Springtime Storylines: Will the Rockies make us all look like suckers again?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Will they make us all look like suckers again?

Maybe it’s just me who has looked like a sucker. For the past two years I’ve picked the Rockies, seeing something in them — as I sit here right now, I don’t know what — that made me think they had what it took to win the division. Maybe easily. Was I simply blind to what the Giants were able to do in 2010 and the Diamondbacks last year, or did the Rockies just give off some kind of spark that misled me so? Maybe both. I don’t think a ton of people picked Arizona last season — maybe no one did — and I’ll grant that there is something about a stud shortstop being a team’s best player that always draws me in.

So recently I got it in my mind that I wasn’t going to be fooled again. I was going to ignore the fact that in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez the Rockies had two of the most exciting players in the game. I was going to ignore the fact that Dexter Fowler could break out at any time.  I was going to ignore the fact that, in the NL West, you don’t have to win 95 games to win it all and that the Rockies, even when they have disappointed, have made a habit of going on exciting, Rocktobery runs.  If they keep it close and stay healthy …. no, I can’t do it.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, hey would you like my credit card number Mr. Nigerian Prince’s Special Attache for Financial Affairs?

What else is going on?

  • The rotation has all kinds of ifs. But unlike past Rockies rotations — which always seem to have ifs — there is some sharp upside here. Losing Jorge De La Rosa to Tommy John surgery was a bummer, but Jhoulys Chacin has shown flashes of ace-like talent. And call me crazy — “you’re crazy!” — but I sort of feel like Jeremy Guthrie may find some juvenation in the NL West. Sure, Coors Field is death to pitchers, but is it much worse than facing the Yankees and the Red Sox all the time?
  • Oh, and Jamie Moyer may very well make the rotation, and that’s all kinds of fun.  I hope to get to a Rockies game this year so I can meet him and ask him what FDR was really like.
  • Moyer isn’t the only gray hair Dan O’Dowd brought in. Veterans Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez and Casey Blake were added in the offseason. Blake was released the other day, but all of these additions show that the Rockies themselves aren’t all that confident in many players under 30 not named Gonzalez or Tulowitzki.
  • Seeing Juan Nicasio come back is heart warming. He took a line drive that broke one of his vertebrae last August.  He’s been pretty impressive this spring.

So how are they gonna do?

I want to believe. I want to believe that all of my optimistic assumptions about pitching will come true (Moyer throws 200 innings!) and that guys like Cuddyer will come in and thump due to the thin air. But there are so many ifs with this team. And, as we’ve seen for the past couple of years, the Rockies have a great capacity to disappoint.

Maybe I’m wrong again and me picking them to finish third will look silly come fall.  But I’m pickin’ ’em third anyway.

Andrelton Simmons is absolutely freaking ridiculous

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I’ve been watching Andrelton Simmons play shortstop since he came up with the Braves back in 2012. From the moment he burst onto the scene it was clear that he was an otherworldly defensive talent. His arm was incredible. His range was astonishing. His sense of where he was on the field and his instincts about what to do with the ball were unmatched.

I’ll admit, however, that I’ve seen him less in the past couple of seasons than I used to. It’s understandable: he no longer plays for my favorite team and he now plays most of his games after old men like me go to bed back east. The numbers have shown that he’s still the best defensive shortstop around and the highlights which get circulated are still astounding, but I’ve not appreciated him on a day-to-day level like I once did.

But that just makes me more grateful for the highlights when I miss him in action. Like this one, from last night’s game against the Astros. You can see it in high resolution here, but if you can’t click over there, here’s the play as it was tweeted around:

I didn’t see last night’s game, but my friend Dan Lewis tweeted this out a bit. His observations about it in this thread explain why what Simmons is doing here is so amazing:

The lay-outs, the bobble-saves, the jump-throws and all of that spectacular stuff are understandably appreciated, but the various skills Simmons displayed in just this one play — not to mention the freakin’ hustle he displays backing up third base after it all — is just astounding.

There hasn’t been one like him for a while. We should all appreciate him while he’s still in his prime.

The Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager

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Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend that the Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager. Part of that comes after team meetings between Snitker and top brass. Some of it, however, is likely attributable to player sentiment, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting this morning that Freddie Freeman and several Braves players have told the Braves front office that they want Snitker back.

Is it a good idea to bring Snitker back? Eh, I’m leaning no, with the caveat that it probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the short term.

The “no” is based mostly on the fact that Snitker has had a disturbing trend of preferring veterans over young players, as Bradley explains in detail here. For a brief moment this summer the Braves seemed surprisingly competitive. Not truly competitive if anyone was being honest, but they were hovering around .500 and were arguably in the wild card race. Around that time he made a number of questionable decisions that favored marginal and/or injured veterans over some young players who will be a part of the next truly competitive Braves team, likely messing with their confidence and possibly messing with their development.

These moves were not damaging, ultimately, to the 2017 Braves on the field — they were going to be under .500 regardless — but it was the sort of short-term thinking that a manager for a rebuilding team should not be employing. Part of the blame for this, by the way, can be put on the front office, who only gave Snitker a one-year contract when they made him the permanent manager last year, creating an incentive for him to win in 2017 rather than manage the club the way a guy who knows when the team will truly be competitive should manage it. Then again, if Snitker was so great a candidate in the front office’s mind, why did they only give him a one-year contract?

I suspect a lot of it has to do with loyalty. Snitker has been an admirable Braves company man for decades, and that was certainly worthy of respect by the club. That he got the gig was likewise due in part to the players liking him — the veteran players — and they now are weighing in with their support once again. At some point, however, loyalty and respect of veterans has to take a back seat to a determination of who is the best person to bring the team from rebuilding to competitiveness, and Snitker has not made the case why he is that man.

Earlier, of course, I said it probably doesn’t matter all that much if they do, in fact, bring Snitker back. I say this because he will, in all likelihood, be given a short leash again, probably in the form of a one-year extension. It would not surprise me at all if, in the extraordinarily likely event the Braves look to be outclassed in the division by the Nationals again in 2018, they made a managerial switch midseason, as they did in 2016. If that is, indeed, the plan, it seems like the front office is almost planning on losing again in 2018 and using the future firing of Snitker as a time-buying exercise. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

Either way, I don’t think Snitker is the right guy for the job. Seems, though, that he’ll get at least an offseason and a couple of months to prove me wrong.