Story not bothered by Deadline rumors

July 19th, 2021

DENVER -- By last Friday, the All-Star Game logos just outside the first- and third-base lines at Coors Field had only begun to fade, and the chants of his name during the Home Run Derby hadn’t faded from the mind of Rockies shortstop Trevor Story.

“I really enjoyed competing in it,” Story said just before taking batting practice rounds. “It was something that I wanted to do since I was a kid, and I was waiting for the right circumstances. I really enjoyed the fans in the crowd and the atmosphere of it all. It kinda got me going.”

But after three difficult games against the Dodgers, when he went 1-for-12 with six strikeouts, Story needs to get going once more.

And, of course, “going” has many contexts. With the Trade Deadline just 11 days off, that word permeates many questions. When is he going, or is he actually going anywhere by the Deadline?

Four strikeouts came in Sunday’s finale, which Story salvaged with a 10th-inning sacrifice fly to tie, just before Charlie Blackmon’s homer gave the Rockies a 6-5 victory. Still, the poor beginning of the second half extended Story’s recent misery to 1-for-16.

Story’s current .242 batting average is 31 points below his career mark. He hasn’t hit worse than .289 since 2017, when he led the National League in strikeouts with 191 as a second-year player.

But the recent past shows that Story can be re-energized after low points.

Story missed 11 games in late May and early June with a right elbow strain, and went 0-for-14 with six strikeouts upon his return. But in the following 18 games, Story batted .309 (21-for-68) with six home runs, 18 RBIs and a 1.004 OPS. Interestingly, the struggles aren’t new. When he misses pitches over the plate early in counts, he is susceptible to chase pitches later. When he hits those early strikes, the numbers soar.

“Like any hitter, a lot of it is feeling good and getting a couple results,” said Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond, who is running the team while manager Bud Black is out per MLB COVID and contact tracing protocols. “Get a couple big hits, hit a home run and then he just takes off. That’s where Trev’ is.

“I sit there every day saying, ‘Today’s the day that he’s going to bust out.’”

Redmond, the Rockies and their fans are not the only ones watching Story, a free agent at season’s end. Every game, Story is eyed by other clubs’ scouts. Some are researching whether to acquire him to either play short or -- if they have someone entrenched there -- move him to second base for the stretch run. There could be trade-market competition, with the Cubs, a seller that can dangle fellow shortstop and premium free-agent-to-be Javier Báez.

Other teams are researching him for free agency, where pre-2021 contracts of the Mets’ Francisco Lindor (10 years, $341 million) and the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years, $340 million) seem to have pushed Story out of the Rockies’ price range. Báez and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager and Astros' Carlos Correa may hit the market with Story.

Colorado interim general manager Bill Schmidt has said in multiple interviews that if the Rockies don’t receive a satisfactory offer, something the team hasn’t defined (not that anyone would expect such a declaration), it doesn’t have to move him. Schmidt said in that case, the club is prepared to make a qualifying offer (for one year, at a salary to be determined after the season) and accept a compensatory MLB Draft pick should he leave.

Whether Story is distracted by the Trade Deadline or the possibility of untold riches falls into the category of either a snapshot (when going well he’s not distracted, when struggling he is) or an after-the-fact concept (something easy to say when decisions are made).

Story would say only one 2021 issue hampered him, but it had nothing to do with the business side.

“I'd say there was just a little frustration with the injury,” said Story, who said the elbow strain was a message from his body to set his feet properly on throws to take pressure off the arm, and only display his arm strength when necessary. “It came at a time when I was getting in my groove. But, you know, that happens. Everyone deals with injuries. So that's no excuse.

“I certainly feel that I’m watched a lot. But when it’s game time and when we’re playing ball or practicing, that’s my safe haven. That’s my time to play. Bill and Dick [Monfort, the owner] and the front office need to do what they need to do to make the organization better. If that means trading me or not, I guess well find out here pretty soon. Either way, I get to play baseball.”

The Rockies made postseason trips in 2017 and '18, but there was one limiting clubhouse trait. When players struggled, they tended to retreat into their individual routines and grind answers on their own. There was nothing malicious about the processes, but a certain level of collaboration was missing. When the team's record took a downturn in '19, the clubhouse was exposed as a place populated with individual grinders, who didn't have the skill set to work collectively.

Late in 2019, Story vowed to put special attention on communication (as has Blackmon), and the result has been uplifting for less-experienced teammates.

“It’s just talking the game -- not teaching or anything like that,” said center fielder and middle infielder Garrett Hampson. “It’s, ‘What do you see at the plate?’ ‘What kind of struggles are you having?’ When you’re feeling good, he asks you about that. It’s just talking to your teammates.”

Story can put aside the specter of his days in Denver potentially being numbered and let himself see a future that the Rockies believe they are building.

“It’s the best group of starting pitchers in Rockies history ... certainly since I’ve been here,” Story said. “This game is built on pitching and good defense. To me, it doesn’t seem that far off -- I would say that’s encouraging.”

A return to form would help Story enjoy however many games he has left with the Rockies.