DENVER -- The message was simple: Expect the core of the 2020 Rockies to look much like teams that went to the postseason in 2017 and '18, yet nosedived to 71-91 this year.
“Our expectations are to play playoff baseball again,” Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said while appearing -- united -- with owner Dick Monfort and manager Bud Black in an hour-plus question-and-answer session with media at Coors Field on Tuesday. “And we didn’t do that, but that doesn’t mean the foundation isn’t there.”
Here are five takeaways:
1) The Rockies became a contender the previous two seasons without high-profile free-agent splashes or massive trading. This year hasn’t shaken that belief.
The momentum of two postseason trips drove a home attendance of 2,993,244 -- fourth in the National League. Monfort allowed that this year’s struggle will make it tough to reach that figure next year. But don’t expect him to make a news-making move just to boost offseason ticket-buying.
“These guys can do this,” Monfort said. “I had more people when I was feeling down telling me, ‘Don’t worry. You just stay with these guys. We’re going to be fine.’ I think it’s a little different, but, yeah, we have to play well.”
In practical terms, third baseman Nolan Arenado is one year into an eight-year, $260 million deal, outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond are on large multi-year deals, pitcher German Márquez also is on a multi-year deal. The Rockies want to lock up shortstop Trevor Story before he hits free agency, and may want to do the same with some pitchers.
And increased revenue from a new television deal, which Monfort said was “not as lucrative as I would have liked” because of various industry factors, doesn’t start until 2021.
2) If you follow the moves, the emphasis will be on depth.
After a year like this, the dream offseason is one of big spending or the creative deal that creates a makeover. But a season of injuries, especially to the pitching staff, revealed a lack of depth.
Deals for lefty relievers Phillip Diehl and James Pazos during Spring Training, and righties Joe Harvey and Wes Parsons during the year were to address bullpen issues. At season’s end, homegrown position players such as utility man Garrett Hampson and outfielder Sam Hilliard looked like helpers.
While the final weeks accelerated some players’ development, Bridich said there some “possibilities there” when it comes to improving depth -- especially with the growing feeling that periodically resting Arenado, Story, Blackmon and first baseman Daniel Murphy (whose first year of a two-year, $24 million deal was “just OK,” Bridich said) could help each of them.
3) Rebuild? Really?
Frustration abounded, which naturally led to comments from Arenado, who at one point said the season felt “like a rebuild.”
But by August, with the postseason clearly not to be, the Rockies pivoted. They shut down starters Márquez and Jon Gray because of injury, and allowed Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, Chi Chi González and Tim Melville regular starts to show what they needed against big league hitters, and younger players saw more time.
“When it looked like it wasn’t going to happen late in the summer, some good things came out of this,” Black said.
Translation: This was not to begin a tear-down, but to jump-start the improvements for 2020, when the Rockies will need, not just the core, but the rest of the roster.
Bridich at first was reluctant to address anything Arenado said, citing that he hadn’t addressed the issue with the third baseman. But he said: “If we were truly in a rebuild, Nolan Arenado probably wouldn’t be here to make comments like that.”
In fairness to Arenado, his comments may have a reaction to the mounting losses, rather than a belief that the roster would be gutted -- the way true rebuilds happen.
4) Coaching will be more proactive
Often, it takes time to identify root causes of shortcomings. At season’s end, close various discussions with players revealed that greater patience in offensive counts for hitters, and granular adjustments mentally and physically for each pitcher were in clear focus.
But Black said in retrospect he should have pushed for quicker corrections.
“I saw some things early that I could have reacted to maybe from a pitching standpoint, some mechanics, mental stuff, on and on about that, that I could have been maybe a little more proactive and not being maybe as patient as I was,” he said. “Same thing with position players.
“In-season sometimes it’s a little tricky. Some guys, just from my past, spin out of it quickly. Some guys it takes a long time to come out of it. Sometimes guys don’t, and we saw that.”
5) The end of 2021 is a long way away
Arenado’s deal, which includes a full no-trade provision, allows him to opt out after 2021 -- something Bridich wanted in the deal, after seeing several long contracts become burdens for player and team.
But while Arenado wants to win, so do others. And there is time to win and plenty of other pressing issues between now and then.
“If there's a list of issues that we need to deal with, that is like No. 775 on the page,” Monfort said.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.