DENVER — Now batting cleanup and playing third base for the Colorado Rockies — someone not named Nolan Arenado.
In an off-season move that had Rockies fans seeing red, the eight-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-hander Austin Gomber and four minor leaguers.
The hashtags on social media rapidly spread. "#RockiesBoycott” became a trendy one along with “#FireBridich,” a reference to general manager Jeff Bridich. Arenado and the front office couldn't see eye-to-eye on the direction of the Rockies, leading to Arenado's departure from a team that's missed the post-season the past two seasons.
The consensus among prognosticators before a pitch is thrown: The Rockies will be at the bottom of the NL West. Some are even forecasting they could lose 100 games, which has never happened in franchise history. The most losses was 98 in 2012, the year before Arenado arrived on the scene as their regular third baseman.
“I don’t really let what people think outside the clubhouse affect what I do inside the clubhouse,” outfielder Charlie Blackmon said. “We’re going to go out there and be super-competitive and play good baseball.”
Rockies owner Dick Monfort gets the anger over the deal involving Arenado, which included Colorado sending cash to St. Louis to offset part of the money Arenado is due.
“If I had my druthers, I would rather have Nolan,” Monfort recently said. “But it was Nolan’s choice. He wanted to move on.”
Ryan McMahon figures to get the first shot at stepping in at third base for Arenado.
“All I can do is go out there and try to be the best version of myself and try to help this team,” said McMahon, who’s a career .237 hitter with 38 homers.
Colorado also will be missing versatile veteran Ian Desmond, who opted out for a second straight season in light of coronavirus concerns. In addition, the team parted ways with often-injured but talented outfielder David Dahl, who signed a $2.7 million, one-year deal with Texas.
“People are counting us out," said All-Star shortstop Trevor Story, who is in the final year of his deal and is looking at a hefty pay raise. "But I feel like if you count a group of competitors out like that at this level, at the major league level, you instantly put a chip on their shoulder.”
Gomber will be linked with Arenado given his inclusion in the deal. He understands.
“For me, I took it as more of a compliment,” said Gomber, who was 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA in 14 games with St. Louis last season. “A compliment the Rockies would look at me as part of proper compensation for Nolan Arenado.”
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Ben Bowden could be a left-handed option in Colorado's bullpen. Bowden was a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt in the 2016 amateur draft.
“Wherever they need me I’ll be out there and ready to go,” Bowden said.
The starting rotation may be a strength for Colorado this season even at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray and Antonio Senzatela figure to anchor the rotation, with Gomber also in the mix. Márquez and Freeland both had nine quality starts last season, which was tied for second-most in the NL.
“I’m happy there’s some national acclaim to our pitching staff,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.
The bullpen will be anchored by Daniel Bard, the NL comeback player of the year who made it back to the major leagues last season for the first time since 2013. There's also Scott Oberg, the right-hander who missed last season due to a blood clot in his pitching arm.
WHO’S ON FIRST?
Josh Fuentes, the cousin of Arenado, C.J. Cron and Greg Bird are all in the running to play first base. It’s a friendly competition, Fuentes said.
“We have to get each other better and support each other," Fuentes explained. "You never want someone to be bad. That’s just bad karma. We all get along good. No bad blood or anything like that. Really good guys over there.”
FANS IN THE STANDS
Colorado opens the season by hosting the world champion Los Angeles Dodgers on April 1. The state recently approved Coors Field for a 42.6% capacity variance, which translates to roughly 21,363 fans.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Pat Graham, The Associated Press