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.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.