If we exclude the 16-team postseason from last year, the 2017 Rockies tied for the National League’s worst wild-card winning percentage since the inception of the Wild Card Game. Their competitive window was opening that year, but did the Rockies attack too early?
What if the 2017 wild-card appearance was... a bad thing? Is that even possible?
It wasn’t bad in the moment, of course, but we are left wondering how things could have been if the Rockies waited to play their hand. The expanded wild-card is exciting, but the expansion has lowered the bar for what qualifies as ‘postseason’. The action is every bit of ‘postseason’ as a team would hope for (if not more, being a sudden-death matchup). Our perception of success can thereby clash with the reality of where a wild-card franchise truly is—but after such a rebuild, how could the Rockies have a warped perception?
Colorado made their fourth postseason appearance in franchise history in 2017. They finished 17 games behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West. They were six games behind the second-place Diamondbacks and narrowly edged the Brewers by one game for the NL’s final wild-card spot. Colorado’s campaign would have been merely a ‘winning record’ without wild-card expansion, and the team may have never paid top dollar for ensuing contracts without the postseason appearance.
The Rockies lost the 2017 NL Wild Card Game to the Diamondbacks, 11-8. Colorado answered back in 2018 with a $108 million bullpen investment, $108 million for Charlie Blackmon, and a $24 million deal for Daniel Murphy later on. The deals were a sign of the times; general manager Jeff Bridich implied the best was yet to come. It was, with respect to the 2018 NLDS, but we are left reminiscing on those memories following a .436 winning percentage over the past two years.
The Wild Card Game is full of case studies. Some teams are fresh off rebuilds, while others are clinging onto their last chance before entering one. Some jump the gun and spend too early after a loss, while others hardly jump at all.
The 2014 AL Wild Card sent the Oakland Athletics to the Kansas City Royals; one of the most exciting games of the 21st century ensued. The Royals prevailed in 12 innings, erasing a 3-7 deficit and posting two runs in the 12th to win 9-8. The instant classic fueled the Royals to the AL pennant (and eventual 2015 championship), while it led the A’s into a three-year oblivion. Oakland would finish dead last in the AL West from 2015-2017.
The A’s were gutted within weeks. Josh Donaldson led the team in bWAR and departed for Toronto. All-Star Brandon Moss left for Cleveland. Fellow All-Star Derek Norris left for San Diego. Jon Lester left for the Cubs after a few short months in green. Yoenis Céspedes left for the Mets at the 2015 trade deadline. Josh Reddick stuck around for one more year, but left for the Dodgers in 2016.
It’s important to recognize Oakland’s prior success; they won the AL West in their two seasons prior and took Detroit to the five-game maximum in each ALDS appearance. Contracts were not aging on their side, and as classic film history suggests, the A’s usually aren’t spenders. Their competitive window was likely closing, unlike the 2017 Rockies that had gone seven years without the postseason and were just tasting the fruits of rebuilding labor.
The question remains: How successful is a season that results in a second-place wild card?
We now watch Oakland’s post-2017 resurgence. They made it back to the 2018 and 2019 AL Wild Card Game, and finally sat atop the AL West standings in 2020. If they tried to hang onto their pieces after 2014, they could have found themselves in a similar position the Rockies are in now.
When a wild-card team like the 2014 Royals, 2014 Giants or 2019 Nationals win a pennant, the premise becomes wholesome: anything can happen as long as you get into the postseason. We are then left to decide what provokes the Tampa Bay Rays to part with ace Blake Snell after going 40-20 last year. When the competitive window opens, a team has reason to strike. When to strike—or not—is a mystery that front offices are left to face. Under an expanded wild-card format, it can be cloudy for teams that take the final two spots.
If all of Colorado’s new contracts in 2018 went according to plan, this article likely wouldn’t exist. Perhaps the 2017 Wild Card Game had nothing to do with it, as the Rockies could have made those ensuing deals either way. The play-in game provided a taste of what we hoped was coming, but the desire for an immediate appetizer could have kept the Rockies from a forthcoming four-course meal.
We only got a small bite in 2017. Archie Bradley made us spit it out.
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Old friend Adam Ottavino has traded in his Yankee pinstripes for rival Red Sox threads. He posted a 5.89 ERA in 18 1⁄3 innings with New York last year, following a 2019 season with a 1.90 in 66 1/3. The deal gives the Yankees some additional financial room: “Clearly New York felt that it could replace Ottavino at a lower cost, either through internal means or as part of another trade or free-agent signing.”
This is not Ottavino’s first New York-to-Boston move: he went to high school in Brooklyn and would later attend Northeastern University.
With the Yankees’ acquisition of right-hander Jameson Tallion, they may be less inclined to pursue Germán Márquez or Kyle Freeland. Pittsburgh received four prospects in exchange for Tallion; the Pirates’ return can serve as a measuring stick (of sorts) for what Colorado could receive, should the Rockies opt to deal a starter.
Taillon is a two-time patient of Tommy John surgery and has not pitched in the big leagues since May 2019.
Here’s another clue that MLB Spring Training might not start on time | Bleed Cubbie Blue (SB Nation, Chicago Cubs)
Governmental leaders from Arizona cities shared a letter with commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday, a combined 10 signatures backing a delay to Cactus League spring training. The coveted ‘pitchers and catchers’ report date is usually a day circled on the calendar, but we don’t know what day to circle in our current state.
Al Yellon does some detective work: players typically know their report date months in advance, but members of the Cleveland Indians still don’t know when they are scheduled to be there. (Bad news for pitchers: do you continue onward with your current throwing schedule, or do you back off to anticipate a delay?)
Yellon suggests MLB should push the season back a month. “They might wind up having to do it for reasons beyond their control. They should take charge and do that now.”
A marquee left-handed reliever is out of the free agent market, as the Nationals have picked up Brad Hand on a one-year deal. $10.5 million is more per year than the Rockies paid for Jake McGee or Bryan Shaw (and well over $2.7 million for David Dahl), so it is reasonable to believe Hand was over the Rockies’ budget anyways. He will now look to fill the left-handed reliever shoes of Sean Doolittle, who remains a free agent.
The left-handed void in the Rockies bullpen remains. Phillip Diehl and Ryan Rolison (if deemed a reliever) may be the only ones in 2021.
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