Despite Swift Exit from NLDS, Future is Still Bright in Colorado

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The Colorado Rockies’ 2018 postseason went from a thrilling victory in the winner-take-all National League Wild Card Game to a fast, heartbreaking sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Rockies exited the 2018 postseason without so much as a whimper, bringing a disappointing end to a season filled with optimism and hope.

However, there is plenty of the reason to believe that this optimism will follow the team all the way into the 2019 season and beyond. The Rockies are filled to the brim with young talent that is complimented nicely by established, veteran talent around them. Breakout stars such as Kyle Freeland, Trevor Story, German Marquez, and David Dahl provided the spark that Rockies fans have long been waiting for.

With all of that being said, the Rockies will have a few housekeeping things to take care of this offseason before looking forward to a fresh start in 2019. How Colorado decides to approach these decisions will shape the franchise for years to come.

Free Agency: Who’s In, Who’s Out?

The Rockies have several key players whose contracts will expire once the 2018 season is officially over. DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, and Adam Ottavino are all free agents this offseason.

The @Rockies might have been sent out of the postseason early, but they'll be back. The future still looks bright for the franchise in Denver.Click To Tweet

Meanwhile, Colorado’s 27-year old superstar, Nolan Arenado, will be entering into the final year of his contract, and his future with the team may be the biggest question of the offseason. The Rockies are under no pressure to do anything about Arenado at this moment, but there is no doubt that the organization would like to sign him to a contract extension before he hits the market at the end of the 2019 season.

Arenado recently spoke to MLB.com about the team and his looming free agency, courtesy of Manny Randhawa.

“I think we have a good, solid core group,” Arenado said. “I think you’re always willing to add pieces to help you get better. I think it was a good sign that offensively, we need to get better. I don’t know if that’s with [outside] help, or we just need to change our approaches and get better at the plate. I know that individually, I need to get better.

“Obviously arbitration is going to come around, and that topic will come up, but I expect to be in spring training with the Rockies next year,” Arenado said. “I love it here. This is a business, though, and things can get a little iffy because of the business side of it. But that being said, I expect to be in spring training next year.”

Arenado is a mega star, there is no denying that, and it would behoove the Rockies to push for a contract extension now before his free agency becomes a storyline that the team cannot control. The last thing the Rockies want is to go through what the Baltimore Orioles went through with Manny Machado, which ended with them having to trade away their superstar mid-season.

As for LeMahieu, his future with the team will largely depend on how big of a payday he is expecting. LeMahieu, 30, has been with Colorado since 2012 and has been an instrumental part of their success over the past several years. In 2016, LeMahieu won the National League batting title, hitting .348 that season. His numbers dipped slightly in 2018, as he finished with a .276 batting average while playing in 128 games, the fewest he’s played in since 2013.

Should LeMahieu decide to walk, or should Colorado decide not to pay him what he wants, the team may already have his replacement lined up in the person of Garrett Hampson. The 23-year-old infielder made his debut back in July and ended up playing in 24 games with the Rockies, batting .275 in that time. LeMahieu is an All-Star caliber infielder, but the team may decide to let him walk in order to save some its payroll for Arenado, whom will warrant a sizable contract regardless of where he chooses to sign.

Colorado Finally Has Starters, but it Needs More.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the 2018 Colorado Rockies and variations of the Rockies in years past is the talent in the starting rotation. The 2018 Rockies were led by Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, both of whom won more than 12 games and pitched approximately 200 innings for the team this year. Colorado has always had trouble finding consistent, successful starting pitchers due to its home ballpark, Coors Field, which can often feel like the equivalent of trying to pitch on the moon.

Freeland and Marquez are both young, impressive talents that will anchor the Rockies rotation for years to come. However, there is a drastic drop-off in consistency and performance when it comes to the rest of the starting rotation. Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, and Chad Bettis rounded out the rotation sporting inflated numbers that very much resemble those of Rockies rotations from the past.

The Rockies will undoubtedly be in the market for more starting pitching this offseason, but it will be a hard task to complete. Coors Field will serve as the largest deterrent for any free agent pitcher who doesn’t want to see their ERA go up exponentially. With any luck, the success of youngsters such as Freeland and Marquez will convince other pitchers around the league that Coors Field is not as scary as it has always seemed.

Bullpen Help Wanted. Please Apply.

The biggest weakness of the 2018 Colorado Rockies was, without question, their bullpen. The Rockies bullpen ranked 26th in all of baseball, posting a collective 4.62 ERA throughout the season. The bullpen woes reared their ugly head in the playoffs as well, allowing nine earned runs in the 17 innings they pitched in Colorado’s brief postseason stint.

The Rockies believed that they had fortified the back end of their bullpen when they signed Wade Davis last offseason to be their closer. However, despite setting a career high by recording 43 saves, Davis struggled throughout the 2018 season, posting a 4.13 ERA and being charged with six blown saves.

Wade Davis was certainly not the only problem in the Rockies bullpen. Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw both appeared in 61 games this season out of the bullpen, posting ghastly ERAs of 5.93 and 6.49, respectively. Colorado’s only reliable reliever in 2018 was its former closer, Adam Ottavino, who recorded an impressive 6-4 record with a 2.45 ERA in 75 games this season. Ottavino is a free agent this offseason and, while Colorado will certainly push hard to keep him, Ottavino may prefer to reprise his role as a closer somewhere else.

Go ahead and add relief pitching to Colorado’s shopping list for the offseason, as the team will need that just as much as it needs help in the starting rotation.

There are many challenges and questions facing the Colorado Rockies going forward, but the bottom line is that there is a lot of optimism surrounding this organization and with good reason. The young talent on this team will only get better as time goes on. The black cloud that is Nolan Arenado’s eventual free agency will loom until the Rockies confront it head-on, but hopefully, for the organization and its fans they will lock him into an extension just as they did with Charlie Blackmon back in April of this year.

One thing is for sure: the Colorado Rockies are here to stay, and they will be a top contender in the National League West for years to come.

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