The Rockies Went Backwards by Doing Nothing

At 4 PM EST last Friday, the trade deadline closing bell rang, and when it did, those of us on the outside looking in were glued to Twitter to learn about the trades that had been completed right before the countdown clock hit zero. It usually takes a little while to learn about all the transactions that get completed in those final minutes. Plenty of players found new homes, but the surprise of the afternoon was that when the dust settled, Trevor Story was still a member of the Colorado Rockies.

The Rockies are 21 games out of first place in their division. Per our Playoff Odds (and good sense), their chances of reaching the postseason this year are a big fat zero, and have been for some time. They also play in the toughest division in baseball, with the Dodgers and Padres looking like teams that will sit at the top of the National League West standings for years to come. The Rockies need to make drastic changes in order to take on those two powerhouses (and the Giants aren’t exactly slouches), and those changes should have begun on Friday. Instead, they sat on their hands, losing a golden opportunity to kick-start a return to competitiveness for a franchise that has reached the playoffs just five times in 28 seasons and has still never won a division title.

Colorado did make one trade during deadline week, sending reliever Mychal Givens and his expiring contract to the Reds for a pair of fringe pitching prospects. But that’s not starting a re-build or, if that term strikes you as too strong, re-tooling the roster so much as it is taking care of some necessary chores. And while Givens departed, there were other players rumored to be on the move who ended up staying put. Holding on to Jon Gray is a curious decision. The team hasn’t earned the benefit of anybody’s doubt, but let’s give it to them in the case of Gray, who has publicly stated his desire to stay in Colorado. Player comfort leads to better player performance, and if they can sign him to an extension, this makes sense. The jury can still be out on that one. But Daniel Bard still being the teams’ closer on August 1 is significantly more difficult to explain. Again, there is surely some loyalty here, and the Rockies deserve some credit for getting Bard back on the mound and finding a decent late-inning option in the process, but as a free agent following the 2022 season (a season in which Colorado will almost certainly not contend), the club just squandered Bard’s peak trade value, and yet another chance to boost a farm system that is among the worst in baseball.

Rockies leadership tries to say the right things (we’ll ignore the club’s strange insistence that this is a very talented team that has simply underperformed), like that they are excited about the young core in their starting rotation, and that they want to spend this winter trying to improve the offense. You know, the offense that could use a guy like Nolan Arenado, who was jettisoned in a move that seemed to be at least somewhat driven by a clash with management just two years after signing a Rockie-for-life extension. Or the offense that would benefit from a contact-driven machine like DJ LeMahieu. At least there, owner Dick Monfort admitted the team erred by allowing LeMahieu to sign elsewhere when he inked a two-year deal with the Yankees prior to the 2019 season that was below industry expectations. But trying to say the right thing hasn’t translated to good process or results, and now we can add Trevor Story to the list of playoff-caliber players looking forward to getting out of Denver.

Maybe they really do believe that the compensatory draft pick they’ll receive when Story departs in free agency after being tagged with a qualifying offer is better than the deadline offers they had in hand. Story’s 2021 performance certainly led to a depressed market for the shortstop. But it’s nearly impossible to believe that no team was willing to offer a prospect, or a package of prospects, with greater value than a pick in the 30s. Not to mention that that player (or players) would immediately become a Rockie and hopefully begin his path to the big leagues, while the player Colorado gets with a 2022 compensation pick won’t even begin his pro career until a year from now, thus further delaying any hope for a return to competitiveness.

Despite their struggles as a franchise, the Rockies have never had a full front office turnover. The people in charge can be traced, family-tree style, to the team’s origins. In terms of their strategy, behavior and responsiveness, other clubs have found them somewhere between confusing and frustrating to work with for years. There is nothing wrong with zigging when other teams zag, but at times the Rockies operate with seemingly no understanding of the Major League Baseball rule set, or what must be done within it to build a good roster.

And to be clear, I feel bad for Bill Schmidt, the team’s vice president of scouting who currently serves as the interim general manager. With front office personnel departing the organization left and right over the last 12 months, he was put in an exceptionally difficult spot. He’s a well-respected talent evaluator and a well-liked person who was placed in an absolutely untenable situation; it’s like being made captain of the Titanic, but only after it hits the iceberg. I can’t help but think that his activity (or more accurately, unforgivable inactivity) during deadline week rests on the shoulders of Monfort, who at times seems to care more about optics than winning. Those optics took a severe hit when a visibly upset Story expressed his frustration and confusion with the situation, talked about the toll it has taken on his on-field performance, and pulled himself from Friday’s lineup.

Bud Black spoke after the deadline about how the team needed to score more runs. He’s certainly not wrong, as the Rockies entered the week 10th in the National League in on-base percentage and ninth in slugging despite playing half of their games at Coors Field. No position player has accumulated as much as 2 WAR on the season; their best qualified hitter has been Brendan Rodgers, who has a wRC+ of 103. The third overall pick in the 2015 draft, at age 24 Rodgers feels like he’s begun to turn a corner. His wild approach is now merely aggressive, and the power potential is starting to show up in games. He’s beginning to look very much like a building block kind of player and he doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2025 season. But based on what we’ve seen from the Rockies over the past five years, and their inability to project anything close to a competent organization, chances are much better than he’ll just become the next disillusioned, talented infielder looking for a way out of the Mile High City.





Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

Not trading Story at the deadline because you liked the comp pick value better than any offers you got is defensible, with the caveat that we don’t actually know what those offers were.

What is indefensible is that the offers were so low because the Rockies chose not to trade Story when it made the most sense to, which was last offseason. Going into the season it was obvious that the Rockies were entering a long window where they are going to play third or fourth fiddle in the division. Now they are in that window and don’t look like they have much in the way of assets to claim that they can be ready to be good when the Dodgers and Padres get old and expensive.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I’d say this analysis is mostly correct. I’d say about 90% of moves we really hate are actually no-win situations because of indefensible moves they made in the last 12 months.

In this case, it was holding Story until his market completely collapsed. You’re a rebuilding team and you have a 5+ win shortstop who insists he won’t sign an extension with you? This is the situation they were in this offseason.

It’s worth noting that this is actually the same thing that happened with Arenado, too. He had been pissed about the direction of the team for a year IIRC (maybe more?) but then they waited until he had his worst season ever to trade him.

mikejunt
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mikejunt

I mean I definitely agree with you here. It reminds me of something I saw recently about how Americans often insist about discussing and analyzing things tactically instead of strategically.

A number of recent team blowups that we would generally pan in a strategic sense (Cubs this week, Red Sox trading Betts) can be logical if you break them down to the in-the-moment situation. If re-signing the players was, at that point, not possible or realistic (because the well had already been poisoned), trading Betts, Bryant, etc so you get something instead of nothing made sense.

Strategically, however, allowing the situation to reach that point didn’t make any sense. Now, in the Red Sox case, the trading GM (Bloom) and the person responsible (Dombrowski) weren’t the same. In the Cubs instance, though, Hoyer was a big part of the Epstein front office – responsible for the bad strategic approach in the first place!

Who knows who’s even in charge in Colorado. I think it’s pretty sketch to think that they couldn’t do better than the comp pick with Story, even if he’s struggling a bit, there’s a bunch of teams out there who could use the help. And indeed I think there’s evidence that this is an excuse: there was a “Rockies lowering asking price for Story” report about 3 hours before the deadline. I would guess they did not have a realistic asking price until it was too late to get a deal done.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

The Cubs fire sale and the Red Sox trading Betts are also excellent examples of when you shouldn’t blame them today you should blame them for the foolishness that happened a long time earlier.

It’s probably a bit too soon to declare this one as well, but I would put the Willy Adames trade in that bucket too. It was pretty clear he had a major problem with hitting at the Trop and that his 2020 line was never going to repeat itself. But the Rays have a formula where they always trade guys just before arbitration and don’t really bother beforehand. It took his value totally bottoming it out before they finally sold him off. Future baseball fans who look at the stat lines are going to talk about how the Rays made a huge mistake trading him so soon, when the problem was they traded him too late.

newsense
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newsense

Eric Longenhagen rated the comp pick as comparable to what the Nats got for Schwarber. Schwarber is having a great season, Story isn’t. While Schwarber isn’t a lock to be the more valuable player over the next 2-3 months, I think he’s the better bet.

HappyFunBall
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HappyFunBall

There’s also the non-zero (but impossible to quantify) value of having Story in town for 2-3 months and have an exclusive right to negotiate an extension with him. Schwarber may hit more for the remainder of the year, but there’s a 0% chance he gets a bigger FA deal in 6 months

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

EDIT: Comment deleted. I thought HappyFunBall was talking about Story signing with the Rockies, but I misread it.

Phil
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Phil

There is a non-zero chance that Story blows out his arm or some other injury that would keep him out of a substantial amount of 2022 – so Schwarber would get the bigger deal by default.

(Would it be the most Rockies thing for Story to get injured, and the Rockies don’t give him a QO, so not even a comp pick for him, and, lets say, the Giants give him a cheap 2 year deal to cover the injury year)

Richard Bergstrom
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Richard Bergstrom

Injuries have impacted the Rockies ability to trade, such as CarGo before hot streaks.. but overall the Rockies don’t sell high and rarely sell at all.

rhswanzey
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(Defensive spectrum argument here)

PC1970
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PC1970

Even though he’s currently injured? It’s 8/4 & Schearber isn’t even running bases yet, much less started a rehab assignment.

Good chance that it’s 2 months of Story vs 5-6 weeks of Schwarber in any value calculation..& if Schwarber has a setback (hamstrings are notoriously fickle), it could be 2 months of Story for 3-4 weeks of Schwarber.

tung_twista
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tung_twista

Generally speaking, if you are a non-contender with a good player in the last year of his contract,
you should trade the position player but feel free to keep the pitchers.
Around the trade deadline, there are always multiple contenders who are willing to pay for a 3 WAR starting pitcher or a 1~2 WAR reliever.
Cannot say the same for a 3 WAR position player.

Bruce Schwindt
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Bruce Schwindt

It is not defensible for the reasons Kevin explained, namely delaying by years the time until the person received is productive at MLB level.

PC1970
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PC1970

& let’s add in the new CBA, which could totally change the FA comp model. No guarantee there will even still be FA comp by the time Story signs a new deal.