As the trade deadline approached this past summer, the Colorado Rockies didn’t sell off any of their superstar players. Why? Because they thought they were contenders. And they were serious.
Whether or not you think the Rockies actually were contenders is beside the point, really. They thought that they were, and that means the team was playing well enough deep into the season to make their front office believe. That’s a victory, albeit a small one. But when you consider the Rockies haven’t finished at least .500 or higher than fourth place in the NL West since 2010, you take what you can get. They won’t finish .500 this year, but a third-place finish in a division that features the Dodgers, Giants, and the offseason-darling Diamondbacks looks likely. That’s something the Rockies can take with them this winter and try to build upon next year.
Preseason Prediction: In reality, the Rockies appear to be competing for fourth place in the NL West with the Padres, who look like a better team than Colorado despite seemingly shifting into a retooling mode of their own this winter. Colorado won’t challenge the Dodgers and Giants for the NL West crown, and it looks pretty doubtful that they’re going to be able to even make a run at the Diamondbacks for third place in the division.
And perhaps more alarmingly, the Rockies can’t just rely on their offense to carry them anymore. Last year’s squad finished last in baseball with an 85 wRC+, thanks in large part to an unsightly .228/.277/.375 line away from Coors Field. If the offense scuffles like that once again, and the team’s pitching struggles like it has since the team’s inception in 1993…it could end up being another long season in Denver. (Joe Lucia, Feb. 22)
What Went Right: The Rockies had the best offense in the National League (even better than the vaunted Cubs attack) and the second-best in all of baseball. Sure, their home city’s thin air is a factor, but Colorado’s lineup is full of legitimately dangerous hitters who can do damage anywhere.
Carlos Gonzalez had his usual year at the plate, slashing .296/.349/.509 with 25 homers. Heading into the final year of his contract, it’ll be interesting to see if the Rockies entertain offers for him over the winter. DJ LeMahieu had a breakout year and hit a whopping .350/.419/.498, and while he hit nearly .400 at home, he also hit over .300 on the road. Trevor Story had the kind of rookie year that would make almost every Rockies fan forget about Troy Tulowitzki, and Charlie Blackmon shook off an early-season injury to have another effective year as he gets ready to enter arbitration for the first time.
The team MVP was easily Nolan Arenado, who’s come into his own as one of the best all-around players in the game. He notched his second straight 40-homer season while playing excellent defense, and can expect to add another Gold Glove and Silver Slugger to his trophy case this winter. He should also get serious MVP consideration, based on his numbers alone.
Fellow Berkeley Carroll School alum Adam Ottavino showed off his crazy Slider to Justin Turner over the weekend pic.twitter.com/wJfkqVtRHG
— Pitcher List (@ThePitcherList) September 27, 2016
What Went Wrong: Notice there was no mention of pitching in the “what went right” section of this article. For good reason: only two teams in all of baseball had worse pitching staffs than the Rockies this year. Colorado pitchers are always at a disadvantage because of where they play, but certain years have proven that it is possible to have success there. This was not one of those years.
The starting staff wasn’t totally awful. Almost all of their starters will finish with ERAs under 5 — which actually is a surprise. But the bullpen was downright dreadful and will need to be addressed this winter. The Rockies would be wise to build it around Adam Ottavino, who missed the first three months of the season, but has come back to post a 2.55 ERA in 31 appearances. That alone should be enough to get him a Cy Young vote, considering.
Most Surprising Player: Corey Seager was supposed to be the runaway winner of the NL Rookie of the Year award and take over the mantle of the league’s best shortstop, but Story gave him a run for his money up until an injury in late July ended his season. He burst onto the scene, hitting 10 homers the first month of the season while showing good all-around ability at the plate and in the field. He got stronger as the year went on, too, proving his March/April success wasn’t a fluke. Nobody expected Story to emerge this year, and if it wasn’t for Jose Reyes’ suspension he might not have had the chance. He grabbed the opportunity and ran with it, and should be a fixture in the Rockies’ lineup going forward.
Most Disappointing Player: It’s tough to give out a “most disappointing” award on a team that wasn’t expected to do anything to begin with, but if you had to pick, the dishonor goes to Jeff Hoffman. Colorado’s second-best prospect (and best pitching prospect, according to MLB.com) will finish the year in the bullpen after being roughed up in his first five big league starts, with the hope being that the team can save some wear and tear on his arm (he’s not far removed from Tommy John surgery) and that he can come into spring training stronger and earn a rotation spot. It’s probably unfair to label his year a disappointment but the Rockies, a team that’s been searching for rotation stability ever since their inception, were probably hoping to see a little more from the centerpiece of their Tulowitzki trade. They’ll need Hoffman to take a big step forward next year.
The Future: The Rockies have some decisions to make this winter. Will they trade Gonzalez for pitching and use the money saved to lock up Blackmon? Will they be able to find enough arms on the open market to give them a competent bullpen? Can they do anything to fix their rotation? The Rockies are always going to hit, but whether or not they can find pitching will be the deciding factor on how they follow up their most successful season since the start of this decade. They have a lot of intriguing pieces, and if they make smart moves this offseason it wouldn’t be out of the question to see them compete for the Wild Card as early as next year. Believe it.