Is Rockies manager Walt Weiss just messing with us? Or could it be Weiss actually told the truth when he insisted Colorado has five hitters swinging the bat like all-stars: Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon.
All that offensive punch would be a terrible thing for the Rockies to waste. In a year when an 86-76 record might earn a wild-card berth in the National League, Colorado needs to go for the playoffs. Not in 2018, after Gonzalez has moved on to another team. Now.
With three months down and three months to go in a long major-league season, I asked Weiss if his team was ready to make a playoff push.
“I truly believe that this team is going to get better and better as the year goes on,” he replied. “I like the way we’re confronting challenges.”
So here’s the challenge: Prove you’re for real. Act like a contender. Make a trade. Add a pitcher. Despite a 37-41 record, the Rockies are within shouting distance of a wild-card spot. But I’m not the only skeptic around here.
“We’re playing decent baseball. We’re not playing good baseball,’ Gonzalez told me. “Even though things are more positive than in the past, it’s still not good enough. You can’t be satisfied with being a close to .500 club.”
Does CarGo believe the Rockies can make the playoffs?
“I think it’s possible. But there’s something missing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s hard when you get a good outing from a pitcher and then you get a bad one. This is a good offense. We’re going to score runs. But like a game (on Tuesday), when we score nine runs, and you don’t get a win, that’s hard.”
It sounded like a cry for help. Will Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich listen?
The Rockies desperately need a pitcher. Trade season is open. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins, teams ahead of Colorado in the wild-card standings, have already made deals to acquire pitchers.
What should the Rockies do? They can dream big and try to pry ace Chris Sale, a 27-year-old left-hander with a $32.5 million contract that runs through 2019, from the Chicago White Sox. Or make a smaller but meaningful play, and cut a deal for 36-year-old starter Rich Hill or 35-year-old closer Ryan Madson, two veterans throwing well for Oakland, where the trade desk is always open for business.
Bridich needs to do something. He doesn’t need to listen to a knucklehead columnist. And maybe he doesn’t owe anything to the 30,000 loyal fans that regularly show up to Coors Field. Bridich needs to trade for pitching before all the hope in his clubhouse fades away.
Despite all that firepower on offense, hope is indeed fading. Colorado hitters are starting to lose faith. After a 5-3 loss to Toronto ended a disappointing homestand, Weiss offered the usual yada, yada, yada about this squad hanging tougher than recent Colorado teams. But Arenado said: “We’ve been making great comebacks, we’re doing a great job fighting, but that ain’t gonna last long.”
The Rockies refused to fold in June, when they traditionally swoon, and did hang tough with a 13-14 record during the month. This team is tantalizingly close to contending. But the starting rotation is falling apart and the bullpen is running on fumes, which is why you can feel the frustration rising in the clubhouse.
Here’s the difference between the Rockies and Dodgers, and it’s even bigger than the gap between the ridiculous $250 million that Los Angeles spends annually on its roster and Colorado’s $117 million payroll. The Dodgers put ace Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list with a back injury, meaning he will miss his scheduled start against the Rockies on Friday. L.A., however, immediately replaced Kershaw in the rotation by trading for Bud Norris, who allowed seven earned runs during his last five starts with Atlanta.
Rather than waiting for next year and entertaining trade offers for Gonzalez as a seller at the trade deadline, might it make more sense for the Rockies to take a shot in 2016, while CarGo is wearing purple? With veterans everywhere in the lineup — from catcher Nick Hundley (32 years old) and first basemen Mark Reynolds (32) to outfielders Gonzalez (30) and Gerardo Parra (29), not to mention relievers Jason Motte (34) and Adam Ottovino (30) — this is not exactly a young Colorado roster.
Why has it been so hard for the Rockies to build a pitching staff? One example: With the 642nd pick in the 2007 draft, Colorado selected a teenage pitcher as gangly as a condor. His name was Chris Sale. He chose not to turn pro out of high school and went to college. In the first round of the same year, the Rockies drafted pitcher Casey Weathers, two slots before San Francisco selected Madison Bumgarner. Sale eventually found his way to the big leagues with the White Sox, and has a career record of 70-42. At age 31, Weathers labors in the minors, long gone from the Rockies organization.
Yes, hindsight is 20/20.
For the Rockies to have a real shot at the playoffs this year, it will require real vision and the guts to make a trade.