Welcome to Opening Day

cargoMark the date.  This is the first day of regular season baseball for the 2017 Colorado Rockies.  A young and seemingly rejuvenated ball club looks to reach the postseason for the first time this decade.  Flush with talent and promise, their new manager, Bud Black, brings in years of managing experience and wisdom that may just be enough to squeak out a Wild Card seed.

Sports writers are mixed in opinion.  Seemingly everyone is confused at the thought of Ian Desmond’s role with the team.  After all, he signed a five year, $70 million contract to play first base, a position he had not played once in his professional career.  But as the offseason went on, more moves were made that, for this writer, started to paint a clearer picture of what a trading deadline Colorado Rockies might look like in the eyes of Jeff Bridich, the General Manager for the team.

Before we can do that, however, we need to fully understand the new makeup of the roster.

Several Rockies are currently on the 10 day disabled list for varying injuries.  However, one holdover from last season, Chad Bettis, is out indefinitely as he pursues chemotherapy treatment for testicular cancer.  As bullish as Rockies fans are on Jon Gray, I personally believe that Chad was the best pitcher on the team.  Expected to miss at least half the season, it’s very well possible that he may never return to baseball.  No one knows the specifics of his diagnosis except for those closest to him and the medical team servicing his balls.

Ian Desmond, Tom Murphy, Chris Rusin, David Dahl, Chad Qualls, and Jairo Diaz started the season on the disabled list.  Chad Qualls is old and probably will just be injured all season long, assuming he isn’t DFAed at some point in the near future.  Jairo Diaz is coming off of Tommy John surgery and even pitched during this Spring Training.  David Dahl is recovering from a rib injury, Rusin from an oblique strain, Murphy from a broken arm, and Desmond from a fractured hand.  What a spring.

The good news is that with the exception of Bettis, everyone else is expected back rather quickly, which will likely reshape the roster significantly compared to today’s opening game, which the Rockies won 7-5 against Milwaukee.  After all, there can only be twenty five players on the major league roster.

The easy choices to make are with Diaz and Murphy.  Diaz is expected to report to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes upon being removed from the disabled list, whereas Murphy will likely return to the major league roster, thereby demoting Dustin Garneau.  However, I do not believe he will be the starting catcher for the team, as Tony Wolters may very well lock himself into that position.  As a fun side note, the Cleveland Indians are still upset about having lost Wolters when they placed him on waivers.

Chad Qualls is a tough decision.  Sure, he’s in his late 30s, posted a 5.23 ERA last year when he wasn’t on the disabled list, and would likely be a hindrance on the bullpen compared to the quasi-talented players there now.  However, there is something to be said about a veteran presence on a ball club.  He is the oldest person on the 40 man roster.  And although youth is always a great asset to have, experience is needed to balance out the maturity and thought patterns of young players.  The Rockies really don’t have that, and that may very well be what makes or breaks this team.

Not to mention that the Rockies are still paying for Jose Reyes’ release in the neighborhood of $20 million, in addition to the $5 million they’ll now have to absorb after DFAing Jason Motte, who has sucked since his own Tommy John surgery.  How much empty salary are the Monforts really going to tolerate?  Granted, it’s just $3 million, but the fact that I have to use “it’s just $3 million” really speaks a lot about the way this ball club wastes money.  But I digress.  I say Qualls stays on the disabled list, at least until the trade deadline when the Rockies can slap him into a deal with Carlos Gonzalez.  But more on that in a bit.

Chris Rusin will likely be added back to the major league roster, but who will be sent back to Triple-A?

During Spring Training, three pitchers were vying for two open spots in the rotation: Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Antonio Senzatela.  Arguably there was a fourth, Miguel Castro, but more on that in a bit as well.  Ultimately Freeland and Senzatela were awarded the coveted rotation spots, while Marquez was lucky to make the roster with an eight man bullpen, giving the Rockies one more pitcher in lieu of a position bench player.  However, by the time Rusin returns, all three pitchers should have had at least a few innings a piece between them for some indication of how they will fare in the future.  Although most would argue Marquez is on the bubble, I believe Freeland will be the one demoted first.  He was really a surprise during Spring Training and it could very well be that when against teams at full strength, he will do poorly in comparison.

However, I do believe that Scott Oberg will be the first pitcher demoted.  Although he did have a pretty impressive spring, I do not expect those numbers to continue for very long and his 5+ ERA days will return rather quickly.  One indication came in today’s game.  While he did not receive credit for any earned runs, he did blow a tie game by allowing the baserunner left by Jon Gray to score.  He’s just not that good, and the Rockies have shown a lot of faith in him.  I simply don’t get it.

David Dahl’s return will be interesting.  Called up mid season last year, he hit incredibly well during his stint with the Rockies and proved to be better starter than Gerardo Parra, who had an incredibly disappointing 2016 season.  However, with a stress reaction in his rib, Dahl had been sidelined virtually all spring, giving Parra some time to shine.  Perhaps continuing into regular season play, he 2-4 with an RBI.  So once Dahl is off the disabled list, it could be a good problem to have in trying to find a spot for both players, assuming they are both in top form.

Desmond’s role with the team is still puzzling for many, and until he returns from the disabled list, it may not be well defined.  The Rockies still maintain that he will be the starting first baseman.  However, Mark Reynolds, who was the starting first baseman for the Rockies last season, is back on the team again after being signed to a minor league contract.  And considering that he isn’t supposed to be a starter, I’d say he’s starting the season well, going 2-3 with a walk and a home run.  You really want to put a guy who hit in the .280s last season and essentially wins you the first game of the season on the bench?  There’s more to the story here.

Beyond injuries, there are still many reasons to be skeptical of this Rockies roster.

Trevor Story broke into the spotlight by displaying massive power for a rookie, starting his MLB career by hitting not one, but two home runs against Zack Greinke on Opening Day in Arizona.  He followed it up by beating out various home run records and until a thumb injury cut his season short, he was proving to be a serious Rookie of the Year Award candidate.  Still, ending any season with 27 home runs, especially when its your first in the bigs, is nothing to scoff at.  There are players who don’t smash that many dingers during their entire professional careers.

But will that Trevor Story return this year?  Currently, I’m going to say no.  The reason why is the same reason why Jeff Francoeur was never the true star player he was expected to be.  Both players exhibit the same impatience that one expects a young player to have.  However, the key to being a star rather than a flash in the pan is to learn and adapt as you go, and do it in a hurry.  Frenchy didn’t fully understand this until his career had careened off the road, and based off of Spring Training numbers, it’s not looking like Trevor Story is going to be learning it this year.  The problem for these hitters, however, is that their predictable impatience ends up used against them.  After all, that’s what they make the scouting reports for.  That being said, I expect a much slower start this season than last, but assuming he makes it a full season, Story should hit around .270, 20 home runs, and 70 RBIs.  Not a terrible year by any stretch, but not nearly as impressive as last year.

Towards the trade deadline, I expect the Rockies to be somewhere right below the .500 mark, definitely within striking distance of a Wild Card seed.  It would be easy to assume that Carlos Gonzalez gets dealt, given he becomes a free agent after this season and there have reportedly been no talks of an extension.  However, I believe it could boil down to Trevor Story on what happens.

If Story struggles throughout the first half of the season, which is a real possibility, then Ian Desmond may be asked to assume the starting position at shortstop.  Story would likely not be traded, but instead demoted to the bench or perhaps even back to the minors for a spell.  However, if Story continues on a tear like last year, which is also a real possibility, Carlos Gonzalez would likely be traded to another team, along with some other sad sack like Chad Qualls, perhaps for a couple of prospects.  Realistically, Gonzalez will probably not fetch as high a price as Tulowitzki did, as there are no guarantees that CarGo would stay with whatever team he was traded to.  And Chad Qualls wouldn’t matter, because he’s likely going to retire after this season, anyway.  I mean, it’s like LaTroy Hawkins 2.0.

There’s also the possibility that Dahl doesn’t perform to the same level as last year.  However, he was considered to be a pretty good prospect and had no problem adjusting to full time duties in the major leagues.  I expect he’ll be just fine.  For that matter, I expect Gerardo Parra to do find, as well.  It does take some getting used to playing at high altitudes, and I expect he’ll do reasonably well this season.

Throughout the season, I expect that there will be three keys for the Rockies to make a serious postseason push.

  1. Will Greg Holland be a worthwhile investment?
  2. Does Chad Bettis return?
  3. What will Ian Desmond contribute?

The first question is, in a way, misleading.  How does one define a “worthwhile investment”?  First, note that he is the highest paid pitcher for the Rockies.  Although he was an All-Star closer, those days are behind a disappointing 2015 season which ended in Tommy John surgery.  And although most of his velocity has returned, he may very well never find his way back to the pitcher he used to be.  However, the Rockies don’t necessarily need him to be an All Star pitcher.  In many ways, his 2015 season was far more ideal than what they’ve come to expect from the likes of Jordan Lyles.  He just needs to be reliable.  If he can close some games without blowing more than one every couple of weeks, that’s realistically all that the Rockies should expect out of him.  In that regard, I expect he will be worthwhile.

Secondly, Chad Bettis is insistent that he will return in the second half of the season.  However, if they had a crystal ball, they would have seen the cancer spreading in the first place.  That’s not to sound smarmy, but no one knows what will happen with Chad’s cancer and we should not realistically expect him to return this season.

Lastly, Ian Desmond may not be the ideal hitter for some, but for someone with the athletic skills he does, I expect he will adapt to hitting in Colorado with little issue.  Playing first base, however, may be an issue.  However, I don’t really think he’ll be there for long anyway, and his defensive prowess at other infield and outfield positions are perfectly fine.  Overall, I’d say he’s a net positive here.

Regardless of my predictions, two out of three of these questions need to work out in the Rockies favor.  If Chad comes back, but Greg Holland sucks, it should still work out.

The over/under for betting odds has the Colorado Rockies winning 80.5 games.  Obviously, they cannot win half a game.  My prediction is that the Rockies will miss a winning record this year, but only just, and they will end at 80-82.  Would still be a huge improvement for the Rockies, but not enough to earn a Wild Card spot.

Since there was no other place I could shove this viewpoint in, I’ll interject here.  What in the hell is Bridich thinking with DFAing Miguel Castro?  Dude, you could have just released Chad Qualls!  WTF?!

Perhaps this is way too much rambling on, but whatever.  It’s my blog.

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