Something is missing from the Rockies.
A Hall-of-Fame third basemen? Yes.
A GM with a plan? Yes.
An owner who lets a baseball expert be the president and run day-to-day operations? Yes.
An analytics team that is mighty in resources and numbers and is not asked to do laundry? Yes.
A lineup that can get on base? Yes.
A bullpen that can hold a lead? Yes.
Ok, ok. So, there’s actually a lot missing. That list can go on for a depressingly long time, but those things are not the missing elements I want to focus on right now.
The missing ingredient at play here is character. Right now, the Rockies don’t have any charisma. Where is the joy? Where is some kind of team bonding and spirit? As the Black Eyed Peas would say, where is the love?
This isn’t new to 2021. It wasn’t there in 2020 either. But it was also a shortened, late season in the midst of a dumpster fire of a year, so it was easier to dismiss.
All you have to do is look in the opposing dugout and see the Dodgers. That’s a team with joy. That’s a team with guys who love the game and want to play for each other. Each Dodger who reaches base looks to his dugout and the team celebrates in a choreographed hand signal. When he gets to the dugout after scoring, another set of planned festivities ensue. They smile. They win.
It’s easy to look at that and say, “Of course they are smiling and celebrating! They are the World Series Champions and they are winning. Why wouldn’t they be having fun?” After finishing Thursday’s sweep of the Rockies, the Dodgers’ 11-2 record is the best in baseball.
The same theory could be applied to the Rockies. They aren’t winning. After 13 games, their 3-10 record is the worst in baseball. Dating back to the 2019 season, the Rockies are 100-135 for a winning percentage of .426. Why should they celebrate? Losing sucks.
But what if it’s not the winning that creates joy and charisma for a team? What if it is joy and charisma that creates winning? Right now, the Rockies are stiff. They are frustrated. They look stressed out and deprived of joy. In other words, they look like Jeff Bridich at a press conference.
The last time I remember the Rockies playing with joy and having fun was when Las Cucarachas took over in the last part of the 2019 season when the Rockies playoff hopes had long been extinguished. Everyone counted the Rockies out. They were regarded as a bad baseball team. But they played. They were grinders. They ended the season with a 12-9 run and had memorable moments in a season that otherwise should have been forgotten.
There is no way to measure the effectiveness of having hand gestures, but there could be something to it. It’s been on display in seven of the Rockies first 13 games. If nothing else, it’s a sign of a team that’s enjoying playing baseball. The Rockies have done it, even when they were down and out — and I remember actually enjoying watching the September 2019 Rockies.
The 2021 Rockies are similar the post-All-Star break 2019 Rockies. It’s not like the expectations are high and the Rockies are just not producing. Before the season, Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, PECOTA, put the Rockies 2021 record at 60.3-101.7. Through 12 games, it’s worse at 59.5-102.5. FanGraphs projected the Rockies to lose 95 games (it’s now at 98) and most other projections and rankings aren’t much better. In February, even 171 out of 283 people in the Purple Row community, which is 60 percent, predicted that the Rockies would win 65 games or fewer. The Rockies need to bring back that Las Cucarachas spirit. What do they have to lose?
While it’s impossible to know the true vibe of a clubhouse unless you are in it, the absence of leaders to energize the team is notable on the field. The Rockies have plenty of good guys and veteran players who can lead by example. There could even be a million things going on in the clubhouse that brings this team together and shows that they have some kind of life, but where is it on the field? Is the roster void of outgoing personalities to fire up a team and create an atmosphere that can show fire and passion on the field?
The spark created by the likes of Gerardo Para and Carlos González is missing. That component doesn’t seem to be valued by Bridich, the designer of the current roster; or perhaps this is just another missed factor in planning. Perhaps the vibe for the team is set by the front office and it can’t be changed unless there is a change from the top down.
Maybe the GoFundMe page from the Denver Beer Co’s bid to raise one billion dollars by May 1 in order to offer to buy the team from Dick Monfort is the best chance the Rockies have. After all, what could bring fun to a team like a brewery? (If they happen to come up short, “100% of funds raised will be donated directly to local nonprofits, helping restaurant and hospitality workers in need in our community.”)
Or, maybe this factor is roster-dependent. Perhaps Kyle Freeland’s return will be the catalyst for change and the Rockies can be the “snake in the grass.” Maybe there’s a hand gesture waiting in the wings there.
In the meantime, the Rockies are just growing more frustrated. In the last five games, Charlie Blackmon and Bud Black have both been ejected. Blackmon has only been ejected four times in his career and it was Black’s seventh ejection since taking over as manager for the Rockies in 2017. They certainly seem justified in their criticism of the strike zones being called by umpires on April 9 and April 14. However, the Rockies aren’t losing because of a bad call here and there. Blackmon is hitting .154/.250/.308. Black is managing a team that was tied for No. 28 in on-base percentage at .275 and 28th in bullpen ERA at 5.32 through 12 games.
I am sure it is frustrating. It’s frustrating to watch. But if the Rockies are waiting for the winning to happen before they decide to play energized baseball where it seems like they actually enjoy the game, it may not ever come.
While we wait, I am donating to Denver Beer Co.
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This article looks at the situation the Orioles had in 2018 with being a team in need of a rebuild and the decision to trade Manny Machado and compares it to the situation the Rockies are in now with Trevor Story. It also sets them up as opposite organizations: one with a plan and willing to accept the rebuild and the other, well, you know what the other is.
Rockies writer Nick Groke and Orioles writer Dan Connolly debate the Orioles move and the Rockies current positioning. Both agree that hanging on to Trevor Story for the whole season, all to get a compensation pick, would be outrageously shortsighted. This is something that the Rockies refused to do with Nolan Arenado, insisting they had to trade him during the offseason before he opted out because they wanted to get a better package than a draft pick. Plus, this might not have allowed them to pay cash to the team Nolan Arenado selected.
They also debate how either choice is hard on the fans with Groke pointing about that “Morale is low in Colorado. [Fans] might not stomach losing the team’s two best players in one season, even if that is what’s best.” Connolly said that once Machado was gone, the fans were down for the rebuild, but “Now, three years later, the fans are starting to get a little restless again. But this is what a true rebuild looks like.”
Seeing a headline like this brought me temporary false hope. Amended? Is there a chance the Rockies aren’t paying $51 million to the Cardinals for taking Nolan Arenado? No. The Rockies still are. The amendment lies in an extension the Cardinals have to pay $50 million of his $214 million through 2041. As long as Nolan doesn’t opt out of the contract, the Rockies will still be paying him about $14.5 million this year, $16 million in 2023, and “conditional money … for payments of $5,570,500 in 2022, and $5 million each from 2023-25.”
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