DNVR Rockies beat reporters Drew Creasman and Patrick Lyons battle for supremacy discussing various hot topics pertaining to the inhabitants of 2001 Blake Street as well all the scuttlebutt in-and-around the game of baseball.
Following two saves on the road during the first week of the season to help Colorado move to 4-1, closer Wade Davis coughed up another ninth-inning lead to San Diego and found himself in search of the same answers he could not find for all of 2018.
To make matters worse, the best reliever in the bullpen may be done for the season as Scott Oberg is on the 45-day injured list with blood clotting in his pitching arm.
With a bullpen lacking the veteran presence of Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee, it’s been a pair of newcomers like Daniel Bard and Tyler Kinley who have stepped up to fill in the gaps. Carlos Estévez and Jairo Díaz have picked up where they left off last season and Yency Almonte has looked equally impressive.
Manager Bud Black has yet to name an official closer even though Díaz has been given two opportunities and Almonte has recorded a save since Davis hit the 10-day IL.
Until Black makes a definitive decision, there’s room for plenty of speculation about the Rockies ninth inning.
Creasman vs. Lyons. Falls Count Anywhere… but today, it’ll be in the right field bullpen next to the auxiliary scoreboard.
Does Colorado have enough in their bullpen to survive 2020?
Lyons: It may be due to the 9-3 start and the ‘pen’s solid 3.69 earned run average – a number much lower when subtracting the performances of Davis (16.88) and James Pazos (54.00) – but it’s time to catch feelings for this group.
Two main factors are at play for survival: the shortened season and the depth of arms.
An abbreviated schedule allows all relievers the benefit of limited exposure during the dog days of summer. Instead, August has become like a warmer version of April and by the time September rolls around, everyone will believe the production has lasted a lot longer than six weeks.
As for the depth, the loss of Oberg to the 45-day injured list and relative disappearance Davis does take away two key pitchers from the staff. Estévez and Díaz are proving that 2019 was no fluke while newbies Kinley and Bard have been as well as advertised.
If Almonte can continue to be relied upon and either Pazos or Phillip Diehl emerge as a legitimate left-hand specialist, it won’t matter if the depth beyond that is somewhat limited.
Creasman: Maybe? Lol. It’s not the most direct answer, but so much of what the Rockies have in the bullpen right now is unknown potential.
One of the guys we know most about, Estévez, has been an enigma for much of his career and has often showed an ability to dominate in spurts. He hadn’t put together a full consistent season until last year due to injuries and mechanical issues.
At 27-years-old, Estévez appears primed to be the reliable workhorse of the ‘pen and Bud Black appears intent to use him as such.
The other guy in the backend with wicked stuff is Díaz who basically had only a cup of coffee in the bigs before emerging last season as a quality set-up man before eventually taking over the closer role.
Beyond that, you’ve got a parade of guys who have some great stuff, but you just don’t know for how long they can pitch like they are right now.
While Almonte has lost almost all of his prospect shine, he’s finally looking like the pitcher many of us thought he would eventually become. The additions of Kinley and Bard bring devastating combos with their fastball/slider attacks. Ultimately, I think Pazos and Diehl are likely to recover from slightly rocky starts.
So, the pieces are all there.
That being said, making a trade for one more arm to join them would put a lot of concerns at ease.
Who will have the most saves for the Rockies by season’s end?
Lyons: To make it more interesting, how many will record a save by season’s end?
The favorite has to be Díaz, who notched five saves (tied with Oberg to second-most in 2019). He’s benefitted from luck through his two saves as there’s been a lot of traffic on the bases, but this has been something to which he’s grown accustomed.
If anyone challenges him, it will be Estévez. Black’s preference has been to lean on Wild Thing in the seventh or eighth-inning of any close game, a spot oftentimes more important than retiring the final three batters.
The dark horse entry for most saves in 2020 may not even be on the roster right now.
No, top pitching prospect Ryan Rolison won’t be closing out game by September, though he could feature as the top lefty.
Rather, the Rockies could swing a trade to acquire a closer for the final month of the season at the August 31 deadline.
Creasman: I’ll go with Díaz but barely.
It truly does look like a closer by committee situation, at least for the time being. All other things being equal, Díaz should get the most chances. He has already showcased two important abilities that you need in that job: swing-and-miss stuff and nerves of steel.
The fastball touches 97 with movement and his coup de grâce is a slider with absurd break and bite. This is probably the best combo on the team for producing strikeouts after German Márquez.
The second element might be even more important though.
Yes, it would be nice to see the guy you presume to be your closer moving forward, tossing out a few more completely clean innings. If you keep allowing base runners, eventually bad things will happen.
But inside all of that, both this season and last, Díaz has shown you that he doesn’t buckle or break under the pressure of the big moment. If he does fail, it’s because he didn’t execute his pitch and not because he made a silly mental mistake.
The 29-year-old has been through a lot in life. His steadiness of self in these times may end up vital for the whole team.
Should Colorado avoid signing free agent relievers altogether?
Lyons: There is not enough young, competent pitching in any organization to go without a single free agent signing.
That being said, it’s safe to assume the Rockies will not making any grand overtures to a reliever any time soon after the era of Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee and Wade Davis.
And they don’t need to either.
Former Colorado starter turned reliever Jamey Wright once made seven consecutive Opening Day rosters at the end of his career as a non-roster invite.
During this time, he pitched mainly in the American League to a 4.03 ERA. He averaged 71 innings over this period and produced three season of 0.5 WAR or better. Not bad for a guy that didn’t take up a spot on the 40-man roster until he earned it.
While it’s early, take a look at the likes of Kinley and Bard as further evidence of this approach. Neither cost the Rockies a prospect or contributing member of their club and both are on extremely club-friendly deals.
So, with a little imagination – and a lot of coercion – Colorado can supplement the bullpen in future years with a few veterans and more waiver wire wizardry.
Creasman: Hard to say no to this right now. In a vacuum, I feel like I could argue that at any given time the team ought to sign the best available free agents in order to address whatever is their current area of need.
Of course, that’s exactly what General Manager Jeff Bridich did when he saw a group of superstar position players on the field, a young emerging rotation, and a gaping whole in the bullpen after the 2017 season. Naturally, he resigned McGee and inked free agents Shaw and Davis.
These moves sent the signal to the rest of the roster that the team was ready to compete. Oddly enough they did again in 2018 despite these moves largely blowing up in their faces.
We don’t need to rehash how terrible Shaw and McGee pitched the last two season, nor do we need to remind you of how Davis went from one of the best closers in baseball to one of the worst… ever.
The proof appears to be in the pudding on this one.
Bridich has done a good-to-great job acquiring relievers mid-season via trade. Pat Neshek and Seunghwan Oh were pivotal for consecutive postseason runs. He’s also shown an ability to get some great value off the scrap heap like he did with Greg Holland in 2017 and Bard may join that list in 2020.
As long as those kinds of players exist and can give you a ton of value for little risk, it just doesn’t make sense to pour resources into a position that has forever been so volatile.