearances each. Finally, I have my doubts that established relievers like Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and/or Jake McGee return to their glory days — but marginal improvements wouldn’t be unheard of. That being said, it still surprises me that Scott Oberg isn’t the clear choice for closer.
There are far more questions and potential downsides to this Rockies team in 2020 than 2019. As it turns out, that uncertainty is about the only thing the Rockies added this offseason. Additionally, nobody really knows if the team becomes more aggressive in trading Arenado, Gray, and/or Story should the season start to slump early on. Oh, and don’t forget the uncertainly surrounding when the season will start (or how much of it will be played).
Even if the best-case scenarios play out, it’s hard to imagine a Rockies team that finishes over .500. PECOTA projects the team to go 77-85, and I think that’s fair. My educated guess would be a little more pessimistic, but that depends on several unknowns. Will the Rockies move some of the guys they’ve shopped if/when things get rough? How many games will be played this season? Higher levels of uncertainty are about the only thing the Rockies acquired this offseason, and the saddest part is that it didn’t have to be this way.
We may not know the answers to the questions surrounding the Rockies upcoming season, but one thing seems true: the Rockies are a team destined to return to the bottom of the NL West.
Shawn Brody is a grad student and contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @ShawnBrody, where he likes to yell about the New York Mets.