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2017 Preview: Colorado Rockies

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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 2017 season. Next up: The Colorado Rockies.

The Rockies’ offseason is summed up best with punctuation: the question mark. The club signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million contract in December. That isn’t the strange part. The strange part was signing a player who had been a shortstop and an outfielder, but never a first baseman, to play first base in a market flush with first basemen. And the Rockies forfeited their first-round draft pick to sign Desmond, who had rejected the Rangers’ $17.2 million qualifying offer.

Desmond is a pretty good player. Per Baseball Reference, he has been worth between 2.0 and 4.0 Wins Above Replacement in each of the last five seasons. He’s versatile. He has speed and power. He has some intangibles that certain teams, especially the Rockies, value highly. But Desmond is not a player that should be making teams jump out of their boots to sign and move him to the least impactful defensive position from more important positions like shortstop and outfield.

The odd signing aside, the Rockies look poised to at least be interesting in 2017. They have too many good outfielders, which is like a rich person complaining that he has too much money in his wallet for it to close. Veteran Gerardo Parra is the least impressive of the bunch after logging a .671 OPS across 381 plate appearances last season. As David Dahl is currently battling a back injury, Parra could open up the season as the Rockies’ regular left fielder. Dahl, soon 23, impressed with a .315/.359/.500 line in 237 PA after making his major league debut last season.

Charlie Blackmon returns to center field. As he plays in baseball’s most hitter-friendly park, his offensive achievements tend to be underappreciated. Blackmon, though, posted a nearly identical OPS on the road compared to home, .926 to .939. Overall, he hit .324/.381/.552 with 29 home runs, 82 RBI, 111 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 641 PA. If Blackmon has another typical season, he should merit consideration at least for the NL All-Star team.

Carlos Gonzalez had another typical year in right field. The three-time All-Star hit .298/.350/.505 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI in 632 PA. As he’s aged and dealt with injuries, he’s not quite the MVP-caliber player he used to be, but he’s still an impact player. The Rockies may consider dealing Gonzalez by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, however, because he’s in the last year of his contract.

Moving back to the infield, Nolan Arenado returns to the hot corner. Despite leading the league in home runs and RBI in each of the last two seasons, Arenado finished eighth and fifth in NL MVP balloting. This past season, he batted .294/.362/.570 with 41 home runs and 133 RBI in 696 PA. Unfortunately, he plays in an era that is rich with talented third basemen and that, along with Coors Field being his home for half the season, cause him to be a bit underappreciated. Arenado, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, is among the best defenders at any position, not just his own. It’s hard to see anything but another monster year for Arenado in 2017.

24-year-old Trevor Story will once again handle shortstop duties for the Rockies this season. He was the talk of the town when he ended his first month in the majors last year with a 1.019 OPS, 10 home runs, and 20 RBI. Of course, he cooled off a bit and wound up missing time with a torn thumb ligament, but he still finished with outstanding numbers, good enough for a fourth-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. As far as NL shortstops are concerned, Story is heading into the season as arguably in the top-five.

As if the Rockies didn’t have enough offense, they have the reigning batting champion at second base in D.J. LeMahieu. The 28-year-old paced all of baseball with a .348 average along with a .416 on-base percentage, a .495 slugging percentage, 51 extra-base hits, 66 RBI, 104 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases. And he played solid defense. LeMahieu was the Cubs’ second round pick in the 2009 draft and went to the Rockies in December 2011 in the Ian Stewart trade. The Cubs haven’t whiffed on deals much lately, but that was a big one.

Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy will handle catching duties for the Rockies. The two are battling it out this spring for the right to start regularly. Wolters is better defensively while Murphy has the better bat. It’s difficult to say at this point who the favorite is, but catching is usually a position where defense and intangibles carry a little more weight than they do at other positions.

The Rockies’ starting rotation doesn’t really inspire confidence. Four spots are spoken for with Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, Tyler Anderson, and Tyler Chatwood. Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez are competing this spring for the No. 5 spot. Anderson and Chatwood had great showings last season, each finishing with an ERA under 4.00. Bettis and Gray were north of 4.50, as were Marquez and Hoffman. Pitching in Coors Field is tough and it’s just not going to be the Rockies’ strength, at least this year.

Adam Ottavino is the favorite to open the season as the Rockies’ closer. The right-hander returned from Tommy John surgery in July and posted a 2.67 ERA with a 35/7 K/BB ratio in 27 innings through the end of the season. He misses bats quite frequently and has good enough control where he can legitimately be one of the league’s better closers, but he likely won’t see as many save opportunities as he would on a more competitive team.

Greg Holland, 31, inked a one-year, $7 million contract with the Rockies in January after missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. He’s still working his way back and has yet to make his Cactus League debut. Despite several years of closing experience, this is why Ottavino is very likely to be the Rockies’ closer to begin the season. However, if Holland shows he can be effective early on, he might give new manager Bud Black a choice to make in the ninth inning.

Jairo Diaz also underwent Tommy John surgery and is expected to return around late May or June. He was effective in limited action back in 2015, owning a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings with an 18/6 K/BB ratio. The rest of the bullpen includes a handful of veterans in Chad Qualls, Mike Dunn, Jake McGee, and Jason Motte. Dunn, a lefty, inked a three-year, $19 million contract back in December and is likely to serve as the set-up man ahead of Ottavino.

The Rockies aren’t far away from being competitive, especially if some of their prospects like Hoffman and Marquez live up to expectations. However, in the NL West, the Dodgers and Giants are going to be tough to overcome. It’s going to be a two-horse race in that division for most of the year.

Prediction: 79-83 record, 3rd place in division

Rockies continue extension talks with Carlos Gonzalez

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The Rockies are still working on an extension offer for Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado GM Jeff Bridich says (via ESPN’s Jim Bowden). The 31-year-old outfielder is one season away from polishing off the seven-year, $80.5 million contract he signed with the Rockies in 2011, but both sides appear amenable to working out a longer deal to keep him in Colorado.

Despite losing some of the power that fueled his 40-homer campaign in 2015, Gonzalez slashed an impressive .298/.350/.505 in 2016, racking up 25 home runs, 100 RBI and a career-best 42 doubles. The Rockies have plenty of options in the outfield corners, including Gerardo Parra, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Jordan Patterson, and while Gonzalez remains one of the most potent left-handed bats in the lineup (among many lefties), his trade value could supersede his potential contributions on the field.

Extension rumors surfaced as early as November, but the club’s initial suggestions were thought to be well under Gonzalez’s asking price. Should the two sides find themselves unable to cross that chasm, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman thinks it’s likely that the team will push for a midseason trade before the outfielder hits free agency in 2017.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 3: Toronto blew a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth but scored two of their own in the bottom half, first with an Ezequiel Carrera squeeze bunt topped with an Edwin Encarnacion walkoff RBI single to win it. Toronto remains in the first Wild Card position, a game and a half ahead of Baltimore and three games ahead of the Tigers.

White Sox 3, Indians 0: Carlos Rodon was dominant, shutting the Tribe out for eight and punching out 11. Carlos Sanchez drove in two of the Sox’ three runs. Fun fact: when we bought our first house back in 1999, my ex-wife’s credit report came back with the name “Carlos Sanchez” listed under “possible aliases.” We got the mortgage anyway and nothing was ever disrupted, but I’m keepin’ my eye on you, Carlos. Or maybe I should’ve just been more suspicious about my ex-wife back in the day. She seems like a normal, well-adjusted person, but what if she’s really a spy for the Venezuelan government?

Royals 12, Tigers 9: The Royals jumped out to a 7-0 lead after three innings against Matt Boyd and Anibal Sanchez and, try as they did, the Tigers never pulled closer than to within two. Whit Merrifield tripled in the first and hit a single and a double as well. The Royals hit four homers as a team. Dropping two of three to the Royals caused the Tigers to drop out of Wild Card position.

Mets 17, Phillies 0: The Mets are losing pitchers every week but it sorta does’t matter when you play the Phillies. New York took three of four in the series, scoring 44 runs in those four games. Yes, they gave up 23 and that might not always be the best thing in a four-game series, but they’re up a game on San Francisco and up a game and a half on St. Louis at the moment so they can’t really complain. Asdrubal Cabrera hit a grand slam, Jose Reyes had four RBI, including two, not one, but two bases-loaded walks. Curtis Granderson hit his 30th homer of the year.

Red Sox 3, Rays 2: And the Red Sox never lost again. That’s 11 in a row. Dustin Pedroia scored the go-ahead run in the 10th on David Ortiz‘s RBI double despite the fact that he should’ve been dead to rights at the plate. He avoided the tag — and missed home plate — but lunged back to the plate as Rays catcher Luke Maile dropped the ball. Pedroia also hit a homer. Oh, and Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out a career-high 13 in five and a third. At one point he and reliever Heath Hembree combined to strike out 11 consecutive batters. That’s a major league record. It’s also the sort of thing which should probably make the Rays petition the league to just let them go home and forfeit the last week of the season because, Jesus, what’s the point?

Orioles 2, Diamondbacks 1Hyun Soo Kim hit an early two-run homer and it held up. Dylan Bundy allowed the one run on three hits over five innings. Zach Britton got his 46th save.

Nationals 10, Pirates 7: Controversy here as Jung Ho Kang faked a tag on Bryce Harper, causing Harper to slide awkwardly which caused him to injure his thumb. Later, when Kang came up to bat he was buzzed by Nats pitcher A.J. Cole, leading to the benches clearing. So, apparently, faking a tag is a violation of the unwritten rules. Maybe someone should tell that to Derek Jeter and the million of other guys who have deked runners in the past:

Whatever the case, the Nats scored five runs in the eighth inning to come back from a deficit, powered by a Jayson Werth two-run homer which tied it along with two RBI singles and a bases loaded walk. Harper will have X-Rays on his thumb today to see how bad off he is.

Reds 4, Brewers 2Brandon Finnegan tossed five shutout innings to kick things off and Cincinnati built a 4-0 lead by the seventh inning. Finnegan only needed 54 pitches to get through five, but he game out as his leg tightened up following being hit with a comebacker in the second inning.

Mariners 4, Twins 3: Two homers for Nelson Cruz and one for Jesus Sucre. Seattle is two and a half behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot after going 12-5 in their last 17. Such and up and down team this year.

Astros 4, Angels 1: Joe Musgrove was strong and Evan Gattis, Tony Kemp and Tyler White homered. Houston is three back of Baltimore. They and Seattle can play the what-coulda-been game all winter.

Athletics 7, Rangers 1: The A’s avoid the sweep with a seven-run second inning that ended this one not long after it started. Jharel Cotton was strong once again, going seven innings while allowing one run. Since his callup in early September he’s allowed only four earned runs in 25 innings. The season highlight for the A’s is gonna be a midseason trade with the Dodgers to get Cotton.

Dodgers 4, Rockies 3: The Dodgers have had a load of highlights this year, including this walkoff win to clinch the NL West. Second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered the solo homer in the bottom of the 10th inning. Not that he was the only hero. The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh when Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl gave Colorado the lead in the ninth with a solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager hit a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth to send it to extras. What an exciting final game in Dodger Stadium for Vin Scully.

Padres 4, Giants 3: Manuel Margot tripled in the seventh inning and then scored the go-ahead run on Wil Myers‘ RBI single. The Giants were eliminated from division crown contention, and are hanging on by their fingernails in the Wild Card race after splitting a four-game set with San Diego.

Cubs 3, Cardinals 1: David Ross homered on the night he was given a touching tribute by the Cubs while Jon Lester tossed shutout ball into the seventh to pick up his 19th win. Ross got a nice sendoff when Joe Maddon came to lift Lester in the seventh. Rather than just pat Lester on the butt and let him walk off, he took Ross out of the game first, allowing him to leave to a standing ovation.

Braves vs. Marlins: POSTPONED: The time you won your town the race,
We chaired you through the marketplace;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
As home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.