Even before future Hall of Famer Nolan Arenado was traded ahead of the 2021 season, hardcore fans of the Colorado Rockies were already questioning when the team might ever see consecutive postseason appearances again, let alone make another trip to the World Series.
Nine teams in MLB have lost a combined 300 games since the start of the 2019 season and Colorado (306 losses) has struggled to separate itself from that group in which it belongs.
Hope spring eternal, and the 2023 Rockies are trying to sell a bit of that as it bides time for right pieces to come together for another chance at October baseball. If Colorado can provide inspiring answer even some of the following questions, then maybe hope will be on the horizon for 2024 and beyond.
1. What can we expect this season in terms of wins and losses?
When pitchers and catchers reported to Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. on February 15, the Colorado Rockies were hoping to right the ship and end their four-year span of losing records. Then, Spring Training happened.
As players began dropping like flies – five players ticketed for a spot on the Opening Day roster were sidelined, some for the entire season – the lesser established young players were pushed aside for the moment as veterans like Brad Hand, Mike Moustakas and Jurickson Profar were brought in to hold down the fort.
Though the top brass for the Rockies have pointed to the future as the reason to not give up on the franchise, that remains to be seen, especially as many of those future pieces will not be impacting the 2023 roster. The farm system has made major strides as of late and is considered among the better ones by most prospect prognosticators. However, only Ezequiel Tovar will start the season with the team while Zac Veen is hopeful for a debut this summer.
Players on the fringe of the roster will be the key focus this season, as it’s been the last few seasons with fingers having been crossed for more from Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson and Connor Joe, just four players the club had hoped to see more of (somewhat coincidentally, all four are no longer with the team).
The lingering question through the first few weeks of the season is one that could stick around through September: Will this be a 100-loss season? Probably not. This has been an unusual area of pride for an organization that has yet to win their own division in 30 attempts. The club won 74 games in 2021 and brought back the same general cast of characters only to win 68 in 2022. When they’re supposed to zig, they zag. And vice versa. So 100 losses, despite the way it appears this team could be headed, is probably out of the cards.
Let’s take a step back and look at things from a perspective of best case scenario. The best case scenario pertains more to the success of individual players, and the right individual players, like those who are young and those who have extensions to stay in Colorado for the next few seasons. As far as record is concerned, managing to win 78 games might be the best they can hope for even if everything goes right at this point.
Now, let’s try examining the worst case: 100 losses… and minimal activity at the trade deadline. It’s one thing to lose 100 games. It’s another to avoid losing 100 games. But to sidestep futility by holding onto veteran players who will be free agents at the end of the season – something Colorado has their fair share of – is doing damage to the future of the franchise. There was one deal made at the trade deadline in 2021 and the word “malpractice” was used to describe it by industry insiders. In 2022, the Rockies were the only team in all of MLB to not make a trade. For it to happen again would be one of the most embarrassing transgressions in team history. Let’s wait and see…
2. What is the greatest strength of this roster as it stands?
Strange as it may sound, but the bullpen could be the best part of this team. Some of that is due to weaker areas elsewhere, but a solid corps of veterans are making the arm barn at Coors Field look rather impressive.
The starting rotation falls off precipitously after Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland, especially since Antonio Senzatela may not return until May at the earliest. If the starting rotation fails to get length on most nights, this will end up taxing relievers more than normal; however, the roster of quality veterans at Bud Black’s disposal hasn’t been this strong in a few years.
Coupled with a few high-upside young hurlers like Justin Lawrence and Gavin Hollowell, not to mention multiple left-handed relievers for the first time in years, Colorado may be able to hold onto late leads better than ever thanks to vets like Daniel Bard, Dinelson Lamet, Pierce Johnson, Brent Suter and Brad Hand. Toss in a mid-season addition like Tyler Kinley, who’ll return from Tommy John surgery, and the ‘pen is primed to perform.
Squint and you’ll see a roster sprinkled with names that have made a few All-Star Game appearances. Others seem ready for a breakout performance to reach their first Midsummer Classic while a third group of players are still establishing their careers with the faith that they will some day reach those heights.
And yet, it could be volatile at times, especially as several of the more experienced players like Charlie Blackmon and C.J. Cron have missed time in Spring Training to injury, and Randal Grichuk recovers for a potential April/May return date. The depth will be tested in all areas, especially after season-ending losses of Lucas Gilbreath, Brendan Rodgers and possibly Sean Bouchard.
3. Does Colorado already regret the $182 million deal given to Kris Bryant?
If Kris Bryant can stay healthy, he’s an incredibly valuable player to this team. Let’s not forget he was an All-Star in 2021 before injuries limited him to 42 games in 2022. He’s a strong candidate to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year and, from what was witnessed during April last season when he was completely healthy, a decent candidate to win a batting title this year or next thanks to the hitter friendly confines of Coors Field.
As far as his contract being an albatross, that will probably have little to do with any success in 2023, as his $182 million deal was a reach for a club that may only start contending as his contract winds down.
4. In the final year of his current contract, does Charlie Blackmon call it a career and finish with the Rockies?
This offseason, owner Dick Monfort said Blackmon was probably worthy of having his no. 19 retired by the club for his 13 years of service. After Todd Helton, Chuck Nazty is next in terms of Rockies you think about when envisioning the purple pinstripes. (That is, putting aside Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado, three players who were developed by the franchise only to be traded away in the primes of their careers.)
In September, Colorado has a Blackmon bobblehead on the books. Have they painted themselves into a corner? Is anyone from the front office even aware of this potential public relations nightmare? As much as Blackmon and the Rockies go together like peas and carrots, it’s not unreasonable to think the two will part ways. Blackmon gets one last opportunity to play meaningful baseball games and, just maybe, win a World Series while Colorado adds to a farm system they’ll need to support the big league roster in 2024 and beyond.
The Rockies’ final game of the season is Sunday, October 1 against the Minnesota Twins – thanks, balanced schedule. It’ll be at Coors Field, so get your tickets and bring your handkerchiefs. There may not be a dry eye in the house.
5. Will the front office make the difficult decisions a team in this predicament typically makes?
Maybe? After their one deal at the 2021 trade deadline was likened to “malpractice” and zero trades in 2022 – the only team of MLB’s 30 clubs to abstain – Colorado found themselves in a predicament in 2023 where there simply wasn’t enough depth to insure against injuries. If they behave this way again, they will be mortgaging their future to pay for their pride.
A whopping 10 different players projected for the Opening Day roster can become free agents at the end of this season. Nine are over the age of 30, and seven will begin the 2024 season at age 32 or older. The front office might point to one or two of these veterans and think they can contribute next season as a player-coach, but will any of them be important pieces for the next postseason run? Will any even share a locker room with the coming wave of prospects?
With so many impending free agents, Colorado has a legitimate opportunity to make a few shrewd trades at the deadline and bolster not only their depth, but possibly find a diamond in the rough like they did in 2016 when they acquired a pitcher who had yet to reach Double-A in 20-year-old Germán Márquez.
The Rockies gave up two players in that deal who they valued and who would still have their best years ahead of them: Corey Dickerson (All-Star in 2017) and top 20 prospect Kevin Padlo. Bottom line: the trade improved the organization. Because you have to give in order to get.
6. Will the team get back to a strong infield defensive corps and be a lot crisper than in 2022?
Tovar will be an upgrade defensively. José Iglesias provided some flair, but there’s plenty of room to improve on his play last season. McMahon at second base will produce similar Gold Glove Award standards we’ve seen the last few years at third base. Cron is better than credited. Same is true of Elias Díaz behind the plate. Alan Trejo has been praised with big league caliber defense since he was in High-A.
The biggest question mark defensively is Elehuris Montero. The 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic is a hitter with power, undoubtedly. He didn’t play that much more at third base than at first base. If the Rockies try to hide Montero and use him more as a designated hitter or first baseman, that could throw a wrench into the works, with 34-year-old Mike Moustakas spending time at the hot corner or shuffling McMahon back and forth from second to third base and ruining the typical rhythms that can come with having a strong defense.
7. Can the 30th Anniversary celebration of Colorado’s first and only MLB club keep fans coming to the ballpark all season long?
The promotional calendar has a lot of giveaways for fans looking to stock up on Rockies memorabilia with a 30th Anniversary logo on it. In addition, a 30th Anniversary Celebration has been scheduled for Saturday, September 16. (Currently, that promotion is no longer being listed on the Rockies website.)
Considering the Arizona Diamondbacks assembled a museum for their franchise’s 20th Anniversary, it’s long overdue for Colorado to have some acknowledgement of its history. While that history lacks a World Series Commissioner’s Trophy, there has been an appearance in the Fall Classic, not to mention countless players, coaches and team personnel who have made the Rockies more than just some expansion team from 1993.
8. What can Rockies fans look forward to in a season destined to be under. 500, at least according to owner Dick Monfort?
Ezequiel Tovar is the player to watch. He may end up being the only true rookie to watch depending on how the season plays out for those in the upper level of the minors. Tovar is tabbed to start on Opening Day at the age of 21. His defense has been ready for almost two years and the bat has come along nicely after a breakout first half in Double-A. Had he not missed two months with a groin injury, Tovar could have spent the final several weeks of the season in Denver.
Zac Veen is the next name to watch. A flashy outfielder without flashy speed – though he will steal a preponderance of bases simply because of his Baseball IQ – Veen was the ninth overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. He was rumored to go as high as second overall and was an absolute gift to Colorado. Veen packed on 20 pounds during the offseason in hopes of elevating the baseball more and bringing up his homer totals. He’s also 21 and will pair nicely with Tovar as the two lead the Rockies in pursuit of regaining relevance for the franchise.
If the Rockies are indeed on the right track, Tovar and Veen will need to be the conductors for this train to reach its desired destination.