Rockies hoping to build on 2019 success
By Dan Karpiel
While the weather we have been experiencing of late may not have us in a spring mood, today is the first day of spring, and in one week our Colorado Rockies will be opening their 2019 season.
Despite rumors persisting through the offseason that the Rox would be making some splashes to bolster a roster that last season posted a 91-72 record, the second-highest win total in the team’s history, and played in the National League Division Series, the team was relatively quiet.
The biggest news of the offseason came not from who the team added – a list that begins and ends with veteran first-baseman Daniel Murphy – but the team reached a long-term agreement with superstar third-baseman Nolan Arenado.
Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million contract extension with Colorado on Feb. 27. Arenado’s accomplishments are well-known; the soon-to-be-28-year-old has won the Gold Glove award in all six of his major league seasons, a feat never before accomplished, has been an All-Star four times, won four Silver Slugger Awards, won the NL homerun title three times and the RBI title twice.
Colorado also signed Manager Bud Black to a contract extension and said goodbye to veteran second-baseman D.J. LeMahieu, outfielder Gerardo Parra, and relief pitcher Adam Ottavino. The loss of Ottavino cannot be overlooked, even if from a financial perspective it was a must for the team. Last season Ottavino was Colorado’s most reliable arm out of the bullpen, posting a team-best 2.45 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 75 appearances. Also departing was veteran and fan-favorite Carlos Gonzalez, who signed with Cleveland a few days ago after a long and storied career in Denver.
LeMahieu’s shoes will also be hard to fill as the two-time All-Star, while far from flashy, was a reliable bat in the lineup with his .298 career average and a stellar defensive infielder who won three Gold Gloves for Colorado. The Rox current plan is to start 24-year-old Ryan McMahon at second base, a promising but unproven player who has come up through Colorado’s minor-league system. In 200 career big league at bats, admittedly a small sample size, McMahon has slashed just .225/.310/.360, numbers that must improve markedly if he is to remain in Black’s every-day lineup.
Murphy brings a veteran bat to the lineup, coming over in the offseason from the Chicago Cubs. Murphy is a reliable player with a .299/.344/.458 career slash line with 122 homeruns and 333 doubles in 10 major league seasons. Murphy will plug the gap at first base for Colorado and, along with Gonzalez’s departure, opens the door for Ian Desmond to return to his more natural role in the outfield. Currently, the Rockies list Desmond at the top of the depth chart in centerfield, with bearded fan-favorite Charlie Blackmon shifting over to right.
Strange as it may sound for those of us who have watched the Rockies since their inception, the team’s biggest strength appears to be their starting rotation. Anchored by Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, both of whom were Cy Young Award candidates last season, Colorado appears to have a pair of young aces to anchor the rotation for the next several years. Furthermore, Freeland and Marquez atop the rotation allows for up-and-down starters Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray to serve as the team’s third and fourth starters, which will hopefully take some pressure off the promising but maddeningly inconsistent 20-somethings.
The Rockies of 2019 appear well-poised to once again be in contention, not just for the National League Wild Card but also from the NL West division crown, one trophy the franchise is yet to win. Some fans do question why the team did not make a bigger splash by adding a proven bat in free agency, a valid concern considering Colorado hit .256 as a team in 2018 and scored only two runs in their three-game postseason sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Yet the organization remains publicly confident Arenado, Blackmon and shortstop Trevor Story will continue to be productive at the plate, Murphy’s veteran presence will be a stabilizing force in the order, and young outfielder David Dahl is ready to become the star he was drafted to be. Furthermore, with a strong starting rotation and a bullpen that is high on potential, it would be foolish for anyone to count the Rockies out in 2019.
My humble prediction for the 2019 season? Put the Rox down for a 92-70 season, good enough for another Wild Card berth but not enough to catch the deep-pocketed Dodgers, who finish 95-67, in the NL West race.
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