When the Colorado Rockies started their 2019 season this spring, the team (and fans) had reason to be hopeful. After back-to-back playoff appearances the last two years as a Wild Card team, there was talk that the Rockies could win their first-ever division title this year. Instead, they suffered their worst month in franchise history in July, and crumbled to second-to-last place in the National League West, with a dismal 71–91 record.
Now, as the team heads into a long offseason, general manager Jeff Bridich is feeling the pressure. Bridich, who has never lacked confidence as GM, must find a way to pull the Rockies back into playoff contention or risk losing star third basemen Nolan Arenado during his contract opt-out option in two years. There are no shortage of challenges to unravel—from correcting his mistakes signing free agents, to healing his broken pitching staff, and dealing with the club’s locker room issues—and how he handles them is likely to determine the franchise’s future. Here are five questions we have now that the Rockies’ disappointing season has come to a merciful end.
Will the Rockies turn the lineup over to the young guys?
The kids can play. Raimel Tapia, Ryan McMahon, and Garrett Hampson have already proven that they are Major League talents. The Rocks have other hitters in their minor league pipeline, too, like Brendan Rodgers (who was called up this year but went down for the season due to a shoulder injury) and Sam Hilliard—who was hitting the ball as well as anyone down the stretch. But to make room for these players, some of the veterans must give up roster spots. Bridich has to decide if he’s willing to move veterans like Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy to give the up-and-comers an opportunity to shine.
Will they trade Charlie Blackmon?
Charlie Blackmon’s walkup song, “Your Love” by the Outfield, has become a Rockies anthem. His beard is as beloved as the Party Deck at Coors Field. The all-star outfielder is a local baseball legend. Still, trading Blackmon might bring in position players or pitchers the Rockies desperately need (more on that below). Is Bridich willing to break Rockies fans hearts and trade Charlie Blackmon?
Can the Rockies solve their clubhouse issues?
Baseball is a Zen sport. The harder you’re trying, the worse you’re likely to do. That’s why a great clubhouse culture is so important. The Rockies’ star players (Trevor Story, Arenado and Blackmon) take baseball very seriously. In the past, the Rockies needed guys like Carlos Gonzalez—who we’re still missing, by the way—to keep things light. But the franchise got rid of most of those players, like Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra, and it’s reportedly hurt the clubhouse culture.
Can the Rockies rely on their pitchers next year?
All the Rockies starting pitchers were hurt at some point this year. And many of them, like Kyle Freeland and Chad Bettis, saw huge regressions in how they pitched between trips to the injured list. The 2019 season was supposed to be German Marquez’s breakout year, but that didn’t happen because he couldn’t command his pitches and get strikeouts. Jon Gray was great before injury, but he’s been inconsistent in previous seasons. The team has a host of guys who might compete for the starting rotation next season—add Peter Lambert, Tyler Anderson, and Antonio Senzatela to the previous list—but many of them are question marks. Do the Rockies feel good about this group returning or will they bring in new guys?
The Rockies have over $40 million locked up next year in three relievers (Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw). All three guys were unreliable for manager Bud Black this year. In fact, there were few pitchers that Black could rely on. The Rockies desperately need bullpen help, and this will likely hang over every decision the team makes in the offseason.
Will Major League Baseball fix the baseball itself?
The issue of the baseball is more important to the Rockies than any other team. Though it was first dismissed as a conspiracy theory, scientific testing has confirmed that the baseball used in MLB games has less drag. This is causing routine hits to turn into home runs. At altitude, these effects are exasperated—the thin air at Coors Field already produces less drag. On top of that, it’s been proposed that some of the Rockies pitchers may have developed blisters trying to find a grip on the slicker balls at altitude. While Rockies fans love when home runs “fire up the fountains,” the team’s formula for success relies on their pitchers having a chance. If the baseball does not fly as far, their hopes go up in 2020.