PHOENIX -- Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon and shortstop Trevor Story took their seats just behind the rail of the Chase Field visiting dugout for Sunday afternoon’s 2021 finale -- a 5-4 D-backs walk-off win on Josh VanMeter’s ninth-inning homer off Carlos Estévez. The day off from the starting lineup was a sign of respect for players with six All-Star appearances between them.
They likely were together in purple one last time. But while Story was contemplating the synergy of his Rockies chapter ending in the stadium where it started -- when he became the first player in Major League history to homer twice in an Opening Day debut -- Blackmon wasn’t entertaining plans to go anywhere besides the mountains for a camping trip.
Much recent focus has been on Story’s pending free agency, and the courtship and riches it is expected to bring. But Blackmon will be in fine shape. Blackmon could be a free agent, but at 35 his best move is to exercise a 2022 player option worth $21 million. He also has a player option currently valued at $13 million, based on incentives already reached, for ’23. The ’23 option could max at $18 million.
“I haven’t really entertained going somewhere else, trying to leave,” Blackmon said. “I’m still very much wrapped up in Rockies 2021 and, I expect 2022, and … I don’t expect any changes.”
Story is free to chase playoff contention by entertaining offers. But Blackmon insists he is trying to make a difference for a title contender right where he is. He hasn’t lost the feeling of 2017, the first of the Rockies’ consecutive postseason trips, when he led the National League in batting (.331), hits (213), runs (137), total bases (387) and triples (14) while finishing fifth in NL Most Valuable Player voting.
“I like to play really, really well, like we did in ’17, and have that be the reason we make the playoffs,” he said. “And I'd like to go there and then play well. Do good personally and have success as a team, that’s why we play.”
Blackmon has increasingly embraced team leadership, and he took it to a higher level by handing out the goofy MVP chain after victories in a brief, joyous ceremony.
“We don’t do a lot of full-team stuff,” Blackmon said, explaining not just the Rockies, but the natural condition of a sport with distinct divisions -- position players, starting pitchers, relief pitchers. “I just felt like it was important to celebrate the things we do well. This game is so hard, when you do something good, acknowledge it, then turn the page quickly.”
But Blackmon’s expanded role has its limit, and it doesn’t cross much into the realm of new general manager Bill Schmidt, who was a key figure in drafting him out of Georgia Tech in 2008 (although Schmidt has let Blackmon observe some Draft planning over the years).
“The Rockies, as well as everybody else, are going to be looking at talent in the offseason,” Blackmon said. “I think we could stand to shore up a few positions, or it's always great to have more depth -- teams can be successful because of their depth. That’s something I think the Rockies can use. And no, I don't think it's my job to suggest that we need to add this or that. There's a lot of communication between me and the staff, but that's not really my job.”
So Blackmon is calling on himself to improve, and trusting the team to do so as well.
After an awful start, Blackmon pulled his overall batting average to .270 with his ninth-inning, pinch-hit single on Sunday. He also had a career-high 14 outfield assists, and finished the year feeling good enough physically that he doesn’t feel his tools have declined. The 13 homers, however, are his fewest over a full season since becoming a regular in 2014.
Several issues, such as a deader baseball and a pitching strategy heavier on high fastballs, have given him his homework assignment.
“Probably over the next month, I’ll think about it,” Blackmon said. “I’m not a big stats guy -- I don’t look at stats during the season. So I’ll go back month by month, look at my stats specifically and start formulating my plan.”