Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.
Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.
With the current situation in the bullpen, is there any update on Scott Oberg? Can Jon Gray become a closer?
— Shon Bersch, Philadelphia
Shon, Oberg has not completely ruled out trying to pitch again, but after four bouts with blood clots in his right arm, it’s doubtful he ever will. However, he’s still a member of the Rockies and is their player representative for the MLBPA. Plus, Oberg’s been working with the relievers and he spent some time with the front office preparing for the draft.
Chances are that Oberg will remain in baseball in some capacity. He’s a smart man, very well-spoken and very respected.
In late August, Oberg plans to begin online classes to attain a master’s degree in sports management from Georgetown University. He holds a history degree from the University of Connecticut.
As for Gray, who is a trade candidate, I’ve never liked the idea of moving him to the bullpen as a closer. Although he’s had his ups and downs, he’s been terrific as a starter at Coors Field. That’s rare. Plus, Gray has a starter’s mentality and a starter’s pitch mix, not a closer’s.
Greetings Patrick. The speculation regarding which Rockies players will, or should, be traded is puzzling and questionable to me. I will hate to see Trevor Story leave, but regrettably, I understand. Pitchers are another matter. The core group of starters are maturing and seem to have shrugged off the Coors Field worries — witness Jon Gray. What value could they possibly reap for the immediate future by trading any of these arms?
— Robert Emmerling, Limon
Robert, you make a good point. But the bottom line is that Gray is a pending free agent and if he does not re-sign with the Rockies, they would get relatively little in return. That’s the main reason he’s the subject of trade rumors.
Having said that, Gray has stated publically that he’s leaving the door wide open to remaining in Colorado. He loves pitching here, and as you point out, he has learned out to pitch at Coors Field. That’s no easy feat.
I still think that Gray will ultimately opt for free agency, so the Rockies must engage in trade talks to see what they can get for him. Still, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he remains with the Rockies.
Shortstop Trevor Story, however, is a different matter. From everything I have been told, he’s planning on testing the free-agent waters with the hope of playing for a contender.
Is Bud Black satisfied with his two catchers?
— Linda Furlong, Gainesville, Ga.
Linda, before I answer your question, let me reiterate that I think one of the Rockies’ top priorities must be to beef up their catching corps, for 2022 and beyond.
They took a step in that direction in the 2020 draft by taking catcher Drew Romo with the 35th overall pick, straight out of The Woodlands (Texas) High School. He’s currently playing for the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies and he’s done well, slashing .297/.333/.465 with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 23 RBIs in 39 games. He’s been solid behind the plate, too. Though it’s risky to pick a high school catcher high in the draft because they need so much time to develop, Romo could be with the Rockies by the summer of 2024.
Now, on to your question. No, I don’t think Black is “satisfied.” He’s certainly been encouraged by Elias Díaz recent hot streak — five homers in his last 10 games. Still, Diaz is hitting a mere .214, although Black said recently he believes that Diaz has the talent to be a .250 hitter.
Dom Nunez, meanwhile, has had a rough season. He’s batting just .171 with a .274 on-base percentage. He told me during spring training that he thought he could be one of the best-hitting catchers in the majors. I think he underestimated the burdens of being a big-league catcher.
Defensively, I think Black has been pleased, and the starting rotation’s success is tied to the guys behind the plate. But the bottom line? Black needs to see a lot of improvement from Diaz and Nunez in the second half of the season.
Given how well the Rockies were playing going into the all-star break — in particular, their starting pitching — is there an argument to be made that the franchise should wait a few weeks before trading away players? Could the Rockies suddenly find themselves in the wild-card race? And if they do, would that preclude trading someone like Trevor Story?
— Matt, East Colfax
Matt, I love your optimism, but there’s no way the Rockies are a playoff team. Yes, they took two out of three in San Diego, but their road record is still 9-34. Overall, they still have the fourth-worst record in the National League (40-51). I simply don’t believe they have the talent to compete for a playoff spot. I do think they should trade Story.
Patrick, why are you such an apologist for Nolan Arenado? He’s the one who signed a huge contract and then turned his back on the Rockies. You treat him like he’s a hero.
— Greg, Arvada
Greg, I will admit that Arenado is one of my favorite players to have covered over the years. I love watching him play and I like him as a person.
That said, I don’t think I’m “an apologist” for him. Could he have handled the contract situation better? Absolutely. He went public with his frustration and anger with the front office, yet seemed surprised that some fans felt like he betrayed the Rockies when it became clear he wanted out.
I can’t reveal everything I’ve been told about the feud between Arenado and former general manager Jeff Bridich. And I’ll admit that I don’t really know Bridich’s side of the story.
But in my view, the bottom line is this: When Arenado signed the eight-year, $260 million deal, it was with the understanding that the team would build around him. Instead, the Rockies sat on their hands. They were bad in 2019 and Arenado could see the writing on the wall. He wants to play for a contender and he doesn’t believe the Rockies are close to being that. I don’t blame him for wanting out. If that makes me an apologist in your view, there’s nothing I can do about that.”
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