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Unnecessary goodbyes have even worse consequences for the Rockies

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, October 1, 2021

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Being a sports fan requires a balancing act of emotions. It demands loyalty to your team and it inspires a true affection for the players, whether or not the team is winning as many games as you would like. It won’t be everyone, but there is always a solid contingent of players that you just love and grow attached to.

Then there comes the offseason and in comes the inevitable change. Players sign with new teams, trades and cuts are made, and the next year’s team starts to materialize. Fans make adjustments, learn new players, miss old players, and start to form new attachments to the new roster.

Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

It can be joyous. It can be painful. It can be unavoidable. It can be indifferent. We understand this as fans. Sometimes moves have to be made, which is fine if there is something valuable in the transaction. What’s harder to watch is senseless change rooted in unforced errors in management and the operation of a baseball organization. I can admit that I get overly attached to some players and then I have to deal with them leaving. What’s brutal is seeing players flee the Rockies organization like balls leaving the playing field after coming in contact with Salvador Perez’s bat.

Three years ago today, on Oct. 1, 2018, the Rockies were playing in game 163 for a chance to win their first NL West Division. They lost 5-2 to the Dodgers and then lost in the one-game Wild Card to the Brewers. The Rockies were legit – the same solid pitching staff as now and a lineup that featured Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Carlos Gonzalez in the one through six spots. It all seemed to be heading in the right direction and got even better when Colorado signed Arenado to an eight-year deal in the following offseason.

But the Rockies didn’t re-sign LeMahieu, the best second baseman in team history and the starter for the last six and a half years, and he hit free agency. He signed a two-year deal with the Yankees for $24 million, while Colorado gave that same contract to Daniel Murphy. Toward the end of the season 2018, when there had been no negotiations between LeMahieu and the front office, Nolan Arenado was quoted in an ESPN article saying,

“If fans knew how much we appreciate DJ and saw how much we care for him and how important he is to this team, they’d realize what a big factor he is. He brings a calmness to our team. But when he gets fired up, you know it’s something serious. It’s something he really feels in his heart, and we feed off that. We wouldn’t be where we are now without him. He sets the standard for us. We go where he goes, really.”

When LeMahieu left, he took the Rockies playoff contention with him. It was a gut-wrenching goodbye and one that Dick Monfort admitted was a mistake in his post-Nolan-trade press conference in February. With the excitement of a playoff push, giving LeMahieu a proper goodbye didn’t seem to be a priority. The worst part about it is there never should have been a goodbye.

When the next All-Star left on February 1, 2021, there was no opportunity for a goodbye. As it turns out, Arenado played his last game in front of fans at Coors Field on Sept. 27, 2019, but no one would have guessed that because he’d just signed that eight-year contract seven months prior. After playing in a fanless, pandemic-shortened season in 2020, Arenado’s last game as a Rockie at Coors Field was on Sept. 19, 2020. He hit a sacrifice grounder and the Rockies lost 6-1 in a losing season that showed the Rockies didn’t just have a down year in 2019.

After another quiet offseason, Jeff Bridich traded Arenado and cash to St. Louis two months before the 2021 season was set to start. It was a gut punch.

Eighty five loses later, Trevor Story, by all appearances, has now played his last game at Coors Field as a Rockie. He’s reflecting, he’s appreciating, he’s thanking, and he’s even choking up thinking about the young players he mentored will be the new leaders for the team.

Three years ago, Story had a future filled with winning possibilities with his infield buddies LeMahieu and Arenado. If there’s any question about why he’s likely approaching his end in purple, this quote to the Telluride Daily Planet (yes, that’s the real name of the newspaper) says it all:

“I’ve always thought winning’s at the top of the list, for me. There’s a lot of things that go into it — culture and fit, geography — but winning is at the top of the list.”

Fans got a chance to say goodbye to Story this time. Foreshadowed when Story voiced his displeasure with the team’s communication and handling of the trade deadline, this end isn’t a surprise. It’s been building like a slow-motion pileup. While it’s special for the fans and great for Story to get that love, it’s another futile farewell. It’s not to help fuel a rebuild or free up money that will fill vacancies elsewhere. There’s no bright side.

With no communication on negotiations with Jon Gray or CJ Cron, two more superfluous separations could be coming. Gray, the Rockies first-round pick in 2013, has been a starter for the Rockies for six years. That’s a long time for a Colorado pitcher and he’s a member of the rotation that’s been the best part of the Rockies organization over the last three seasons.

Cron’s been the best source of power for the Rockies this season and he’s played first base well. He’s only been a Rockie one year and I am not completely attached to him yet, but I sure would like to see him back. He is a guy who will put up better numbers as a Rockie.

Will Story’s likely departure continue the domino-effect exodus for future players and future Rockies seasons? Will the damage stop this offseason or continue on?

I am just trying to prepare myself for more unproductive and frustrating goodbyes.

★ ★ ★

Jon Gray enters possible final Rockies start with a lot on the line | Denver Post ($)

With Jon Gray in the midst of a slump that hasn’t seen a quality start in almost two months, Patrick Saunders makes the probably accurate claim about Gray: “Perhaps no player on the Rockies’ roster has more at stake as Colorado enters its final three games of the season.”

He auditioning for a job, either to re-sign with the Rockies or to stoke the flames in free agency. Saunders also brings back a quote from interim GM Bill Schmidt who in August said, “We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to work something out with Jon. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t trade him (at the July 30 deadline), even though we had offers.”

If he had offers, I just wonder what would make him pick the Rockies.

How the Rockies’ pitching rotation depth chart, and their hope, lines up for 2022 | The Athletic ($)

Obviously, this will be heavily dependent on whether or not Jon Gray is a Rockie next year. With a healthy Austin Gomber and Jon Gray, it’s possible the Rockies go into the 2022 season with a strong five-man rotation. That would also the Rockies to focus their efforts on boosting offensive production and a better bullpen.

Nick Groke has a breakdown of everyone who started or could start games next season. The possible returning rotation could leave Peter Lambert, Ryan Feltner, and Ryan Rolison as promising pitchers with more time to develop, and it may leave some pitches like Chi Chi González on the outs.

On the farm

Triple-A: Sacramento River Cats 3, Albuquerque Isotopes 2

Things were looking good when Nick Longhi hit an RBI single and Ryan Vilade hit a sac fly to put the Isotopes up 2-1 in the fifth inning. Then the River Cats tied it up in the seventh, setting the stage for Ronnie Freeman to hit the go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth.

Ryan Rolison pitched the first four innings, giving up one run on seven hits, two strikeouts, and one walk. Nate Griep got a blown save by giving up one run in the seventh and Logan Cozart took the loss when he gave up the homer to Freeman.

The Isotopes also gave out their end of the season awards:

MVP and Defensive Player of the Year: Alan Trejo — 34 doubles, six triples, 16 home runs, 69 RBI, and a .289 average in 82 games. On defense, he posted a .979 fielding percentage at shortstop.

Pitcher of the Year: Logan Cozart — 50 appearances out of the bullpen with 50 strikeouts and a 3.80 ERA.

Power Hitter of the Year: Greg Bird — 27 homers and 83 RBI, which is even more impressive considering he missed most of the last three seasons with injuries.

Power Hitter of the Year: Ryan Vilade — 12 stolen bases with other big numbers like 27 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, and 44 RBI.

Fan Favorite: Wynton Bernard — The outgoing player matched his fun personality with skills like a team-best 23 stolen bases to go with seven homers, 29 RBI, 12 doubles, and six triples.

★ ★ ★

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