It’s playoff time in Colorado! The NHL and NBA both started their respective postseasons this week and it just so happens that Colorado has teams right in the middle of the hunt for a championship. The Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets are without a doubt two of the more successful teams in the state over the past couple of years and I can’t help but wonder why they have excelled while the Rockies have floundered.
The Avalanche had the best record in hockey this season and are favorites to win the Stanley Cup and the Nuggets are set up to make a deep run into the playoffs. The Rockies on the other hand have one of the worst records in baseball and have no signs of qualifying for the playoffs. How did they do this? What could the Rockies learn from their fellow Denver sports teams to build themselves back into a sustainable, perennial contender?
Find a core to build around
All good teams have an established core. The Avalanche and Nuggets have prided themselves by building a strong core of players that drive the team forward. The best way to build a championship team is relying on drafting and development and that is something both the Avalanche and Nuggets have done thanks to their ability to draft and develop players.
On their playoff roster, the Avalanche currently have nine homegrown players led by their core of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen. MacKinnon has taken the hockey world by storm since being drafted in 2013 thanks to his superb skill on the ice. It’s poetry in motion to see him flying down the ice, deke opponents, and firing the puck for a goal. The same could be said of Landeskog, Makar, and Rantanen, as each player has a specific skill that complements MacKinnon and can sustain the team should one of them go down with an injury. Each of those four players was drafted in the first round by the Avalanche and have grown into a thriving product.
The Nuggets are also built in a way that has established a strong core of players. Nikola Jokić, an MVP finalist this season, has grown into one of the best players in basketball since being drafted in the second round in 2014. His teammate Jamal Murray was drafted in 2016 and is a dynamic leading scorer for the Nuggets. Michael Porter Jr., drafted in 2018, has used the 2020-21 season to establish himself as a breakout star with the Nuggets and a staple in their core. All three players carry the Nuggets and are a big reason why they snagged the number three seed in the playoffs and could make a deep run to the Finals for this year, and many years to come.
The Rockies once had a core that included Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu, and Charlie Blackmon. With that group, they only managed to reach the playoffs twice and win just one Wild Card game. Arenado and LeMahieu have already moved on to other World Series contenders, Story is likely on his way out as well, and Blackmon is growing old.
The Rockies will need to identify their core and commit to building around them, something they failed to do in recent years to keep the window of contention open. Ryan McMahon and Ramiel Tapia are good places to start and there are some options coming up through the ranks like Zac Veen. But if the Rockies want to succeed going forward they need to find their core, capitalize in the draft, and begin to build around them.
A strong supporting cast
A strong core of players can only do so much in the world of sports, especially in baseball. It takes a team of players to win a championship and the Avalanche and Nuggets have done a superb job of building a strong supporting cast. General manager Joe Sakic and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly have been active in rebuilding their respective teams for the present and the future. They have utilized productive low-key free agent signings, impactful trades, and intelligent draft picks to build around their cores and have an overall well-rounded team.
At the trade deadline this year, the Nuggets went out and acquired Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee to improve on their weak spots and turn into even more of a playoff threat. The Avalanche in turn went wheelin’ and dealin’ and increased their already strong depth with experienced players. Both teams went out to address weaknesses with meaningful moves that put them in a better position to succeed.
The Rockies had a chance to make a big splash in 2018 at the trade deadline. In the hunt for a division crown, the team traded for Seung-hwan Oh at the deadline and Drew Butera and the waiver deadline. They also signed Matt Holliday to a minor league deal, and that would be it in terms of reinforcements. Who knows what the Rockies could have managed to acquire, but they missed a golden window of opportunity.
We’ve heard of plenty of other ill-fated free agent signings (or lack thereof) and trades that the Rockies have made, but in order to succeed, they will need to make sure they form a strong supporting cast of players through development and thrifty moves like signing CJ Cron or Connor Joe. The weakness they have had is making moves for the sake of making moves, and not necessarily for the improvement of the team.
Just have a plan
The reason that the Avalanche and Nuggets are enjoying success is that they have a clear plan. Sakic and Connelly have run their teams through successful rebuilds after disappointing seasons, or seasons that have come up short. The Avalanche were the worst team in hockey in 2017, but over the past few years have become the powerhouse the NHL now fears. The Nuggets dealt with years of playoff elimination and made changes to build a team with some longevity that can compete with the best of them. It all came down to realizing there was a legit problem, and that change needed to happen.
The Rockies are at a crossroads in their franchise. Their previous general manager left quite a difficult situation for the next person to take the job. In order for them to get back on the right path and get back to Rocktober is for the people in charge have a clear plan of how to build a winning team. That involves building a strong farm system, analytics and scouting team, and pouring resources into being the best team they can be. If the Rockies have any questions about how to develop that franchise philosophy, the Avalanche and Nuggets are just only a phone call away.
★ ★ ★
It’s difficult to hear the words “Bridich made a good decision” in a sentence but Aaron Hurt makes a good point about the release of David Dahl. At the time, fans were up in arms about the decision to cut Dahl as it seemed like just a cheap financial move. However, knowing Dahl’s injury history and his lack of production on the field, it may have turned out to be a good move for the Rockies. Dahl continues to struggle with strikeouts and lack of contact with the Rangers, so perhaps Jeff Bridich did make a good decision based on performance, and not just finances.
We have heard many times that the Rockies won’t commit to a rebuild, and while they sorely need one they won’t say they are doing one. Nick Groke notes the subtle hints the team is dropping in the way they are using players. The Rockies need to redirect and replenish a weakened franchise system, and they may finally be ready to accept the taboo idea of a rebuild.
On the farm
Ryan Rolison made his Triple-A debut against the Oklahoma City Dodgers and it was not the outing he wanted. After a clean first inning, the Dodgers tagged Rolison for five runs by hitting four doubles in the second inning, effectively ending his night. The rest of the Isotopes pitching staff came to the rescue and limited the Dodgers to just one run for the rest of the game. The Isotopes scored five runs in the first two innings and finally broke a 6-6 tie in the bottom of the eighth when Chris Rabago drew a bases-loaded walk and would go on to win 7-6.
Double-A Hartford dropped another one to the Somerset Patriots 7-2, dropping their overall record to 5-12. Garrett Schilling started for the Yard Goats allowing three runs on eight hits in five innings of work with six strikeouts. In five games this season He left the game with the Yard Goats trailing 3-2, thanks to Elehuris Montero’s fourth home run of the year in the bottom of the fourth inning. Yoan Aybar was roughed up in the top of the ninth when the Patriots scored three runs on three hits which pushed the game out of reach when the Yard Goats went quietly in the bottom of the ninth.
High-A Spokane held on to win over the Everett AquaSox 7-5. Brenton Doyle led the offensive charge with two hits, including a three-run homer in the third inning. Spokane would add four more runs in the fifth which would be enough to overcome the AquaSox. Chris McMahon had a less than stellar start. In six innings he allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits with four strikeouts and three walks.
Low-A Fresno fell to San Jose in extra innings 5-4. Fresno led 4-1 heading into the seventh, but San Jose scored three runs off of reliever Blair Calvo to tie the game. Bladimir Restituyo did put in a 4-4 night at the plate for Fresno, accounting for half of the hits for the team.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!