MLB’s trade deadline is sure to feature bigger moves, but perhaps the oddest thing this month was the Colorado Rockies’ decision not to trade closer to Daniel Bard. Instead, they gave the 37-year-old relief pitcher a two-year $19 million extension so he will remain with the team until 2024. This is usually a move to establish some security in the bullpen, provided that the organization making the move hopes to participate immediately in the playoffs. The Rockies do not meet this condition.
The Rockies are really just there doing stuff. This was evident ahead of the 2022 season, with the confusing seven-year deal given to Kris Bryant, and also confirmed by their other moves before that. Over the past two seasons, they’ve traded Nolan Arenado, flipped Jon Gray, and let Trevor Story walk. The Rockies probably aren’t too shattered about the latter, but still: are they still rebuilding, and if so, what is it built on? The team has finished fourth in the division every season since 2019 and will battle bottom of the NL West again this year.
The problem isn’t that Bard got paid, because he was stellar. He also has a fascinating story behind how he landed in Colorado. Ten years ago he was on the Red Sox as a setup man who could reach triple figures, but in 2012 (Bobby Valentine’s excruciating season) the team groped him and tried to turn it into a choke. Bard faltered, lost his command completely, and was demoted. The yips took over and after a series of minor league contracts, he retired in 2017. The Arizona Diamondbacks hired him as a player mentor for two years, a clear sign that his playing career was over. Prior to the 2020 season, Bard attempted a comeback, and his command was encouraging enough that he signed a Triple-A contract with the Rockies. In that COVID-shortened season, he had quality innings in relief and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year. His 2021 has been a patchy year, but this year he’s been one of the team’s few bright spots, with 22 saves, a 1.86 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.
Bard is a legitimate close who deserves a multi-year deal with this season’s performances, and even though he’s nearly 40, his arm is probably a bit fresher due to that seven-year gap in the major leagues. But any other team in that position would have sent him to a better team for a prospect or two. The Rockies chose to keep him. Perhaps the statistics justify the sentimentality here. The biggest problem is that Bard is one of the few Rockies pitchers (along with reliever Tyler Kinley) who isn’t bleeding. The team’s “best” starter is Kyle Freeland, who has a 4.63 ERA and 6.4 strikeouts in nine innings. He’s never been a K-heavy pitcher, but it’s still not ideal to have the best of your rotation. Jon Gray would have helped.
Nick Groke of The Athletic was right a few days ago: The Rockies didn’t want to trade Bard despite all the rumors surrounding him. The team seems to appreciate any pitcher who doesn’t struggle at Coors Field. Groke’s story included an analogy from Rockies manager Bud Black, which revealed the organizational logic:
“We answer the calls. We have players who are desirable,” Black said. “And I can’t talk about that, but I’ll give you some perspective. Team A could bring in one of our players and their front office could say, “We like this guy. And our front office will say, ‘Well, yeah, he’s a good player, you should be on that player. What about this or that member of your team? And they might say, “You’re onto the right guy too.” This is how it works. It’s not a one-way street. »
“But it kind of happens too,” the manager continued. “Hey, you have a Range Rover. We’ll take your Range Rover and give you our Honda Accord. And teams expect you to. Why would we do that? “How could you not trade in your Range Rover?” Because we could try to keep our Range Rover! Rather than exchanging it for your Subaru!
If you want to torture this metaphor, the Rockies aren’t getting the most out of their Range Rover. They use it for five-minute trips to the grocery store and otherwise keep it in the garage. Also, the Range Rover is leased and the Rockies let the lease expire and return it to the dealer, but they don’t even get a Subaru in exchange. Now they have a bicycle, or something like that.
Either way, that metaphor is now outdated since the Range Rover’s lease was extended. While there’s no indication of a broader strategy for this organization, it’s good that the Rockies have splashed the cash on someone close to reigniting his career with them I guess. However, this closer won’t have many high-leverage situations if the pitchers ahead of him cough up five runs per start. The Rockies found out who handles the ninth inning; they still haven’t determined who will throw the top five or six.