After a Major League Baseball trade deadline featuring a historic volume of moves with high profile players changing uniforms, one of the biggest surprises nationally and locally was the lack of a big move by the Rockies, who held coveted cards like Trevor Story and Jon Gray, but left them on the table.
Here at the Daily Planet, however, the biggest surprise was the fact that anyone was surprised by the Rockies inactivity at the deadline.
Interim General Manager Bill Schmidt was in a damned-if-he-does-damned-if-he-doesn’t position, facing backlash if he moved franchise favorites like Story and Gray just seven months after his predecessor Jeff Bridich dealt Nolan Arenado — on pace to be one of the game’s all-time greats — to the Cardinals. And as much as a large contingent of fans recognized the logic in trading Story before he walks at year’s end when he’s a free agent, leaving the Rockies empty-handed, it’s doubtful any deal would have satisfied folks that the Rockies got fair value.
Ultimately, Schmidt chose the “he-doesn’t” route, holding all but one player in the organization and facing the frustration of fans who feel like the Rockies aren’t doing anything to improve the club now or for the future. He took Gray and closer Daniel Bard off the table earlier in the week, despite ongoing interest in both, and while he was in discussion with numerous clubs about Story, he never felt like he was offered enough value to pull the trigger on a trade. Virtually his only clue about a vision for the future came in his inclination to offer Story a qualifying contract at the end of the season so the Rockies will at least get a compensatory draft pick if he turns it down. Story himself was drafted as a compensatory pick, so the Rockies have a record of returns from that strategy.
“I feel good about our process and how we handled things,” Schmidt told the Planet about an hour after the trade deadline passed. “It's a snapshot in time right now. We're going to the offseason, trying to improve the club. But I thought our process was solid.”
It was hard not to be happy about Gray, who had publicly lobbied to remain with the Rockies in the midst of rumors-palooza. He’s a homegrown Rockie, and he’s won 10 or more games in the four seasons that he’s started at least 10 games, 2016-19, posting a career 4.44 ERA at Coors Field, and a 3.14 ERA at home this season.
“I’m happy I’m still in purple,” Gray said of the inactivity that kept him a Rockie. “I'm really fired up and I can't wait for the future.”
Story, on the other hand, characterized himself as “confused” about his situation and how it unfolded. He pulled himself from the lineup hours after the deadline passed but was back in action the following day.
“Trevor wants to be on a winning club and a club that’s competing for a championship,” Schmidt told the Planet. “That's our goal. I've tried to paint for Trevor what I think our vision is going forward, and we'll see what happens.”
That “vision” thing is always a question mark when it comes to the Rockies. Lost in the strange season with a catastrophic opening month is the fact that the Rockies have been playing .500 ball over the last two months — 14-13 in June, 12-12 in July and 0-1 through Sunday’s game in August. They won a season-best four games on the road in their just-completed 10-game trip visiting the Dodgers, Angels and Padres, and their offense exploded on the road with the starting pitching remaining solid — better than any previous Rockies rotation at this point in the season.
But they certainly weren’t shopping for short-term improvement at the deadline. One of their biggest vulnerabilities has been an inconsistent bullpen, and the Rockies traded Mychael Givens, one of their most dependable relievers, to the Reds for a pair of starting pitching prospects, both years away from making the majors. Givens is another player who’ll enter free agency at the end of the season, so getting value for him while they can made sense, assuming they have no aspirations of competing this season.
“I still think in these next two months, even though we're young with a number of guys down there, I'm hoping that we get some consistency out of our bullpen and we string together good, solid appearances as a group,” manager Buddy Black told the Planet after the Givens trade. “But I'm more concerned about our offense, with the exception of Chuck (Charlie Blackmon), who has been pretty good the last few weeks since the All-Star break. Collectively, we have to do a better job getting runs across the board, having collectively more good at bats. This offseason, it's no secret, we have to try to improve our offense.”
The Rockies short-term vision at the deadline seemed to be to “do no harm.” The organization has suffered more than its share of harm in recent years, losing the respect of front offices around the league and losing confidence from players like Arenado.
Presumably, based on his cryptic comments, Story falls into Arenado territory in terms of losing faith in ownership’s commitment to winning. Despite direct questions throughout the season, he has passed on the opportunity to say that he wants to remain a Rockie or that there is much chance of him signing with Colorado in the offseason. When asked in San Diego after the deadline about his openness to remaining a Rockie after season’s end, he said he’d consider any offer, but told reporters, “The writing is on the wall.”
The two prospects the Rockies got in the Givens trade with the Reds are each ranked in the 20s in terms of the Reds top prospects. Noah Davis, 24, was an 11th round pick for the Reds in 2018, while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He pitched sparingly in 2019 and lost 2020 as COVID wiped out the Minor Leagues seasons.
Case Williams was a fourth-round draft pick by the Rockies in 2020 and was traded at season’s end to the Reds as part of the Jeff Hoffman trade that netted reliever Robert Stephenson. The Rockies had worked with Williams in his high school years in Castle Rock as part of their Scout Team, and Black seemed happy to have back in the fold.
“The Reds wanted him as part of that (Hoffman) deal, and now we have an opportunity to get him back, which is awesome,” Black told the Planet. “I saw him in the instructional league last year in Arizona, and I liked what I saw from a high school kid just out of the draft. I liked the potential strength to the body. I liked his arm action, free and easy. He's obviously a number of years away, but he looks pretty good at 19. Let's see where he is at 23.”
Colorado also got right-handed reliever Ashton Goudeau back from the Reds for cash. He was the Royals 27th round pick in 2012, went to the Mariners before the 2018 season, signed with the Rockies as a free agent after that season. He pitched in four games for the Rockies in 2020 before going to the Pirates, Orioles, Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, and Reds in a series of waiver claims. He pitched three innings of one-hit ball for the Rockies Sunday and got his first hit in the Majors.
“I'd be lying if I said it wasn't tough – there was stretch when it seemed like every two weeks, I was going to somewhere new,” Goudeau said Sunday. “It’s good to come back to be in purple again.”
The closest any team official comes to actually expressing a vision is Black’s focus on the day-to-day task of managing the moment — a focus that has yielded a significant turn around in results, despite the deep hole they dug themselves into early.
“The direction the team is heading is beat the Padres tonight and continue to grow as a group,” Black told the Planet the day after the trade deadline passed. “There's some individual components that we need to see the next two months as far as expectation of performance and improvement in the things they're working on. To play good baseball, to continue to solidify the ability to play good baseball. That will help this team next year and in the coming years after that.”
He didn’t feel the need to address the team about the implications of the deadline inactivity, but he shared with the Planet the message he hopes his team will take.
“Be a team that Rockies fans will be proud of the next two months,” Black said.
It’s good advice, but it’s preaching to the choir as far as the players are concerned. To succeed long-term, the Rockies need their front office and ownership to heed that call in making a joyful noise to make their fans proud.