Rockies 2016: Runs will be scored, but pitching will melt
Another losing season for the Rockies in 2016 will make it six in a row, with seemingly no end in sight.
Not fully committing to a rebuild before last season has stagnated their progress. The offense for Colorado could be explosive, but the starting pitching will be overmatched by batters nightly.
Gone but not forgotten is franchise icon Troy Tulowitzki, who was shockingly traded to the Blue Jays before last season’s deadline. It came as a blow to the Rockies fan base, but trading the desired 31-year-old shortstop was a major step toward a badly-needed rebuild.
Still there is the great but injury-prone Carlos Gonzalez, who, at the time of writing this is currently healthy. The 30-year-old right fielder quietly played his first full injury-free season in 2016, appearing in 153 games.
Gonzalez had a great year after injury ruined 2014, batting .271 while reaching a career-high in home runs (40) and earning a Silver Slugger award in the process. He hit for less contact than his career .290 batting average, but for more power.
If Gonzalez continues to look healthy and the Rockies are out of the division race by the All-Star game, they should look to trade him at the deadline for prospects. Why not fully embrace the rebuild and improve on their seventh-ranked farm system, according to Keith Law.
Colorado fans have one player they can get attached and who won’t get traded soon: Nolan Arenado. The 24-year-old is a young star in the making and one of the best third baseman in baseball.
The reigning three-time Gold Glove winner is prolific with his bat as well, hitting .287 with 42 bombs and a league-leading 130 RBIs to take full advantage of playing half his games in the altitude aided Coors Field.
Charlie Blackmon figures to remain a solid leadoff hitter and looks to continue to overachieve. The 29-year-old made an All-Star Game in 2014, so he is more than serviceable in center field.
Second baseman DJ LeMahieu is coming off a career season and hopes to progress even more, but with such a high BABIP (.362), twelfth in the majors, regression seems likely.
Missing from the top of their lineup and leaving a Rocky Mountains-sized hole up the infield will be 32-year-old shortstop Jose Reyes, who was acquired in the aforementioned, heart-wrenching Tulowitzki trade.
Reyes is still on administrative leave until legal issues are sorted out stemming from an alleged domestic violence incident in October. Even if exonerated, he could be facing a lengthy suspension handed down by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
The Rockies have had a whole spring to deal with life without Reyes and a platoon looks likely at short to start the year. Career utility man Daniel Descalso, who spent his previous five seasons with the Cardinals, figures to be the main alternative to fill that role, but will have to do so after recovering from a fractured left hand. The 29-year-old suffered when hit by a pitch in a spring training game against the Indians.
On the mound the rotation will struggle. Ranked dead-last in team ERA (5.04) by a wide margin, this pitching staff will give up leads the offense gives them. It’s hard to attract free-agent pitchers to play most of their games at a park where a simple fly ball ends up sailing 450 feet into the upper deck.
Still there since 2008 is Jorge de la Rosa, 35 years old but reliable. He’ll be average as the Rockies No. 1 starter, but there are worse things you could be aside from average.
Chad Bettis pitched better his 4.23 ERA tells you; pitching in Coors Field is hard. Jon Gray, the third-overall pick in 2013, has a shot to be the Rockies best homegrown pitcher since Ubaldo Jimenez. He’ll likely start the season as the No. 3 pitcher in the rotation.
In the bullpen, adding closer Jake McGee, acquired in a trade from Tampa Bay, was a shrewd move. The 29-year-old doesn’t figure to get many save chances, but when he does, he’s got the stuff to convert, posting a 2.41 ERA in 39 appearances in 2014. McGee figures to be a huge upgrade over last season’s closer John Axford, who signed with the A’s.
Crazier things have happened, but Colorado simply doesn’t have the talent to play meaningful baseball after the All-Star break.
With no impactful signings this team is too similar to the one that lost 94 games last year, and will likely do so again this season. Fangraphs.com projects the Rockies with a bottom-dwelling 68 wins, finishing a crisp 24 games out of first. It’s hard to see Colorado competing with the Dodgers, Giants and now even the Diamondbacks, who have each improved.