The Colorado Rockies are in first place. They look like the real deal so far and they are gaining attention as one of the big stories of 2017.
We know the reasons for their success by now—outstanding showings from young starting pitchers, a rebuilt bullpen that is doing work, a lineup that is finally thumping, and better organizational depth and versatility.
It's that depth that's about to create some interesting questions for manager Bud Black. Injuries to start the season forced the Rockies to tap into that depth right away. With Ian Desmond looking to return soon and David Dahl not far behind, the veteran guys who have been filling in have created some interesting dilemmas. Gerardo Parra is actually backing up all that talk about being a new man this season, and Mark Reynolds is on pace to be an all-star at first base.
We're all wondering who's going to play where and who's going to be sent to bench duty. Here are some questions about how those decisions might be made.
Where do the Rockies feel more invested?
This year's fast start is fun and it's the most fun to think about winning now, but we know that the Rockies will always be trying to walk parallel paths between winning now and winning in the future. Now that they did something close to a full rebuild, the hope is to avoid doing it again.
Ian Desmond and his well-known $70 million contract are part of today's plans and the team's future plans. David Dahl is the prized prospect in the organization and is a building block of today's plans and those future plans.
On the other hand, Mark Reynolds is here on a one-year deal that was paid for with change they found in the couch cushions on the party deck. Gerardo Parra is a role player no matter how long he's here, and for just a second I want you to imagine if his tenure extends beyond the two years left on his current deal. What a world.
There are plenty of reasons to feel like 2017 has opened up for the Rockies to do something special right now, but you can bet Jeff Bridich and company won't stop thinking about future seasons at the same time. Whether that affects lineup decisions in the short term remains to be seen.
Who can handle coming off the bench?
There's no universal way to know, but you might start with veteran guys who are good in the clubhouse. Reynolds and Parra certainly seem to fit that description, even if neither would be happy to cede playing time. Desmond is also known as a good clubhouse guy, but this is where we talk about that $70 million again (oh, and the first round pick, too).
The typical thinking is that Dahl should play everyday to continue his development. He is certainly talented enough to handle a part-time job, it's just a matter of whether the Rockies would actually go that route. Ultimately, if Dahl is healthy and doesn't hit a serious sophomore slump, it seems impossible to think he won't play every day. At least we hope that's true.
How much is Bud Black going to tinker?
Maybe Desmond could play first base against right-handed pitching and outfield against left-handed pitching to make room for Reynolds. Maybe Desmond could spell Trevor Story at shortstop and free up starting spots at first and in the outfield for those games.
How much does a stable lineup matter, if it matters at all? From the days of Clint Hurdle overmanaging, to that one winning streak in 2009 with a set everyday lineup, to the famous Jim Tracy Sunday lineups, we have batted this topic around with the Rockies over the years but never really arrived at a clear answer.
Would it be detrimental to tweak the lineup based on match-ups and who has the hot hand? Or will this team want those set roles where they know where their name will be on that lineup card, putting their mind at ease? The heck if any of us know, but it's up to Black to figure it out and decide how much he wants to move guys around day to day.
But really, can they justify benching Mark Reynolds?
The Sheriff of Swattingham continues to be a patient, line-drive hitting machine. So far in 2017, Reynolds has continued cutting his strikeouts while also socking a bunch of dingers. It feels like a situation where the Rockies should let it ride as long as he keeps it up, but as we've covered by now, it's just not that simple.
Aren't you glad they didn't trade Charlie Blackmon?
The Rockies' potentially problematic abundance of outfielders is about to become reality, especially if there's any question about Dahl's playing time. With that will come questions once again about trading Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez. With CarGo in the last year of his contract, you might have a case if you think they could trade him. Blackmon, on the other hand, looks like he is here to stay.
He's just a stud. If the Rockies keep this up and contend in 2017, he'll be a big part of it. Whatever the rumors were and no matter how it could have worked if they had dealt him this winter, let's just enjoy the fact that he's still here.
Will attrition solve some of these problems for them?
Probably! You never want to predict injuries, and hopefully the Rockies are going to get healthy and stay healthy. We all know better though; the reality is that depth is only tricky when things are going perfectly, and baseball seasons are so long and weird that things almost never go perfectly.
The cliché tells us that the upcoming problems for the Rockies are "good problems" to have. Black can earn his paycheck when they actually have the luxury of those good problems, but more importantly, the team has already shown that they can stay good when they don't have that luxury and are hit by injuries.
The Rockies probably don't know exactly how they're going to use this depth and versatility when everyone's available, but having that depth when everyone isn't available is a big part of why they are off to a hot start.