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What does the Rockies future look like in 2022 and beyond?

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Part 2 of 2: The Rockies won’t commit to rebuilding, but is there a plan for winning?

In the aftermath of the Nolan Arenado trade, the organizational future has undergone a seismic shift. Part 1 looked at the 2021 season, while this takes a look further down the road to 2022 and beyond.

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As the Rockies community has just experienced, things can change quickly. Seeing a team that lacks identity and doesn’t really have a clear path forward, there could be many more changes before the 2021 season starts and up until the trade deadline. So all we can do is look at what we have right now, knowing that everything could change again.

As Dick Monfort explained in last Tuesday’s press conference, Nolan Arenado wanted out and so they traded him. When a reporter asked if Arenado said he would opt out of his contract at the end of 2021 if he didn’t get that trade, Monfort said, “To be quite honest, in all our conversations with him, he never said it was this or that or whatever. We had the choice of waiting until the end of the year and letting him opt out … but the result was the same. So in dealing with this, we tried to find a way to get the greatest return possible.”

The Rockies assumed Arenado was leaving, so they decided trading him now to “get the greatest return possible” was the best move. Monfort didn’t want to get just one compensatory pick in the 2022 draft. The Rockies wanted more and they should have. But did they get it? Usually, teams trade expensive superstars to load up on future talent (see the Tampa Bay Rays). Did the Rockies get prospects that improve their five-year outlook or would it have been better to keep Nolan one more year and get a supplemental first-round draft pick?

2022 and Beyond

Rockies fans still reeling from the Nolan trade are now trying to come to terms with the possibility of losing Trevor Story or, in some cases, advising him to run to an organization that cares about winning. Bridich did say that he expects Story to be a Rockie on Opening Day.

“Trevor has become an elite player and his situation is separate from Nolan’s situation as is the case with the rest of our players,” he said. “We certainly cherish having Trevor as our shortstop. It’s hard to predict what the coming months are going to look like.”

Trevor’s contract is up at the end of the season and Purple Row’s Eric Fayeulle wrote about growing anxiety that this Story ends tragically for Rockies fans. If the Rockies aren’t contending by the trade deadline of the 2021 season, he could be dealt under the same philosophy that the Rockies would rather get something for him instead of just watching him walk away to greener pastures. Story admitted frustration, which could be enough to start the next Bridich-All-Star feud fallout.

Jon Gray and Mychal Givens will also be free agents after the season. Their performances in 2021 will dictate their paydays as Rockies or for other teams. Ian Desmond has a $2 million option for 2022, but his status is still uncertain as to whether he’ll retire, play, or become the latest big-money free agent acquisition to be designated for assignment while still earning a paycheck from the Rockies.

DNVR’s Patrick Lyons pointed out that Rockies payroll as it stands for 2022 right now is “only $41.3 million guaranteed in contracts for 2022 and just $27.8 million beyond that.” Most of the time, Rockies fans might see this as good news as some big deals and spending to come. But coming off a 2020 pandemic-shortened, fanless season that hurt all teams, and a 2021 season that still won’t be anywhere near normal, the Rockies may simply choose not to spend. The days of being above the league average in payroll could be over, at least for several years.

That same farm system that Monfort talked up for producing starting pitching that can win at altitude in Tuesday’s press conference is ranked No. 29 by Bleacher Report. He’s right that it has produced some, like Kyle Freeland and Co., but the next in line has to continue the trend. This means Ryan Castellani and the three pitchers in the Rockies top-10 prospect list in Ryan Rolison, Chris McMahon, and Ben Bowden.

A few years ago, just in 2016, Baseball America ranked the Rockies at No. 6. However, all the players that helped earn that ranking, are now on the Rockies. The farm system is depleted. The Rockies had one player in the MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list before the Arenado trade in Zac Veen (No. 54). After the Nolan trade, that number is the same. The best prospect the Rockies have coming down the pipe from St. Louis is 22-year-old third baseman Elehruis Montero, who was the tenth-best prospect in the Cardinals system. The Cardinals have three top-100 prospects — outfielder Dylan Carlson (No. 13), left-handed pitcher Matthew Liberatore (No. 37) and third baseman Nolan Gorman (No. 38). But the Rockies didn’t get any of those players. “Not the type of return you’d expect for a superstar, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden said. “They got nothing close to what the Red Sox got for Mookie Betts, the Indians got for Francisco Lindor or even what the Rays got for Blake Snell.”

Instead, Colorado got right-handed pitcher Tony Locey, a 22-year-old who hasn’t pitched above Class-A and was ranked No. 19 in the St. Louis system after being drafted in the third round in 2019. Joining Locey is infielder Mateo Gil, a 20-year-old shortstop who was a third-round draft pick in 2018 and ranked No. 22 in Cardinals prospects. Rounding out the trade is another RHP, Jake Sommers, a 2019 10th-round pick who wasn’t ranked in the Cardinals system. O

As The Athletic’s Keith Law said, “The Rockies just traded one of the five best players in franchise history, one with an argument that he was in fact the best, for one of the weakest returns I have ever seen for a player of this magnitude and impact. In this trade, however, the Rockies just dumped a contract, failing to acquire any players who seem likely to be part of the core of their next playoff team. That is the part that should most get under Rockies fans’ skins.”

Of course, this all represents knee-jerk reactions to the trade. A few years down the road, some of these prospects could turn out to be something special. Special like Arenado? No. Enough to get the Rockies back in contention? It’s hard to imagine. On Monday, Purple Row’s Adam Peterson took a closer look at the four younger players the Rockies got in the trade and what levels they might be playing at in 2021.

The other wrinkle in prospect projections right now is that there were no MiLB games in 2020. Sure players could still train and practice, but without games, their development could take serious hits. Moving forward, farm systems have downsized, meaning not as many players are going to be able to play baseball professionally or maybe even have as long to develop their skills. Both of these could have serious adverse effects on young players.

If 2021 and even 2022 (and possibly beyond) Rockies become really skilled at losing, it will come with the consolation of higher draft picks. This could lead to a restocked farm system that could once again give the team stars like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story, David Dahl, and Kyle Freeland. But that also means a whole lot of losing before things turn around. With the possibility of stars arising, prospects busting, and trades exchanging, the Rockies future could optimistically be seen as a question mark and pessimistically be seen as a black hole that swallows all light.

In the wise words of Mahatma Ghandi, “The future depends on what you do today.”

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