By Raj Merchant
2018 Record: 91-72 (2nd NL West)
2018 Payroll: $143,968,544 (13th in MLB)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
- RF Charlie Blackmon, .287 AVG/.354 OBP/.487 SLG, 2.2 WAR
- 1B Daniel Murphy, .307 AVG/.360 OBP/.506 SLG, 1.8 WAR
- 3B Nolan Arenado, .286 AVG/.357 OBP/.548 SLG, 4.9 WAR
- SS Trevor Story, .271 AVG/.335 OBP/.515 SLG, 3.5 WAR
- LF David Dahl, .270 AVG/.323 OBP/.467 SLG, 1.1 WAR
- CF Ian Desmond, .267 AVG/.330 OBP/.445 SLG, 1.0 WAR
- C Chris Iannetta, .249 AVG/.350 OBP/.435 SLG, 1.3 WAR
- 2B Garrett Hampson, .291 AVG/.350 OBP/.417 SLG, 1.0 WAR
Projected 2019 Rotation:
- German Marquez, 190 IP/3.88 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 3.8 WAR
- Kyle Freeland, 195 IP/ 4.65 ERA/1.43 WHIP, 2.5 WAR
- Jon Gray, 146 IP/4.17 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
- Tyler Anderson, 155 IP/4.56 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 1.9 WAR
- Antonio Senzatela, 169 IP/4.80 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 1.9 WAR
Coming off of a second place finish in the NL West and losing to the Brewers in the NLDS, the Rockies were in an interesting place this offseason. Something had to be done in order to sustain continued relevance in the NL West, especially with the Dodgers as the odds on favorites to win the division once again. The question was whether they should continue their focus on priming homegrown talent or splurge on the free agent market to improve their weaknesses. The Rockies stuck by their perennial agenda and made small depth signings instead of flashy free-agent signings, hoping their previous rosters (with a few adjustments), could provide them the step-forward they needed to become true title contenders.
The Rockies had many vital pieces of their lineup become arbitration eligible this year, including superstar Nolan Arenado, and All-Star Trevor Story. Both agreed to one-year contracts in order to avoid salary arbitration. Arenado was later rewarded with an 8 year/$260 million contract, making him the highest paid position player in the game based on AAV, a worthy contract for a 6-time Gold Glove and 4-time Silver Slugger entering his age-28 season. The Rockies also strengthened one of their poorest hitting positions (first base) by signing 2-time Silver Slugger Daniel Murphy to a modest 2 year/$24 million contract. This allows Ian Desmond to move to center field and hopefully allow him to regain the ability he once had. The emergence of David Dahl last season gives the Rockies a solid outfield trifecta with Desmond and Charlie Blackmon. The Rockies also made an important depth signing of Mark Reynolds, who will likely see some spot-starts or pinch-hitting opportunities. The offseason was not without its tough decisions, however, as the Rockies let former star and fan-favorite Carlos González hit free agency, and allowed former batting title winner and defensive star DJ LeMahieu to walk in free agency, creating a void at second base. Gerardo Parra also left the team after his option was declined.
The bullpen was one area that was strong overall but had some inconsistent players. An important part of the future for this franchise is the promise that some of the arms in the bullpen have shown. Much of the same squad returns to the team this year, except for Adam Ottavino, who signed with the New York Yankees after setting a club record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher. Scott Oberg was able to avoid arbitration by signing a one-year contract.
The starting rotation of this squad is one that impressed much of the season, lead by Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. This group saw no turnover as all key starting pitchers are slated to return, with Chad Bettis, Jon Gray, and Tyler Anderson all signing one-year deals the winter to avoid arbitration.
2019 Season Preview:
The NL West will once again be primarily a two-horse race, with the Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers being the easy front-runners for the division crown. The Dodgers are expected to win the division for the 7th year in a row. With that being said, this division has changed quite a bit, most notably with Paul Goldschmidt being traded from the Diamondbacks and Manny Machado signing with the Padres. The competition for first in the NL West will be more open than recent years because, on paper, the Dodgers don’t look as dominant as we have become accustomed to seeing.
If the Rockies can carry over their good health into this season, it would be a boon for the overall season outlook. Each player in their starting lineup played upwards of 120 games last season, and everyone on the team, except for Chris Rusin, is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Rotation headliners Kyle Freeland and German Marquez truly blossomed into stars in the 2018 season. Freeland finished 4th in NL Cy Young voting, pitching just over 200 innings with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. German Marquez crafted a 3.77 ERA in 196 innings, while also providing some value with the bat, hitting .300 in 60 at-bats with 1 home run and 8 RBIs.
The rotation as a whole finished with the 17th best ERA in the MLB at 4.17, the 13th best FIP at 4.07, and 8th best WAR at 15.0. They were, however, quite susceptible to the long ball, giving up 1.19 home runs per 9 innings with a home run/flyball rate of 13.9%. To some extent that is expected due to Coors Field’s susceptibility to home runs. If the two studs continue their upwards trajectory, Jon Gray returns to near 2017 form, and Senzatela continues to progress in his 3rd year, this rotation has top-10 potential this season.
The Rockies’ bullpen is essential to their success, especially in Coors Field. The pen had a “rocky” year last year, pitching to the tune of a 4.62 combined ERA and .304 BABIP. The Rockies lost their best relief man in Adam Ottavino to free-agency, and as a result, the bullpen is in for quite the shakeup. Closer Wade Davis led the NL in saves last year but also blew a career-high 6 save opportunities. Seungwan Oh looks to slide into the set-up role, as he had a 2.53 ERA in 21.1 innings last season. Scott Oberg looks to replicate his 2018 success with a 2.45 ERA in 58.2 innings. Chad Bettis will likely get the role of long relief. DJ Johnson and Harrison Musgrave look to improve on their up and down seasons in which they showed great promise but also faltered at times.
In terms of position players, this season’s success will be greatly impacted by how Ian Desmond plays in his return to the outfield. If he can play near his All-Star level form from 2016 when he slashed .285/.335/.446, hit 22 home runs and had a 2.7 WAR, the outfield group could be one of the best in the league. Last year at the first base position, Desmond slashed .236/.307/.422 with 22 home runs, had a -0.6 WAR, and played poor defense. This is especially important because of the immense 5 year/$70 million contract he signed in 2017. If he continues his subpar play, it would not be out of the question for top prospect Brendan Rodgers to be called up to play second base and Garrett Hampton to be moved into the outfield in Desmond’s place.
Another area of potential concern in the lineup is second base. Currently, it looks like the position will be primarily played by Garrett Hampson, although a platoon could be utilized as well with Ryan McMahon. Hampson will have to step into the role offensively, and he did show success in a small sample size in 2018, hitting .275 in 40 at-bats. Defensively, the void left by LeMahieu will be far greater, as he was is a perennial Gold Glove candidate in Colorado (and 3-time winner). LeMahieu only made 4 errors in 1115 innings, whereas Hampson made 3 in 99 innings.
The Rockies look like a formidable offense once again, which will only be aided by the friendly confines of their home park. Their offense is spearheaded by 2018 MVP finalist Nolan Arenado, who is almost a lock to hit .285+, 35+ home runs, and drive in 120+ runs, along with providing all-world defense. Arenado (barring health issues) will find himself in the running for the NL MVP once again. Shortstop Trevor Story often finds himself in the conversation for the top offensive shortstop in the game, and rightfully so, as he posted a slash line of .291/.348/.567 with 37 home runs and 108 RBIs, winning the Silver Slugger at the position in 2018. His defense may be lacking at times, but he more than makes up for it with his offense, at a traditionally light hitting position. Charlie Blackmon, although he declined in 2018, still has the skill set that won him Silver Sluggers, albeit to a lesser degree. A full season of David Dahl likely projects stats of 24 home runs and 88 RBIs, along with the aforementioned slash line. The lineup as a whole looks like a contender.
Manager Bud Black has now led the Rockies to back-to-back postseason berths for the first time in franchise history, even finishing with the best record in franchise history on the road in 2018 at 44-38. He has built a solid rapport with this team and looks to continue their strong play into the 2019 season, after signing a 3-year contract extension this offseason.
The Colorado Rockies will be successful if their players continue to progress as expected. The team’s success rests on the success of their pitching staff, as their lineup is one of the more potent in the NL. If all goes well, this may even be the year they win their first NL West division title, especially with the Dodgers’ relief pitching woes and inability to hit with runners in scoring position. Regardless of the outcome, this team will make any game one worth watching.
Predicted Record: 86-76, 2nd NL West (Wild Card berth)
Player to watch #1: Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado is a player to watch in every sense of the word: someone to both follow during the season, as well as truly a player to watch, as in see the man play the game. The game just comes easy to him. Offensively, hard hit home runs have become a staple of his game, but they are simply a byproduct of his sweet right-handed swing. Defensively, Arenado is a wizard at the hot corner, making highlight reel play after highlight reel play. With his great positioning, quick feet, strong arm and lightning fast release, no ball in play within 15 feet of Arenado is safe. His 6 Gold Gloves in 6 years is a testament to that, the most by an infielder to start a career. This may just be the year he finally wins that MVP and cements his legacy as one of the best two-way infielders in MLB history.
Player to watch #2: German Marquez
We already know what Kyle Freeland can do, telling from his 4th place Cy Young finish, so its time to look at his second in command, German Marquez. He showed great progress in his second campaign, coming off a 5th place ROY finish. Marquez was a workhorse last year, finishing 2nd in the NL in starts with 33 (20 quality), 4th in the NL in strikeouts with 230, and 9th in the NL in innings pitched with 196. His 10.561 K/9 was 4th best in the NL. Not to mention the upside he brought to the dish in his at-bats, the Silver Slugger hit .300 with 1 home run and a .650 OPS. Heading into only his age-24 season, if he continues to progress at this high level, an All-Star berth is not out of the question, and for the first time ever, a Colorado Rockies pitching staff will strike fear into hitters.
Player to watch #3: Brendan Rodgers
Colorado Rockies top prospect (MLB #10) Brendan Rodgers could have been mentioned earlier in this article, maybe even in the starting lineup at second base, instead, he finds himself in Triple-A once again. A “freak” injury while taking a swing in September of last year spurned Rodgers’ opportunity to finally get a taste of the big leagues. That game experience, combined with his admirable Spring Training play, would have done wonders for his case to join the second base platoon or even earn the starting job altogether, but sadly, it remains unrealized. Drafted out of high school third overall in the 2015 draft, Rodgers has yet to make his MLB debut, while the player picked right ahead of him (Alex Bregman) has a top-5 MVP finish and an All-Star Game appearance already on his resume. With that being said, if Rodgers makes his debut this year, he would be the same age as Bregman when he made his debut (22). Look for Rodgers to get called up if the second base platoon falters or an extra bat or infielder is needed in the lineup. An infield of Arenado, Story, Rodgers, and Murphy could quite reasonably be considered one of the best two-way infields in the league.