The MLB trade deadline will certainly feature more significant moves, but the strangest thing this month may have been the Colorado Rockies’ decision not to trade Daniel Bard any closer. Instead, they gave the 37-year-old relief pitcher one Two-year, $19 million extension so that he stays with the team until 2024. Usually this is a move to provide some security in the bullpen, assuming the organization making the move has immediate hope of competing in the postseason. The Rockies do not meet this requirement.
The Rockies are really just out there doing stuff. This was made clear ahead of the 2022 season when Kris Bryant landed an enigmatic seven-year deal and was further corroborated by her other moves before that. Over the past two seasons, they’ve traded away Nolan Arenado, put down Jon Gray and let Trevor Story run. The Rockies probably aren’t too heartbroken about the last one, but still: Are they still rebuilding, and if so, what are they building on? The team has finished fourth in the division every season since 2019 and will again compete at the bottom of the NL West this year.
The problem isn’t that Bard was paid because he was outstanding. He also has an intriguing story behind his landing in Colorado. A decade ago he was with the Red Sox as a setup man who could hit triple figures, but in 2012 (the atrocious Bobby Valentine season) the team was messing with him trying to make him a starter. Bard faltered, lost command entirely, and was demoted. The Yips took over and after a series of minor league deals 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. Ahead of the 2020 season, Bard attempted a comeback, and his command was encouraging enough that he signed a triple-A contract with the Rockies. In this COVID-shortened season, he was relieved to put up some quality innings and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year. His 2021 was a patchy year, but this year he was one of the team’s few bright spots with 22 saves, a 1.86 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.
Bard is a legitimate closer who will earn a multi-year deal with this season’s performance, and while he’s nearly 40, his arm is likely a little fresher from that seven-year major league hiatus. But any other team in that position would have sent him to a better team for a prospect or two. The Rockies decided to keep him. Perhaps the stats justify the sentimentality here. The bigger issue is that Bard is one of the few Rockies pitchers (along with reliever Tyler Kinley) who doesn’t bleed runs. The team’s “best” starter is Kyle Freeland with a 4.63 ERA and 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s never been a K-heavy pitcher, but that’s still not ideal for having him at the top of your rotation. Jon Gray would have helped.
The Athletic’s Nick Groke was right a few days ago: the Rockies didn’t want to trade Bard despite all the rumors about him. The team seems to appreciate any pitcher who doesn’t fight at Coors Field. Groke’s story included an analogy from Rockies manager Bud Black that revealed the organizational logic:
“We take calls. We have some desirable players,” said Black. “And I can’t talk about that, but I’ll give you some perspective. Team A might call one of our players and his front office might 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 so-and-so on your team?’ And they might say, “You’re the one too.” That’s how it works. It’s a two-way street.”
“But that also happens a bit,” the manager continued. “‘Hey, you have a Range Rover. We’ll take your Range Rover and give you our Honda Accord.” And the teams expect you to do that. Why should we do this? “How could you not trade in your Range Rover?” Because we could try to keep our Range Rover! Rather than trade it in for your Subaru!”
If we’re to torture that metaphor, the Rockies aren’t making the most of their Range Rover. You use it for five-minute trips to the grocery store and otherwise keep it in the garage. Also, the Range Rover is on lease, and the Rockies are letting the lease expire and returning it to the dealership, but they’re not even getting a Subaru in exchange. Now they have a bike or something.
However, that metaphor is now invalid since the Range Rover’s lease was renewed. While there’s no indication of a broader strategy for this organization, it’s nice that the Rockies spent some money on a closer who resurrected his career with them, I think. However, this closer won’t have many high-leverage situations to enter when the pitchers in front of him are coughing up five runs a start. The Rockies found out who will take over the ninth inning; they still haven’t sorted out who will throw the first five or six.