DENVER— Unhappy All-Star sluggers — 1. Impactful free agents signed — 0.
That’s the score for the Colorado Rockies’ situation heading into what could be a tense spring training.
Over the offseason, a rift developed between All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado and the front office (more specifically, general manager Jeff Bridich). The reasons seem to center around the Rockies’ reluctance to revamp the team in any way after a dismal 71-91 season. In addition, Arenado’s name constantly surfaced in trade rumors.
It all led to Arenado recently saying he felt disrespected. The five-time All-Star agreed to a $260 million, eight-year contract with the Rockies last February. He can opt out of the deal after the 2021 season and become a free agent.
Now, fences may be in need of mending. Rockies manager Bud Black intimated that returning to the diamond this spring could prove to be the perfect remedy.
“Players are wired to play,” Black said. “Once we get to camp, I think the focus will be on baseball.”
The Rockies were quiet all winter despite a drab season that ended their two-year playoff streak. They’re banking on resembling the ’17 and ’18 teams that made the postseason, not the ’19 version which spent more days in last place (66) than first (three, all tied) in the NL West. They wound up fourth.
“We’re going to learn from our successes and our failures,” said left-handed starter Kyle Freeland, who went from finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in ’18 to 3-11 in ’19. “It’s time to win.”
The Rockies elected to stick with their core group for this season rather than pursue big-name players. They didn’t add a front-line starter, reliever or catcher.
They are bringing back a familiar face in 36-year-old right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who received a non-roster invitation to spring training. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since September 2017 or for the Rockies since July 2011.
He’s long been a fan favorite at Coors Field. Jimenez was signed by Colorado as a teenager and became a 19-game winner for Colorado in 2010.
To get back on track, the Rockies are counting on injury-free seasons from players such as All-Star outfielder David Dahl, who was limited to 100 games due to an abdominal strain and then a high right ankle sprain. He produced at an elite level when healthy.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Outfielder Sam Hilliard was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque on Aug. 27 and homered in his major league debut. He hit .273 and seven homers in 77 at-bats. He also had 35 homers with Albuquerque.
Infield. Especially if Daniel Murphy can deliver. The Rockies boast an infield that includes seven-time Gold Glove winner Arenado at third, All-Star Trevor Story at short, Ryan McMahon at second and Murphy at first. Murphy fractured his left index finger early in the season and wasn’t the same in his first season with the Rockies. His .279 average was his lowest since ’09.
The pitching staff. All of it.
A young rotation turned in 46 quality starts, which was the second-fewest in franchise history (27 in ’12). The bullpen had a 5.14 ERA as high-priced relievers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee struggled at times. The team locked up right-handed reliever Scott Oberg, who reached a $13 million, three-year deal. He could be the closer.
It may be a drama-filled spring should the acrimony between Arenado and the front office continue to fester. If the Rockies start slow, the trade rumors will no doubt intensify. The team opens the season March 26 at San Diego as part of a seven-game trip.
“Last year was rough,” said Story, who recently finalized a $27.5 million, 2-year deal to avoid arbitration. “The years before that have been good. You kind of have to look at it in a bigger picture.”