The Rockies’ window of opportunity is closing.
Thursday night’s brutal 8-5 loss, in which the Dodgers blasted five home runs off Colorado’s wreck of a bullpen, left the Rockies 3 ½ games out in the National League West, as well as 3 ½ games out of the wild-card race (with five teams ahead of them).
I’m not waving a white flag. As I write this, there are 47 games remaining in the Rockies’ season and a lot can happen. What I am saying is that the Rockies can’t afford to blow this opportunity, because the window to win is as wide open as it’s been in a long time. But it can slam shut quickly.
The American League has two super teams — the Red Sox and Astros — but the National League has none. The NL pennant still might go through Chicago or Los Angeles, but the road is uncertain.
For the Rockies, the debate is about the team on the field now vs. the team they’ll put on the field in the future. I recently had that discussion with a number of colleagues in the press box.
One view runs like this: Colorado’s young starting rotation — Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela — is going to get better over the next two seasons, setting a stable base for future contention. Talented young position players such as shortstop Trevor Story (already an all-star), outfielder David Dahl and infielders Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers will be ready to shine.
My counter argument is this: Second baseman DJ LeMahieu, a pro’s pro and steady force despite his sub-par offensive season, will be gone when 2018 ends. Adam Ottavino, Colorado’s best reliever, is also becoming a free agent, as are outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra. All of that experience is going to be tough to replace.
Which brings us to all-world third baseman Nolan Arenado. He’s scheduled to become a free agent after the 2019 season. He’s made it crystal clear that his primary goal is to play for a perennial contender.
Could the Rockies’ make him a lucrative offer (likely more than $200 million) to convince him to stay in Colorado? Sure. But if the Rockies blow their shot to make the playoffs this season, the chances of Arenado signing a long-term deal are reduced. Each late-game, bullpen meltdown moves the third baseman closer to the end of his stay in Colorado.
Would the Rockies trade Arenado this winter in the hopes of getting a big haul before his contract expires? I doubt the front office would be so bold, but you never know.
Arenado is a once-in-a-generation player and losing him would leave a giant hole in the Rockies’ roster, and a hole in the fans’ heart, but can the Rockies let him walk without getting something in return?
Those who see the window of success staying open into 2019-20 are counting on the rotation staying healthy, but that’s a risky forecast. History tells us that altitude’s wear and tear on arms and elbows can be severe.
The Rockies’ best chance to be a real player in the postseason is here and now. They are averaging 37,311 fans a game at Coors Field, the seventh-best attendance in the majors. The loyal fans deserve a contender, which is why the club’s inability to swing a deal at the trade deadline to shore up their collapsing bullpen left me puzzled.
Colorado’s front office must have a long-term vision for the franchise. But continually counting on next year isn’t a winner’s game.