DENVER – As the 2019 calendar turned to September, and a Rockies team that had been expected to contend in the NL West was battling to avoid a last-place finish and the first 100-loss season in franchise history, Nolan Arenado discussed the disappointments of the summer with members of the media.
As has been his history, Arenado was open and honest in his assessment, only to have been stung by the manipulation of what he said because of series of articles this off-season that took one statement out of context, and created an impression that Arenado put himself above his teammates.
Throughout the winter, in stories about the possibility of Arenado being traded, various writers refer to the fact Arenado complained in the final days of the season, “It feels like a rebuild.”
And he did say that, but it was in the midst of a longer discussion during a post-game moment.
It began with a rah-rah moment for the players who had been added to the roster to fill in for, among other things, an entire starting rotation that was on the injured list, and ended with reality.
“These guys have a great opportunity to show what they have and go into spring training with the upper hand. They should take every game seriously,” Arenado said. “And I need to lead by example.”
Then came the focal point of the off-season.
“But it sucks that that’s what it feels like,” he said. “It feels like a rebuild.”
Arenado, however, made it clear to the media members still at his locker that he was talking in a big-picture sense, about a season gone wrong, and not in a moment of self-pity.
“There’s no pointing the finger,” Arenado said. “It’s not one person. We’re collectively not playing well. It’s frustrating. But we have a month left. A lot of young guys here have an opportunity to show what they’ve got. And I have an opportunity to play every day and do my job and do what I get paid to do, help this team win as many games as I can.”
He later added, in discussing having so many key players sidelined: “That’s a hard way to win. We’re competing, we’re doing the best we can. But we’re not good enough right now. Injuries have hurt us, but at the same, we’re a little behind.
“This is something nobody expected. We didn’t expect it to be like this. But it is. There’s no running away from it. It is what it is.”
Lifting those five words – “It feels like a rebuild” – out of context has created an off-season of speculation and frustration, on the part of both the Rockies and Arenado.
It created tension between the parties involved because of the impression given by what has been written by assorted media sources nationally that the Rockies are looking to deal Arenado or Areando is trying to force a trade.
And then it has led into an impression the Rockies are looking to rebuild.
The Rockies have never indicated plans for a rebuild. They have looked at what happened in 2019 as an outlier, in which they were hit with an abnormal amount of injuries that included losing all five members of the projected rotation at some point in the season for lengthy absences.
With a core of players – including all five members of the anticipated rotation – who are in their 20s, the Rockies are looking at 2020 as a season to rebound, not regroup.
The Rockies leadership made it clear in a post-season media session that rebuilding was not their focus.
“I haven’t seen many rebuilds that start with signing the face of your franchise, your best player, to a $260 million contract,” owner Dick Monfort said in reference to the deal Arenado signed last spring.
And Bridich added, “If we were truly in a rebuild, Nolan Arenado probably wouldn’t be here to make comments like that.”
As troublesome as the 2019 season was, the Rockies were encouraged by the consistency and strength of right-handed pitchers Jon Gray and German Marquez, and late season emergence of righthander Chi Chi Gonzalez in his return after missing two seasons with Tommy John surgery.
Signed by the Rockies in the off-season, Gonzalez was a first-round draft choice of the Rangers in 2013. The Rockies took Gray with the No. 3 pick overall that year, but had Gonzalez on a short list in case Gray had been selected by either the Astros, who instead took right-handed pitcher Mark Appel No. 1 overall, or Cubs, who selected third baseman Kris Bryant No. 2 overall, opted to take Gray.
They claimed a wild-card spot in 2017 and 2018, when they had to play a Game 163 with the Dodgers to decide which team would be the NL West champion, and are going into 2020 feeling that same nucleus will provide the leadership necessary to put the disappointment of 2019 in a rearview mirror