Colorado lost 98 games in 2012, the worst mark in franchise history. 49-year-old Jamie Moyer started the second game of the season. Jeremy Guthrie was the Opening Day starter and posted a 6.35 ERA before a trade to Kansas City. Jorge De La Rosa rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Troy Tulowitzki’s season ended in May when he needed groin surgery. Todd Helton hit for his lowest average ever and would retire the following year. Outfielder Dexter Fowler and closer Rafeal Betancourt tied for the team lead in bWAR, and neither of them played for the Rockies two years later. Team payroll ranked 22nd in baseball, and the team entered a money-saving phase through the ensuing offseason.
It was bad timing to label 2012 as the “Year of the Fan.”
To top off all that craziness: the Rockies actually went to a four-man rotation that year. Guthrie was moved to the bullpen a few months in, and instead of bringing up another starter, manager Jim Tracy opted for a 75-pitch limit for the four existing arms. (The decision was blasted by many, but at least they tried something.)
It wasn’t a sharp ascension after 2012—the Rockies lost 90 games in three of their next four seasons—but without pushes of reconstruction during that time, who is to say the Rockies would have made the playoffs in 2017 and 2018?
Forget the woes and harsh feelings from 2012. There are rebuilding lessons to be learned here.
Colorado selected Jon Gray with the third pick in the 2013 draft, after 98 losses the year before. They drafted eighth in 2014—after 88 losses—and picked up Kyle Freeland. Both were ready for 2017, finishing that season ranked fourth and sixth in Rockies bWAR. In 2018, Freeland would place fourth in NL Cy Young voting.
The Rockies’ payroll ranking dropped from 22nd in 2012 to 25th in 2013. The low overhead allowed for a world of moves down the road, like the Germán Márquez trade in 2015, the Greg Holland deal in 2017, the Pat Neshek pickup at the 2017 trade deadline, and the deadline deal in 2018 for Seunghwan Oh.
2012 may have got it all started.
A rebuild will never go completely to plan; it can also crash and burn entirely. Some ensuing contracts in Colorado backfired, with all due respect to Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, Daniel Murphy and Ian Desmond. Hindsight is always clear, of course, but if if weren’t for those deals, perhaps the Rockies could have retained other key pieces (i.e. Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu).
The return for losses doesn’t always go to plan, either. The Rockies took Tyler Matzek in the 2009 draft (11th overall). Matzek spent 2014 and 2015 in Colorado with a combined 4.06 ERA in just 24 starts, and wouldn’t see another big league appearance until 2020. Greg Reynolds went second overall in 2006, and went on to post a 7.47 ERA with the Rockies. He pitched two seasons in Colorado—2008 and 2011—while other draftees from 2006 laid their foundation for the Hall of Fame (Clayton Kershaw, 7th overall).
It is hard to know. 21 teams passed on Mike Trout in 2009, after all. Such variability can show how a rebuild isn’t always a rain check to a winner, and a 98-loss season is not always a concrete winning answer. It can at least bring hope for the future when money isn’t spent and draft stock is acquired. Rockies fans had reason for elation last year when Zac Veen dropped to pick number nine; we are yet to find out how the 19-year-old will perform, but we await what we hope is a breakout star. Short-term losses have an interesting way of yielding some long-term optimism.
A competitive team in 2021 would be refreshing to the soul of all Rockies fans. The ‘tipping point’ for that may have already passed, but a long-term approach after 2021 could tip the scale in the other direction. 98 losses were refreshing—five years later.
Also in the “how could we know” category: General manager Dan O’Dowd would resign after the 2014 season before he could taste the postseasons to come. Jeremy Guthrie followed up his dismal 2012 with a World Series ring in 2015. Colorado would later spend a good part of remaining overhead on Wade Davis, a teammate of Guthrie’s in Kansas City. Jorge De La Rosa would return from Tommy John surgery and set the Rockies’ all time strikeout record, Tyler Matzek would post career figures with Atlanta in 2020 after a five-year MLB hiatus, and Jamie Moyer would finally retire.
What stories await us in 2025?
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The baseball world lost a legend on Friday. The passing of Hank Aaron has left the entire sport distraught and somber, but people everywhere are reminiscing with joy on his impact both on and off the field.
Paul Egins is the Rockies’ senior director of Major League operations, and he credits Aaron for giving him his start in baseball. “The overwhelming volume of calls and texts on [Egins’] phone Friday morning brought him back to a phone call so mind-boggling that even he didn’t believe it.” Thomas Harding writes this heartwarming article with several quotes from Egins directly.
Colorado Rockies: Bob Costas names Todd Helton to his Top 10 First Basemen list since 1969 | Rox Pile
It’s like the Padres won the Mega Millions jackpot or something. Their deals just won’t stop.
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