It’s the business part of the baseball season with players being non-tendered and rosters changing. It has to be hard for teams to make these choices and it’s hard for fans who are seeing players that they’ve cheered for years be unceremoniously dropped. Even though that’s how things work, it’s worth pausing for a second to appreciate what Tony Wolters, David Dahl, and Chi Chi González, who were all non-tendered on Wednesday, have given the organization. Only time will tell if these were good business choices by GM Jeff Bridich or bad ones. If it was simply about saving money, this saved the organization between $5-6 million for a payroll that was $145 million in 2019. For now, let’s take a moment to relive some highlights.
Up first, a shoutout to Tony Wolters
Wolters was with the Rockies for the last five seasons, including as the main catcher for the last two. After throwing out 34 percent of would-be base stealers in 2019, the phrase “Don’t dash on the Stache” took off — an homage to his facial hair and lightning pop-and-throw speed.
But the key moment that will make Wolters live in Rockies history forever is his epic knee-high line drive up the middle to bring home the go-ahead run that turned out to be the game winner in Game 163 in the 13th inning against the Cubs in 2018. Wolters didn’t even start the game. He hit .170 that season in 182 at-bats. He entered in a double switch in the 13th inning and made contact at the right time. I will never forget jumping like a maniac around the living room and yelling “Wolters!” in shock and joy simultaneously. The 2018 season will always be a special because of that Game 163 win over Chicago. That might not have happened without Wolters. Actually, that 4-hour-and-55-minute game might still be going.
Wolters finishes his time with the Rockies with a 2.1 WAR, hitting .238/.280/.270 with 128 runs scored, 123 RBI, 48 doubles, nine triples (he was known to be called Tony Three Bags by Drew Goodman from time to time, especially in 2018 when he hit four), seven homers and 122 walks with 239 strikeouts in 1,232 plate appearances. He threw out a total of 63 failed base stealers, including 23 in 2018, which were fourth most on the National League behind pretty impressive catchers in J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, and Buster Posey. Wolters’ 31% caught stealing rate is best in team history. While he only had three plate appearances in the playoffs for the Rockies, all in 2018, he did hit .667 in the postseason. He also stepped up when the Rockies were in a jam, playing innings at second and third base, shortstop, and outfield during his time in purple.
Entering 2020 MLB.com’s Thomas Harding ranked Wolters as the fourth-best catcher in Rockies history behind No. 1 Yorvit Torrealba (2006-09, 2013; 3.2 WAR), No. 2 Chris Iannetta (2006-11, 2018-19; 3.4 WAR), and No. 3 Joe Girardi (1993-95, 1.0 WAR). In 2019, Wolters was honored as the Rockies 2019 nominee for the MLBPAA Heart and Hustle Award, which goes to the player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game. Wolters was a good player to have on the team and was noted for giving back to the community by helping various baseball programs and growing out, cutting, and donating his hair.
I did it, but it was all for a good cause. I set out to grow my hair to at least seven inches so that I could donate it all to @MaggieWigs4Kids. I’m glad that I could put my locks to good use. pic.twitter.com/JGoVcOZH2N— Tony Wolters (@TonyWolters) July 14, 2020
While his offense struggled often, Wolters was valued for his ability to work well with pitchers and won’t be forgotten for his help in developing the solid young corps the Rockies have now. We wish Tony, his wife, and the entire Wolters family nothing but the best on their next adventure.
Up Next, David Dahl
This one is a tale of what could have been. After being the Rockies first-round pick in 2012 (10th overall), Dahl was the top-ranked prospect in the system for years. When he made his debut on July 25, 2016, he didn’t disappoint. He got a hit in his first game, his first homer in his third game, and became the everyday left fielder (with a few games at center and right). Dahl finished the season hitting .315/.359/.500 with seven homers, 24 RBI, 15 walks, 59 strikeouts, in 237 plate appearances. The Rockies had a star.
But then came the injuries. The freak incidents that hounded Dahl in the minors followed him to the majors. After a strong two-month debut in 2016, Dahl missed all of 2017, only played 77 games in 2018, 100 in 2019, and then 24 out of 60 in 2020. It’s painful to revisit, but the wide range of injuries played a huge role in Bridich’s decision to non-tender the outfielder.
2020: Plagued by a left shoulder injury that started in January 2020, Dahl missed a chunk of Summer Camp with related oblique soreness, but then made his way back to be the Opening Day center fielder. Dahl struggled, hitting .183, and then went on a near-month long IL stint in August and September with that same oblique soreness. He returned for five games, didn’t hit any better, and went on the 45-day IL and then had shoulder surgery in September. His 2020 numbers aren’t pretty: .189/.238/.243 with two doubles, two triples, and no homers.
2019: After 100 games, which is a career-high, and an All-Star appearance, a high ankle sprain ended his season early. His season also started late when he missed the first eight games with a core injury. His final numbers were great: .302/.353./.524 with 15 homers and 61 RBI.
2018: A broken foot caused him to miss two months in the middle of the season. He still finished hitting .273/.325/.534 with 16 homers and 48 RBI.
2017: Missed entire season with a rib injury and back trouble.
2016: Made MLB debut on July 25.
2015: Ruptured spleen and had it removed after a collision in Double-A.
2013: Missed most of Single-A season with hamstring issues.
Dahl’s 2020 season was hard to watch. He wasn’t a standout defender, the center field acreage at Coors Field was a bad environment for him, and he was never a good fit in the leadoff spot. But that’s not what Rockies fans should remember about him. They should remember 2016, 2019, and September of 2018. In the final week of that month, Dahl was named NL Player of the Week when he hit six homers — one apiece in three consecutive games and all on two strikes — and drove in 14 runs. He helped the Rockies go 19-9 in September and win eight in a row from Sept. 21-28, which helped the Rockies get to the magical Game 163 and the postseason.
If Dahl can stay healthy (he’s only 26-years-old after all), which we hope so much for him, he could be a special player. We wish David and Rookie — the Dahls’ golden retriever who has 10.3k followers on Instagram (@rookiegolden) — as well as all of the Dahl family, the best.
And Finally, Chi Chi González
After his first two MLB seasons with the Rangers, González arrived when the back-to-back postseason success of the Rockies was facing a failed threepeat attempt 2019. González, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and then signed a minor league deal looking for a fresh start. The Rockies needed something as the stellar pitching, both starters and the bullpen, was struggling. Kyle Freeland was in a funk and sent down to Triple-A to figure out why. The Rockies needed help on the backside of the rotation and González claimed a spot, but it didn’t go to well. He lost five of his first eight starts (also getting a loss in a lone relief appearance) with no decisions in the other three (also games the Rockies lost) and he had an 8.07 ERA.
Then came September and a new Chi Chi arrived. After failing to make it past the fifth inning in June, July, or August, González then posted three such starts in September. He posted his lone two wins and helped the Rockies record wins in four of his five starts in the month. He was one of many promising players of the “Las Cucarachas” era that gave Rockies fans hope for the future in the midst of a season without chances for a postseason. González earned the No. 13 spot in Purple Row’s Ranking the Rockies series after the season. He also got top marks from former Purple Row writer and Uber driver Nick Hertzog who gave González a ride, and after figuring out that the man who identified as Alex was indeed Chi Chi, was impressed by the “class act—a positive, charming person who made a lasting impression on me.”
Unfortunately, González wasn’t able to carry that momentum into 2020. González made four starts and two relief appearances, ending up with a 6.86 ERA and 0-2 record in 19 2/3 innings. The game that might have sealed his fate was a Sept. 8 matchup against the Padres when he couldn’t get out of the first inning. He walked the first three batters, then got a strikeout, but then hit the next batter to bring in a run. Jose Mujica then gave up a grand slam to Wil Myers in one of the worst first innings in Rockies history.
If only that September 2019 version of González could have returned. The one that gave up five earned runs in 27 1/3 innings for a 1.65 ERA and four Rockies wins. If only. We wish Chi Chi and the entire González family luck going forward.
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Like many, Nick Groke calls Dahl’s non-tender “curious,” adding “Dahl was, plainly, the Rockies’ fourth-best [position] player. And the drop-off after him is steep.”
Groke also believes more cost-saving measures are coming, especially in light of Bridich’s comments on future moves: “I would say it’s a start, but things are fluid and we’ll see.”
Considering the Rockies gave up Dahl for nothing in return, Groke’s article title is on the importance of that not happening if/when the Rockies part ways with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. This is not a feel-good piece. If you want more like it, check out Rox Pile’s Colorado Rockies: Is David Dahl the first of many more to come? by Aaron Hunt.
This is no surprise after a shortened, fan-less season and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred talking about billions in losses and owners across the league tightening their belts. The Rockies payroll was trending up the last six seasons and was set to do so again at a projected $150.5 million in 2021, according to Patrick Saunders. That would have been 12th highest in the majors. But 2020 changed everything and now the trend is downward.
★ ★ ★
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