DENVER — Kyle Freeland sees the prevailing theory out there: All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado traded away, the Colorado Rockies instantly written off.
That sort of narrative just provides more incentive for the left-hander and his teammates.
“We haven’t even played a spring training game … and people are already counting us out,” Freeland said Thursday as Colorado’s pitchers and catchers cranked up spring training workouts in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s a great opportunity for us to shock the world.”
Very few are betting too heavily on Colorado after the recent blockbuster deal that sent eight-time Gold Glove winner Arenado to St. Louis. The Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections have the Rockies finishing last in the NL West with a forecasted record of 60.3-101.7. Colorado’s worst record in franchise history was 64-98 in 2012 — the year before Arenado arrived in Denver.
“Any time you lose a player like Nolan, it’s going to hurt,” said Rockies reliever Scott Oberg, who’s returning this season after missing 2020 while dealing with blood clots in his pitching arm. “There’s going to be a lot of question marks from a lot of different people.”
That’s why Oberg, outfielder Ian Desmond and shortstop Trevor Story were among the leaders to reach out to teammates following the Arenado deal.
Their message: Stick together.
“You never want to see a clubhouse go 25, 26 different directions,” Oberg said. “We just wanted to make sure that [we] reiterated some of the team goals, some of the team values. You know, ‘Hey look, we lost one of our brothers. We lost one of our guys. But we still have jobs to do.'”
Arenado grew frustrated with a front office that didn’t make any major moves to contend with the perennial NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rockies made the postseason in 2017 and ’18 but trended backward in 2019 with a 91-loss campaign and missed the postseason again last season. Arenado, who signed an eight-year, $260 million contract in February 2019, wanted out.
In the deal with St. Louis, the Rockies received left-hander Austin Gomber along with four minor leaguers. They also sent cash to the Cardinals to offset part of the money Arenado is due in his contract.
It’s a trade that’s soured the Rockies’ fan base.
Freeland’s request: Give the squad a chance.
“We have some incredible players on this team,” said Freeland, a Denver native who grew up a Rockies fan. “This active roster that will be put on the field this year is going to go out there looking to win ballgames consistently.”
As for his inclusion in the deal, Gomber took it as a compliment: “A compliment the Rockies would look at me as part of proper compensation for Nolan Arenado. Now it’s just about going out and proving them right.”
Gomber’s only experience pitching at Coors Field was in 2018, when he went six innings, allowed one earned run and struck out six while with the Cardinals.
The 27-year-old Gomber plans to rely on his four-seam fastball along with a curve, a pitch that historically doesn’t have as much break for pitchers inside Coors.
“I could be pitching on the moon and I’m still going to throw a curveball,” said Gomber, who’s competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. “When guys maybe try to change the game plan and be somebody they’re not is when they get in trouble.”
For advice, he’s been leaning on fellow lefty Freeland.
“He knows the obvious: The best thing to do at Coors Field is keep that ball on the ground as much as you can, try to avoid putting it in the air,” Freeland said.
Since joining Colorado before the 2017 season, manager Bud Black hasn’t had to think too much about whom to play at third or bat in the heart of the order.
Easy decision: Arenado.
Black anticipates having Ryan McMahon, Josh Fuentes (Arenado’s cousin), Brendan Rodgers, Chris Owings and Colton Welker in the mix at third through the spring.
“This is a new era of a new team,” Black said. “From talking to the players, they’re excited about that, about maybe a new chapter. Let’s see how it plays out. Our guys are ready for it.”