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MLB Opening Day 2016: The Rockies' 5 major storylines

Plus, an overarching bonus storyline that is sure to come up every day during the season.

Will this man still be a Rockie at the end of the season?
Will this man still be a Rockie at the end of the season?
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In the previous three parts of our big Colorado Rockies 2016 season preview series, we've covered each of the club's major offseason additions, how those additions could make the club better (or worse), and prospects who might debut this season to offer the team much-needed help.

All of those subjects, and a few others, combine to make up the major storylines for the Rockies this season. These stories will likely form the backbone of every Twitter conversation, most background discussions on TV and radio broadcasts, pretty much every shoddily put-together text message your dad sends you to complain about the team, etc.

In order of importance (from least to most), the five major storylines heading into the Rockies' 2016 campaign:

Who will emerge as the closer?

The Rockies during the offseason acquired two pitchers -- Jason Motte and Jake McGee -- who could take over the vacant closer spot in the bullpen. Last season, the Rockies started with LaTroy Hawkins, ended with John Axford, and tried out all sorts of pitchers in between. A little more stability this time around would go a long way. The good news is that the team appears to have the pieces necessary to accomplish that.

In addition to Motte and McGee, the Rockies will have Adam Ottavino returning at some point during the season. Justin Miller -- assuming his mediocre spring is just a minor hiccup -- isn't a bad option for that spot, either, if needed.

The real question here should revolve around the actual importance of the closer. It's hard to fault Walt Weiss for not doing this because conventional wisdom is the rule of the road for big league managers, but it would be nice to see the Rockies' skipper use his best option for the situation at hand. If the highest-leverage situation is in the seventh inning, will Weiss have the common sense to use McGee there? If he needs a key out in a high-scoring game in the fifth inning at Coors Field, might he consider trotting out Motte a few innings early?

Though he hasn't exactly had great personnel, bullpen management hasn't been Weiss' strength during his tenure as Rockies manager. Taking full advantage of the improved options he has this season should be of paramount importance, and it'll be worth keeping an eye on.

Will Trevor Story crack the Opening Day lineup?

He's said all the right things this spring. He's certainly doing all the right things on the field, hitting .333/.422/.744 in 45 plate appearances while more than passing the eye test on defense.

But can Trevor Story realistically make the 25-man roster out of spring training -- and even better, be penciled onto the lineup card on April 4? All signs point to yes.

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich has been telling any reporter who will listen that service time concerns won't be a factor in the club's decision on Story. Other factors suggest that he will make the team: the absence of incumbent starter Jose Reyes, who's likely to be serving a suspension or otherwise be inactive to start the year, and the hand injury that will keep backup Daniel Descalso on the shelf for a few more weeks.

There is another piece to the puzzle, though, and that's fellow shortstop prospect Cristhian Adames. The forgotten man this spring, Adames has played well himself, hitting .286/.302/.595 in almost as many plate appearances as Story.

Despite that, Story looks like the guy for the job. According to one scout, Story this spring "not only looks like a big leaguer -- he looks like one of the two or three best players on the team." If that's accurate, it will be hard for the Rockies to consider something five years down the road when what they need is right in front of their faces.

Of course, we've seen the service time game played by teams in much more precarious positions than the win-later Rockies, so we'll have to wait and see what the Story will be for this particular prospect (sorry).

One thing is certain, however: Based on the poll in the most recently linked article, Rockies fans are completely divided on this issue -- down to the last vote.

Story poll

Can Jon Gray take the next step?

The short version: He'd better.

The long version: Starting the season on the disabled list might actually work to Gray's advantage. The 24-year-old righty, who is currently shelved with an abdominal strain, will likely work his way back slowly, meaning a few closely watched rehab appearances in the minors are in his future. That's a good thing; Gray still has some work to do in terms of command and secondary pitches, and doing so in the minors seems more beneficial than trying to adjust on the fly in the majors.

That may help him take the next step, but it's going to take a lot of strategic discussions and helpful hints from the coaching staff and development folks as well. Convincing Gray that his struggles at Coors Field last year were little more than statistical noise is a start. Helping him gain some of the deception back in his delivery, a much more difficult task, should be an immediate concern as well.

Gray doesn't need to be utterly dominant in 2016, but he must make positive strides -- and make them at the big league level -- to consider his first full season a success.

Which pitching prospects, if any, will make their mark in the majors?

For as much as Rockies fans in recent years have been sold on the future, things are going to have to start panning out sooner than later. It's taking a bit longer than just about anyone would've hoped with Gray and Eddie Butler, so the organization must avoid similar missteps -- whether it's any fault of their own or otherwise -- with the next wave of pitching prospects.

Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson, though each to somewhat different degrees, should be ready to start contributing to the major league club this season. None of the three has to start pitching like an ace immediately, but at least two of them have got to show that they can be solid members of the rotation in the future. Hoffman has the best chance; though he's pitched just over a half-season since recovering from Tommy John surgery, he's widely considered a future top-of-the-rotation arm. If he arrives in Denver this season and displays that sort of potential, Rockies fans will likely feel quite a bit better about the bill of goods forced upon them.

Whatever the case, though, there has to be some sort of positive with these three players and other organizational pitching prospects  -- not in 2018, not in 2017, but this year. The results have been, at best, mixed with Gray, Butler, Tyler Matzek and Chad Bettis. Since the Rockies must rely on developing pitchers in order to field a competitive staff, the next wave must be better. There's no way around it.

Will the Rockies become sellers at the trade deadline?

If 2016 goes as most Rockies fans and followers believe it will go, then the team should absolutely look to unload valuable pieces at the deadline.

Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa, Nick Hundley and Jake McGee are the first four players who come to mind. De La Rosa might be criminally and perpetually undervalued, so getting a fair return for him is easier said than done. But contending teams are almost always looking for upgrades in the middle of the lineup, behind the plate and in the bullpen. Assuming CarGo, Hundley and McGee provide the type of production they did last year and in previous seasons, the Rockies could get a haul that would make 2017 and beyond even better than it looks right now.

Of course, we said this in the preview last year (no, really). The Rockies did make That One Big Trade, but several others were left on the table. Will Bridich make the same mistake twice? Let's hope not.

What does all of this mean for 2017 and beyond?

The Rockies are building something. If you've paid any attention over the last year or two, that's pretty easy to see. They've loaded up on young, impact pitchers, both starters and relievers. Their history of developing solid position-player prospects is good, and with the likes of Story, David Dahl, Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Brendan Rodgers and many others making national waves, it's a good bet that'll continue.

That's why it's so important that the Rockies don't do anything this year that might compromise their chances -- which look pretty darn good right now -- of success in future seasons. If they're hovering around .500 (or, somewhat miraculously, slightly better) heading into the deadline, paying the price for a rental could be catastrophic. The same could be said about holding on to valuable-but-expendable pieces for too long.

Bridich and his staff must monitor the market throughout the first half of the season and be ready to pounce. Meanwhile, the player development staff needs to ensure the future of the organization isn't at risk. No messing up deliveries. No over-exertion of legitimate prospects, both pitchers and position players.

If the Rockies are smart and continue playing for the near future, all will be well, regardless of how things go with the major league club (and they could be bad -- real bad).

In other words: No pressure, but don't screw it up.

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Brace yourselves. The meat of the 2016 Rockies season preview -- including the projected lineup, rotation and entire 25-man roster, plus predictions! -- is coming up on Monday.