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Daniel Bard enters a crossroads in 2024

The veteran reliever dazzled last season, but his future appears clouded following a tough 2023

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 25, Daniel Bard: 0.1 rWAR

Anyone reading this article is almost certainly already familiar with the incredible, odds-defying comeback of Daniel Bard. His 2020 season was a remarkable story of perseverance that saw him blow expectations out of the water and his inspiring season netted him the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. While his sophomore Rockies campaign didn’t quite leave the same positive impact, “Bardo’s” 2022 season was nothing short of dazzling. The veteran posted an unbelievable 1.79 ERA and recorded 69 strikeouts and 34 saves. Bard stabilized a Colorado bullpen in desperate need of veteran leadership, and was a lockdown ninth-inning stalwart. He had finally reached the heights he’d longed for since his rookie season 13(!!) years prior, and the Rockies front office rewarded his efforts with a two-year, $19 million extension just ahead of the trade deadline. Bard was here to stay.

The right-hander, unfortunately, could not replicate that success this season. Before discussing his regular season results, it’s certainly worth nothing that Bard was a member of Team USA for this year’s the World Baseball Classic. While an exciting development prior to the tournament’s beginning, Bard would unfortunately struggle mightily in the WBC, allowing eight earned runs in just 1 23 innings, walking four and striking out just two. More than that, he saw his command of his pitches waver mightily, culminating in a controversial hit-by-pitch of José Altuve which would cause the latter to miss time in the regular season. While of course wholly unintentional, this event seemed to rattle Bard in a significant way, and would prove to be a harbinger of hard times to come.

The regular season would prove to be difficult for the veteran reliever as well. Starting the season in the injured list for his anxiety, Bard would rejoin the team midway through April and while starting off well enough (posting sub-1.00 ERAs in April and May), would struggle mightily for the majority of the campaign (4.00-plus ERAs in all other months). Command would prove to be his greatest hurdle, as the reliever walked more than he struck out and posted the highest WHIP of his career as a result.

With that tough season now in the rearview, the questions becomes how to proceed. Bard is under contract with Colorado through the 2024 season, and will become an unrestricted free agent following its end. He’ll be 38-years-old entering this season and will need to return to form to assist a Rockies bullpen that includes a bevvy of young arms. “Bardo” would be a phenomenal mentor figure to these talents getting their first taste of MLB action, especially with the closer role likely having been ceded to Justin Lawrence or Tyler Kinley, leaving Bard likely to be viewed as a middle reliever.

Bard’s openness with anxiety and mental health is incredibly brave and shows the massive strain that professional athletes must endure to perform at the highest levels of their respective sports. Hopefully he can overcome these obstacles this offseason and become a solid relief arm for the Rockies in 2024, especially since his velocity appears to still be top-notch despite his setbacks (his fastball still touches mid-to-upper 90’s and his slider is a plus pitch). If he cannot, Bard may find himself nearing the end of an inspiring career.

If that’s the case, he has been a joy to watch on the field and an important figure off it. I hope that his story inspires more athletes to prioritize their own mental health and wellbeing. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in doing so.