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For those who aren’t interested in giving the Colorado Rockies a nuanced look, they are a 71-win team with no substantial changes coming in the offseason and so should expect to win roughly the same number of games in 2020.
If you are disinclined toward such simplicity, however, you may find yourself pontificating on the sheer magnitude of possibilities, both good and bad, that could befall this team.
Specifically, there are an inordinate number of players in Colorado who could end up as anything from significant drains on the club to key cogs in a resurgence.
We’ve highlighted nine players who have the widest range of possible outcomes for the Rockies in 2020.
First, let’s take a look into the bullpen.
Lowest End: Terrible and vests
The worst-case scenario for Shaw would actually require him to get off to a decent enough start to fool the team into thinking he has gotten over his troubles from the last two years. If he puts up solid numbers early, extending his leash, he could pass the 40 appearance threshold that would cause his option to vest and put him on Colorado’s books for the 2021 season at $9 million.
Once that happens, he would turn back into exactly what he has been since arriving in Denver and the Rockies would be stuck with him for an additional year. In this case, he also ends up producing a negative WAR.
Zero Value: Cut before the season
The club avoids that risk altogether if they part ways with Bryan Shaw before the seasons begins.
That would essentially amount to paying him $11 million to go away, and likely get picked up by someone else for cheap, but the roster spot and dodging an even worse contract situation may be well worth it.
Especially if other, younger relievers play well in Spring Training and/or early in the year, he could be cut a la Mike Dunn.
Colorado would have more than enough justification and incentive to make this move if Shaw looks the same next season as he has the last two. Getting 0 WAR out of Shaw and giving that spot to someone else may be a net gain.
High End: Reliable late-inning reliever
There’s always the outside chance that the seven years Shaw was one of the most reliable relievers in the game were not a total fluke and that he may finally be getting the handle on this whole Coors Field situation.
He actually managed reverse home/road splits in 2019 (4.20 ERA at home, 6.89 on the road) and improved (though not by enough) on his strikeout rate, walk rate, and ERA from 2018.
Is he trending in the right direction? Will changes to the baseball help him rediscover his cutter? Can he rekindle the magic he had in Cleveland in search of his next contract with the fear of the potential end of his career hanging over his head?
It’s a long shot. But certainly not an impossibility.
Low End: Flash in the Pan?
There’s a larger sample size with Diaz, but like with Sam Hilliard, it could be a case of a player catching the league off guard for a while.
Also, it is always worth noting how generally volatile all relievers are.
It’s entirely possible that Diaz’s impressive 2019 campaign was the best he will ever have and he will go down in history as another fascinating trivia question relief pitcher. That’s just always a possibility.
He is going to be counted on early in the season no matter how things shake out. So if he has a terrible start, he could end up costing Colorado quite a bit.
Zero Value: Injury/AAA
That means that pretty much the only way he provides the team with zero, as opposed to negative or positive value, is to miss the entire season with injury (which is a caveat that could be applied to everyone) or if he is a total disaster in Spring Training and pretty much every other reliever in the mix is not.
The likelihood that he spends the whole year in the minors in incredibly slim, however.
High End: Closer
Diaz finished the 2019 campaign as the closer because Wade Davis fell apart and Scott Oberg was shut down with a blood clot issue, but also because his pitching throughout the season earned him that job.
While his end-of-season ERA of 4.53 is not exactly phone-home material, putting it in the context of him being a rookie, calling Coors Field home, and promising peripherals, his season was quite eye-popping.
A 9.83 K/9 rate paired with a 2.97 BB/9 rate will play and those who are into FIP and xFIP will be happy to know that his marks of 3.70 and 3.85 respectively suggest even further that he’s a slight adjustment and some better fortune away from truly dominating.
We’ve basically already seen the full spectrum with Carlos Estevez. He was a closer in MLB less than a year after he was pitching in High-A ball. He has also struggled at times in the Bigs and even missed an entire season due to injury in 2018.
In hindsight, that was huge.
Low End: Remains largely a roller coaster ride
His propensity to give up home runs, and the league adjusting to him, could conceivably result in an out-and-out bad season for Estevez. A bad start could end up sinking him but other than that this seems like a pretty unlikely outcome for a guy with ever-improving peripherals who is entering his prime.
Zero Value: Injury
The only way Estevez provides zero value is if he literally never takes the field. As constituted, the Rockies must count on him.
High End: Primary set-up man, closer in a pinch
Probably the player on this list with the highest chance of reaching his peak potential, Estevez could easily even begin the year as Colorado’s set-up man and get multiple opportunities to close games when needed.
His strikeout-to-walk numbers have been steadily improving, posting career bests in both categories last season with 10.13 K/9 and walking 2.88 per nine for a 3.75 ERA.
Having turned 27 just a few days prior to the publishing of this article, Estevez has already been through ups and downs from being handed the ball in the most important situations, to having to retool his delivery – twice – to reemerging as Bud Black’s go-to fireman in any tense situation that appears before the ninth.
We won’t believe in full until we see it, but Estevez has every element working in his favor to have a breakout 2020 campaign.
With Wade Davis, you know what it is.
He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball for most of the last decade and set the Rockies franchise record for saves in 2018.
Then he had possibly the worst season for a reliever since the invention of numbers.
Low End: Pumpkin
I don’t need to describe Davis’ floor to anyone who watched Rockies baseball in 2019.
Zero Value: Pumpkin who gets cut/traded
If he’s not on the team, he won’t be a factor. But this seems pretty unlikely given he is still owed $18 million on his current deal. ($17 million for the final year and $1 million for a buyout.)
If he does bounce back a bit, especially early, the Rockies could entertain trading him before it either sticks or falls apart. Or they could roll the dice and see if he can come back and cement himself as an indispensable member of the ‘pen.
High End: Closer
Remember that time he was one of the best closers in baseball? Yeah, it really wasn’t that long ago.
Scott Oberg should still be considered the front runner to finish out games for Colorado, but if Davis shows up well early, appears to have figured out the issues with his cutter – which may or may not be related to the seems on last year’s baseball – and looks motivated to earn one more contract in MLB at age 32, he could retake the spot.
Bullpens are, by their very nature, volatile. If we hadn’t learned that lesson before, Adam Ottavino reminded us in 2017 and 2018. So did Oberg who was sent down to Triple-A to work on his slider the same year he struck out the final four Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card game.
This list also doesn’t even include players like Jesus Tinoco, James Pazos, and Yency Almonte, all of whom are giant question marks who could end up serving important roles on the team.
I guess, what I’m trying to say here is, who knows what is going to happen?
There are plenty of easy to see scenarios where the Colorado Rockies bullpen falls completely apart once again. But there are also more than a handful in which it comes together… finally.