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It’s early October 2021.
The leaves on the trees are turning color and falling gently onto increasingly snowy streets and driveways.
The smell of postseason baseball is in the air.
There are more fans in the stadiums now, not to full capacity, but things are starting to feel closer to normal again.
The playoff picture is beginning to emerge more clearly and there go those St. Louis Cardinals again. The darlings of the Midwest reclaim their spot as the dominant club of the NL Central, declaring themselves a force to be reckoned with.
And at the center of it is their MVP candidate, Nolan Arenado.
He’s having a career season.
Not in terms of the traditional stats, mind you. He’s hitting his typical .290/.350/.540. Throwing in 40 home runs and 130 RBI will be amazing, yet standard.
But with the burdens of the Coors Field Factor removed, his advanced stats like wRC+ and therefore WAR will jump significantly. Additionally, he will get the benefit of a deeper understanding and analysis from national writers who are watching him every day and carry respect for the name on the front of his jersey and not just the one on the back.
He will finally get something he has never had: the benefit of the doubt and deep analysis.
The narrative will arise that, despite him looking like the exact same player on the surface, the Cardinal Way (TM) brought out the very best in Arenado and that he has now – and only now – truly joining the class of the greatest players of his generation.
Having never done so before, Arenado will be named as MLB Network’s best third baseman in baseball, the Cardinals will win their division, Nado will win MVP, and you will be sold a bill of nonsense about how this doesn’t constitute a clear double standard.
You will also be told that this is in no way a part of the constant fundamental problem the Colorado club faces through no fault of their own. (That’s a conversation for another time.)
In the meantime, the Rockies are looking for a way to fill that Nolan Arenado-shaped hole on their roster and their fans are looking to fill that Nolan Arenado-shaped hole in their hearts.
Obviously, no single player is expected to do that. But somebody has to play third. Somebody has to anchor the lineup.
Perhaps just as importantly in a season that is more about building toward the future than making a splash right now, someone has to become the must-see player on this team.
Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, of course, are already can’t-miss athletes who might do something special any time they get involved in the game. With Blackmon climbing in age and an uneasiness surrounding whether Story will be the next to follow Arenado’s path out of town, there simply has to be someone else for that role.
So who are the candidates to fill that void?
The most obvious person to step into this role, in almost every way, is the 26-year-old infielder. He’ll take over at third base and has both the batter profile and experience to make the next step to becoming a true star player in this league.
Of course, in order for that to happen, he needs to cut down on the big strikeout numbers that have held him back. Beyond that, McMahon has already shown the ability to be an asset on every part of the diamond.
Even off the field, the 2013 2nd Round selection can also give the club above average defense at second and first, and is a natural-born leader with charisma that Arenado never had.
He has all the intangibles and most of the tangibles. If he finds consistency, look out.
McMahon is really just one step away from being every Rockies fans’ new favorite player.
If you aren’t looking for a player to put up superstar numbers but rather the guy that makes watching 162 games more fun to watch, Tapia is your guy.
Everything from the way he battles during each at-bat, irritates opposing pitchers, uses his near-elite speed, even his unusual tendencies and fantastic hair, Tapia brings energy and joy and dare I say “swag” to the Rockies.
In the past, as very serious veterans were battling for postseason positioning, his antics didn’t always fit in and he wasn’t always given a chance to smooth out his rougher edges. In 2021, for better and occasionally for worse, Tapia will be let loose to play his brand of baseball over a full MLB season for the first time.
After hitting .321 and reaching base in over 90 games as a leadoff man in 2020, Tapia has plenty to build on and a legitimate shot to turn himself into the batting title contender his minor league profile always suggested he could be.
Don’t be shocked when his jersey is the top seller on the team come year’s end.
This one is just waiting to happen. Freeland, already loved by roughly one thousand percent of the Colorado-native population, arrived in Spring Training clearly ready to take on more of a leadership role.
He appeared to have washed away his horrendous 2019 season with a pretty-to-very-good 2020 campaign, posting a 122 ERA+ over 13 starts.
The fact that he is “from here” makes him easy to embrace as does his outgoing personality in between games and his bulldog mentality during them.
Especially if Colorado can work out an extension to keep the hometown hero around for years to come, Rockies fans can feel comfortable and confident knowing that at least once every five days, they can cheer on one of their own with0ut hesitation.
Scott Oberg/Daniel Bard
Very few fans of any baseball team are going to pick a reliever as their favorite player or their go-to jersey to buy but the Rockies have a pair in the ‘pen who are extremely easy to root for.
Bard, of course, was the feel-good story of 2020, a year where there just wasn’t much to feel good about. Winning NL Comeback Player of the Year after missing more than six seasons of competition, Bard will look to continue to inspire everyone each time he takes the mound.
His partner at the backend will be Scott Oberg, health permitting. Another truly inspiring story, Oberg is making his third return from blood clot issues that have plagued him throughout his career.
But the last two seasons he was able to pitch for the Rockies, he was the second best reliever in all of baseball according to the park-adjusted stats.
So, not only can these dudes bring a tear to your eye thinking about the human capacity to overcome, they can also wow you with 99 MPH fastballs and breathtaking sliders.
If you are tired of waiting for young players to emerge and you don’t really get into the “nice” stories unless it comes with some kind of success, you may just want to get on the German Marquez train.
Colorado is unlikely to compete not just in the win column but also for just about any league-wide hardware.
The automatic Gold Glove at third base is gone. Story can always challenge for MVP but that gets tougher on a bad team and tougher still if he gets traded.
So if you just need a piece of hardware to consider a win, Marquez in his chase for the Cy Young could be the story of the 2021 season for you.
It’ll be a massive uphill battle with the way national media (and voters) think about Rockies’ pitching but Marquez has all the tools and a resume that suggests he is ready for this moment, having turned 26 years old just a few days before the start of Spring Training.
Nobody is going to replace what Nolan Arenado did on the field. Surefire Hall of Famers don’t grow on trees.
But as far as having that guy who sparks your fandom every time they enter the game, that guy who makes you dream on the future, that guy who just makes it feel good to watch a Rockies game, there are plenty to choose from.