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The Rockies should not rebuild (early) in 2021

Some key factors work against the long-term success of this strategy

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Should the Rockies rebuild?

This is a topic that elicits strong reactions since a rebuild means, among other things, trading Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, and fans really like those guys.

Colorado Rockies Summer Workouts Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

On the other hand, as good as they are, Arenado and Story can’t do everything. In a tweet from December 8, 2020, Mike Petriello provides some insight:

First, this chart makes clear that the Rockies are not very good. Second, it shows the Rockies have Arenado and Story . . . and then everybody else. Moreover, Dick Monfort has said there’s no money this year, so it appears that the Rockies do not plan to spend their way out of the hole in which they find themselves.

Key players (e.g., Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Jon Gray) will become free agents at the end of the 2021 season, so if the Rockies are not contenders, surely it only makes sense to trade them for something in return.

We know, too, that the Rockies’ farm system is not good: ranks it #28; Baseball America says #27; and The Athletic settles on #20.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s time for significant change. Bryan Kilpatrick summarizes the case for a rebuild:

Let’s be honest: things look bleak for the Rockies even if the likes of Blackmon and Arenado, both of whom would likely be leaving tremendous amounts of money on the table if they opt to test the market after 2021, decide to stick around. Colorado ranks at or near the bottom of baseball in WAR at catcher, first base, second base, outfield, and in the bullpen. There are a lot of holes and—with Arenado’s strained relationship with general manager Jeff Bridich, Story’s impending free agency, and Blackmon’s aging—not a lot of time to fill them.

I recommend reading the article in its entirety because he’s not wrong.

But I’m going to argue against the Rockies doing a rebuild — at least for now. Here’s why.

There’s No Point in Rebuilding if the Rockies Keep the Same Front Office

We have known for awhile that the Rockies have front-office issues. This is apparent in bad free agent signings (e.g., Ian Desmond, Bryan Shaw, Daniel Murphy) and a reliance on inexpensive yet relatively unproductive players (e.g., Drew Butera, Matt Kemp, Chris Owings). In addition, Jeff Bridich’s trading history has been uneven. (You can read a summary here.) There’s also the front office’s botched relationship with Nolan Arenado.

Fans have seen few indications this is a competent front office.

But there’s no suggestion that Dick Monfort agrees. He appears to be confident in those overseeing baseball operations. As he told Darielys M. in a recent email:

These are not the words of an employer who is dissatisfied with his staff, and, in terms of winning, there’s no point in rebuilding if the Rockies plan to retain the same management.

The Rockies Lack the Analysts to Make Impactful Changes

In addition to the ineffective front office is a depleted analytics department. Two weeks ago, Nick Groke and Eno Sarris revealed that the Rockies’ analytics department wasn’t just smaller than those of most teams — it was largely nonexistent. They write, “According to multiple sources, four of the six members of the Rockies’ research and development team have left since the end of last season, essentially knee-capping an analytics department that was already among the smallest and least effective in baseball.”

And then there’s this:

Some Rockies players have grumbled in recent seasons about a lack of available resources in their attempt to overcome Coors Field and its inherent disadvantages. When they approached the front office for help, those players were often turned away by an analytics team overwhelmed with other duties.

The team that plays in the most challenging park in baseball is down to a two-person shop.

Former Rockies (lefty) pitcher Mitch Horacek explains in a Twitter thread why it matters:

The Rockies need effective analytics to develop any new players they would receive in a trade. We’ve known for awhile that the Rockies are behind. (Remember when Adam Ottavino introduced the club to Rapsodo a few years ago?) Nothing suggests that the Rockies will address this deficiency.

They Don’t Have Fan Buy-in

The Rockies front office has systematically alienated fans. They did not have a formal post-season press availability in 2020, and Jeff Bridich has an uneasy relationship with the media and with fans. (The brain surgeon comments live on.) Look at fan comments on social media and in article comments, and they are not impressed. In short, serious fans don’t trust this front office, and the Rockies do not appear to care. A successful rebuild goes better with buy-in so that fans feel like they’re part of the team during the slog of improvement. Right now, the Rockies, despite an exceptional social media presence, do not have that.

Until Baseball Has More Economic Certainty, the Market Is Unfavorable

No one knows what’s going to happen to baseball in 2021, which makes this a bad time for the Rockies to trade any of their essential players. The market is too uncertain. (This article from the New York Times shows the economic reverberations of a year without sports. If you’re interested in the Monforts’ efforts at LoDo empire building, Nick Groke has a good explainer here.)

Given all of this, Arenado, Story, and Gray — currently — are worth more to the Rockies as players who can attract fans to Coors Field than they are as trade pieces. Who knows? Maybe they will get lucky, and this will be a better team than anyone anticipates. Don’t underestimate a team with Arenado, Story, and a solid starting rotation.

I reserve the right to change my mind, but given that they lack both the philosophy and the technology to undertake a successful rebuild, I believe they should make a run in 2021.