5 questions facing Rockies for 2021 season

December 31st, 2020

DENVER -- The Rockies are saving the big shopping, or maybe the gift exchanges, for after the holidays.

Still remaining are the players who saw an odd 2020 end in a second straight fourth-place finish in the National League West, and questions regarding their two key players on the left side of the infield, third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story -- who are subjects of trade speculation.

Manager Bud Black sees the return of his roster as a good thing -- provided that the Rockies improve their bullpen and get health and production from the lineup. But there is time between now and the start of the 2021 season to either tweak or chart a different direction.

Before the activity starts -- or, given the difficulty making major moves, if the activity occurs -- let’s look at five questions the Rockies face going into 2021.

What happens with Arenado and Story?
General manager Jeff Bridich has been quiet. After last offseason when Arenado went public with his dispute with Bridich, it appears both are staying quiet this offseason. But that doesn’t stop the Hot Stove.

Moving Arenado figures to be difficult because of his $199 million commitment over the next six seasons. Story is a free agent at season’s end, and there is always the possibility of the Rockies approaching him about a long-term contract rather than dealing him.

How will the Rockies improve the bullpen?
As it stands, the Rockies are expecting pitchers who struggled or were injured in 2020 to improve. Righty Robert Stephenson, a former big-time prospect with the Reds, arrived in a trade for another former high-ceiling righty, Jeff Hoffman. Righty Jordan Sheffield, a '16 top Draft pick of the Dodgers, is a Rule 5 pick who will get his first clear chance to hold a big league job.

The expectation is the Rockies will look for experienced left-handed help, but they are not going to spend big. Otherwise, they’re counting on Scott Oberg’s healthy return from thoracic outlet surgery, and hoping Jairo Díaz and Carlos Estévez shake the inconsistency that affected their performance in 2020. The Rockies can build on solid seasons from inspiring closer Daniel Bard and righty Yency Almonte, and they improved the bullpen situation at the ’20 Deadline by acquiring Mychal Givens.

Is there a bat at the right price?
Black said the lineup, as constructed, needs a proven hitter in the outfield or on the right side of the infield. But whatever the Rockies are doing in that regard, other than Black acknowledging that the team has had a discussion with Kevin Pillar, has been quiet.

Where does rotation depth stand?
Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela are coming off strong seasons, and the Rockies expect Jon Gray to recover from his 2020 right shoulder injury and regain his ’19 form. But the drop-off from the top three, with Gray struggling much of the year and absent for the end, was extreme.

Ryan Castellani had high points as a rookie, but he struggled with walks. Chi Chi González’s inconsistent control led to him being dropped from the 40-man roster, but he is back under a Minor League contract. Peter Lambert, a 2019 rookie, is recovering from Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back for the beginning of the season.

Former Giant Dereck Rodríguez will be in camp under a Minor League contract, and lefty Ryan Rolison, the team’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is an intriguing competitor.

Can the Rockies create momentum?
As tough as this time is, with teams coming off a year without ticket revenue and with smaller-market teams missing a revenue-sharing payment, the Rockies must contend with discontent based on their finishes the last two seasons. Whether it’s from fans or even within the club itself, the momentum of postseason appearances in 2017 and '18 has faded.

Black’s ever-positive assessment of his club is a start. But while the Rockies have been reluctant to divulge their plans for 2021, beyond acknowledging the difficulties of this period, clarity about the team’s direction is needed.