It seems safe to say that having four starters and hoping a fifth appears from the prospects or the bullpen isn’t working out for the Rockies. This becomes even more risky when one of the four starters is Jon Gray, who’s been unreliable, struggling with command and injuries (shoulder inflammation in 2020 and a fractured foot in 2019) the last two seasons. In 2020, Gray finished with a 2-4 record and a 6.69 ERA in eight starts. Maybe he’ll be able to rebound in 2021. Even then, the rotation is still incomplete.
The Rockies have three solid starters in Germán Márquez (4-6, 3.75), who could be an ace in the making, Antonio Senzatela (5-3, 3.44), who pitched the best season of his career in 2020, even if it was a short season, and Kyle Freeland (2-3, 4.33), who bounced back nicely from a devastating 2019 campaign. Finding that fifth starter, and then a fourth starter when Gray was lost for the year in September, proved difficult.
Rookie right hander Ryan Castellani (1-4, 5.82), with only one season at Triple-A Albuquerque under his belt, struggled, showing that the 24 year old might need more time to develop before facing Major League hitting. This fact should also caution the Rockies about moving up promising left-handed prospect Ryan Rolison, who has yet to even pitch in Double-A. The Rockies tried Chi Chi González (0-2, 6.86 ERA) in four starts and it didn’t work either.
When it comes to starting rotations in 2020, according to FanGraphs the Rockies ranked No. 11 in ERA (4.83), 30th in strikeouts per nine innings (6.07), No. 14 at 3.15 walks per nine innings, and, surprisingly, third in innings pitched (320 1/3). These aren’t bad numbers. With Márquez, Freeland, or Senzatela pitching, the Rockies went 18-20, which translates to 49-54 in a 162-game season, and 9-13 with Castellani, Gray, and González starting, which translates to 24-35 in a regular season. The first trio lost its fair share of games because of the bullpen, which didn’t much help the latter three either.
While the bullpen has to improve, and the team cannot have success without that, the starting rotation does as well. Both groups of pitchers combined to make the Rockies have the 29th highest ERA in the MLB at 5.59.
Having to face the perennial Dodgers and the rising Padres, can the organization really say it is trying to compete in the NL West with its current incomplete starting rotation? With or without Gray, I think the answer is no. The roster isn’t strong enough to overcome the deficiency.
If the Rockies really want to be playoff contenders, then they have to improve the starting pitching, the bullpen, and the offense. They aren’t good enough to get a few players off waivers and just try again. They can’t just add a bullpen arm or two and maybe another bat and expect better results. They have to improve in every part of the game. The Rockies can’t compete the dollars and rosters of teams like the Dodgers, so they need to be creative. Considering Jeff Bridich’s history with free agency signings, and a farm system that’s been depleted (ranked No. 27 entering the 2020 season), this is no easy task.
The way I see it is that the Rockies have two options:
1) Start over. Instead of wasting the prime years of stars like Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, the Rockies could clean house, rebuild the farm system, and bring in new players. This could also involve dealing guys like David Dahl, Jon Gray, and others. Personally, I think this would be devastating and I don’t want it to happen. Considering it might make Bridich admit mistakes and how we know Dick Monfort feels about players being family, this seems unlikely.
2) Bring in help for the bullpen and rotation. The Rockies need another starting pitcher, and one with experience. There are plenty of free agents to choose from this offseason. Since we know the Rockies have been burned by expensive, past-their-prime deals in the past, we won’t even consider names like Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. Trevor Bauer is out of our league. We already tried Tyler Chatwood.
But how about Kevin Gausman? The 29-year-old, right-handed free agent posted a 3.62 ERA and 1.106 WHIP in 59 2/3 innings over 12 appearances (10 starts) with a 3-3 record for the Giants in 2020. He had 79 strikeouts compared to 16 walks and finished with a 0.73 rWAR. He just finished a one-year deal with San Francisco worth $9 million. The best advantage about Gausman is that he’s a Colorado native. He was born in Centennial. He played for Grandview High School. He grew up with the altitude and might be better suited to deal with its physical and mental challenges. Clearly, that doesn’t mean everything, but what could it hurt at this point?
With eight years in the league, Gausman could bring some much-needed experience to the rotation. He’s played for four teams with double-digit wins in 2017 (11-12, 4.68) and 2018 (10-11, 3.92), before a rough year in 2019 with the Reds (3-9, 5.72). This year, he pitched well and helped the Giants finish with three more wins than the Rockies.
The Rockies “reached out” to Gausman in 2017, so there has been interest in the past, as well as Roxpile writers and Denver Post reporters suggestions to sign Gausman for the past few seasons. Maybe now is the time. However, the Giants have expressed interest in bringing him back. Gausman obviously won’t be the only answer, but he could be part of the answer if the Rockies want to try to get back into the playoff picture in 2021.
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Nick Groke offered his “wild whack at what the Rockies’ lineup may look like” in 2021 with lots of questions and sections on how it could all change. Even with the disclaimers, it’s very interesting.
1. David Dahl, RF
2. Trevor Story, SS
3. Charlie Blackmon, DH
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B
5. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF (acquired through free agency)
6. Ryan McMahon, 2B
7. C.J. Cron, 1B (acquired through free agency)
8. Raimel Tapia, LF
9. Elias Díaz, C
Bench: Josh Fuentes, Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson, Tony Wolters.
Starting Pitchers: Márquez, Freeland, Senzatela, Gray, Castellani.
Bullpen: Scott Oberg, Daniel Bard, Jeff Hoffman, Mychal Givens, Tyler Kinley, Yency Almonte, Carlos Estévez, and Andre Chafin.
Noah Yingling things the Rockies could use the DH to their advantage if it exists in 2021 by having Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl split the role against right-handed pitching. This could help the longevity of an aging Blackmon and an oft-injured Dahl. He also suggests Ian Desmond could take on the role against lefties, if he comes back from the opt-out year.
We’ll that’s a bummer. Add in the Dodgers’ 12-3 win over the Padres on Thursday night to sweep their way into the NLCS, and today, we are one step closer to a dreaded 2017 World Series rematch. In a way, that would only be fitting for all things 2020.
★ ★ ★
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