There are, generally speaking (and it is dangerous of course to discuss these things too freely in terms of generalities), two types of villains in Shakespeare. There are individuals who become seduced towards immorality or evil by the suggestion of some type of reward, these are your Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth, Claudius, Cassius and Brutus, etc. These are characters who certainly commit evil deeds, but Shakespeare allows them to explicate the reasons they did so, which are typically Machiavellian or just plain wrong, but do exist. The other type, which are rarer, are the irredeemable villains. Characters who have not any declared reason for their villainy but just are that way. Iago, who responds to Othello’s pleas to understand why he set out to destroy him with “what you know, you know” is the most notable version of this type. These two forms of villainy actively reinforce the themes important to Shakespeare’s work, and his understanding of human nature. Human beings are frail, have flaws that can be exploited, and are capable of indulging their worst instincts and desires. Simultaneously, Shakespeare also tries to remind us that nature is a mystery. We cannot understand Iago because we cannot understand all things. This can also be a useful way to think about bad baseball teams.

The Miami Marlins are a bad baseball team because Jeffrey Loria likes making lots of money more than he likes baseball. That may seem like a fairly poor reason to you, me, and most people who enjoy baseball, but it is a reason. The Philadelphia Phillies are a bad team because they made bad decisions half a decade ago that have made it impossible for them to be good these last few years (how many times did Ruben Amaro Jr. fall to his knees in his office and proclaim “O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t, a long term extension for Ryan Howard”). These reasons are fairly similar to what we typically see in Shakespeare’s villains: greed, pride, overflowing ambition. Shakespeare’s villains have these flaws because they are, well, flawed. One of Shakespeare’s greatest talents was to make sure the audience was aware of the base humanity of nearly everyone on stage. Except, of course, a few.

Those typical reasons for villainy do not apply to the Colorado Rockies, though they are certainly a bad baseball team. In fact, until recently, I did not consider the Rockies to be necessarily villainous at all. Under Dan O’Dowd, the best match in Shakespeare for the spirit of the Rockies was actually Hamlet. Just as Hamlet was cursed with the knowledge of his father’s murder, the Rockies were cursed with playing baseball games a mile above sea level.  Hamlet spends the play plagued with indecision over what to do, Harold Bloom has written that with Hamlet, Shakespeare created “as ambivalent and divided a consciousness as a coherent drama could sustain.” If that doesn’t sound like the Rockies’ perpetual inability to actually go in a specific direction I don’t know what does.

And then! O’Dowd was gone, replaced by Jeff Bridich, young and ambitious. In him, we seemed to have a Fortinbras to our Hamlet, someone who could walk through the gates of Elsinore and actually do things. They traded Troy Tulowitzki! Jon Gray was coming up to get a taste of the bigs! There was a direction! We might be spared the sight of Walt Weiss wandering the halls with a dinosaur skull (“oh Dinger, I knew him well”). But things have not quite worked out that way.

Col Record wRC+ SP ERA- RP ERA- DRS UZR BsR Pay – $M
2013  .457 (21) 87 (26) 104 (17) 96 (21) -5 (17)  -3 (18) 18 (2) 74 (25)
2014  .407 (29) 97 (14) 114 (27) 111 (28) 16 (13) -1 (16) -11 (27)  98 (19)
2015 .420 (27) 85 (30) 115 (27) 102 (24) -4 (18) -25 (25)  4 (10) 107 (21)

 

The assumption after trading Tulo, and through months full of off-season rumors about the Rockies wanting to move an outfielder, was that Carlos Gonzalez would be gone. It would be sad, CarGo is beloved in Denver, and had a very special comeback year. But, it was fair to assume that by trading Tulo they had gone all in on changing the team, and as a fairly expensive veteran he made the most sense. Perhaps there was never any serious interest in CarGo, maybe the league was too scared of his recent health issues, that’s fine. But what was decidedly less than fine was the decision to instead trade Corey Dickerson. You know, the same Corey Dickerson who is 26 years old and has a career OPS+ of 125. And what was even less fine than that was that the main return for Corey Dickerson was Jake McGee, who is a fairly good reliever but is, you know, a reliever. There was no reason to trade Corey Dickerson. McGee makes a lot more money this year and plays a far less important position (particularly for a team unlikely to win 80 games). Dickerson is a terrible defender in the outfield, but the Rockies currently have Ben Paulsen slated as their opening day first baseman who a) you have never heard of and b) is worse than Corey Dickerson.

By trading Corey Dickerson, in my estimation the Rockies are no longer poor, conflicted Hamlet, nor are they like the Marlins or Phillies. The Rockies are Iago.

The Rockies are going to be bad this year, but there will be no larger purpose to it. Yes, we will get to see more of Jon Gray and see if he can build off his (kind of encouraging) 2015 cameo. Yes, we might get to see some of the spoils from the Tulo trade. Yes, Nolan Arenado will probably be an MVP contender again. Outside of that, it’s hard to imagine much reason for optimism in Colorado in 2016.

After several years of mostly effective stability, there are some changes in the lineup. The Rockies’ biggest offseason acquisition was signing Gerardo Parra, who will likely be just fine. Parra would have been a very good replacement for CarGo, given the money involved. But instead he will be a confusing replacement for Dickerson: likely to not hit as well, will defend better, will be much more expensive. Elsewhere, Jose Reyes (who may be suspended for a significant portion of the season for a domestic assault that took place over the off-season) is slotted in at shortstop. He had a .291 OBP in over 200 plate appearances for the Rockies after coming over from Toronto, and has a contract (with added legal baggage) that may become immovable. Ben Paulsen will have his first full season at first base. He will be okay, probably. Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu had mildly promising campaigns in 2015 (Blackmon’s season was promising in affirming that his great first half in 2014 wasn’t a fluke). Last year, the Rockies had one of the best infield defenses in the league. Arenado and LeMahieu are still there, and should still be great in that department, but Reyes and Paulsen will both likely be worse than the players they’re replacing.

In terms of position player prospects, Tom J. Murphy will probably spend some extended time with the big league club in 2016, likely as Nick Hundley’s caddy behind the plate until they trade Hundley at the deadline (wishful thinking on my part). Jose Reyes will possibly be suspended for a significant number of games, clearing the way for Cristian Adames and Trevor Story. If either of them are effective, it will likely only serve to make the Reyes contract situation more painful. We’re probably a year or more away from seeing David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, and Ryan McMahon, but just so you know, those are the players my meager hopes will be pinned to in future versions of this preview.

Questions in the lineup notwithstanding, the crucible for the Rockies will be-as always-the pitching staff. Jorge De La Rosa is quite possibly the greatest pitcher in Rockies history (he has an accumulated bWAR of 12.5 over eight seasons with the team, but you know…context), but he will be turning 35 just around Opening Day. De La Rosa is by no means a fireballer, but you can only outsmart growing old for so long. Chad Bettis had one of the most encouraging years in 2015 of any Rockies developed starter in a long time, and would be a solid fourth starter on a good team, but will be the number two starter on a bad team. Jordan Lyles should be healthy and Rockies fans will find a way to get excited about him around June for probably specious reasons.

The hopes and dreams of the rotation rest on Jon Gray. He started nine games last season but only pitched 40 innings, and has no wins and two losses on his ledger, but that is primarily the fault of a truly lackluster bullpen. He earned a 3.63 FIP and had nearly nine strikeouts per nine innings. The word from Rockies brass seems to be that he does not have a spot in the rotation sewn up, but probably deserves it on the merits. My most optimistic guess is that he will pitch 150 or so innings, the FIP will be around 4, but his second half will look better than his first.

At around this time last year, I was convincing myself to be excited about the possibility of a 2016 rotation featuring first rounders Gray, Tyler Matzek and Eddie Butler, but sadly Butler and Matzek had disastrous seasons in 2015. Matzek pitched just 22 innings but had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of .79, and was taking a break from baseball at the end of the year. Butler pitched 79 innings, had a 1.8 WHIP, gave up nearly 12 hits per nine (with nearly identical ERA and FIP), and is likely to spend 2016 in Albuquerque. Both have talent, have pitched well at Coors, and are young, but with Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and Jesus Tinoco coming into the system from the Tulowitzki trade, they may be squeezed out of the franchise’s ideas for the future.

The bullpen looks to be the one area of modest improvement from last season, though that likely says more about the 2015 battery than this one. The aforementioned Jake McGee will be the anchor, with Boone Logan as the resident effective lefty. Jason Motte and Chad Qualls were both brought in, for much needed depth. I would complain about the annoyance of a bad team signing two particularly fungible relievers to multi-year deals, but because this is the Rockies, that is fairly low on my list of grievances. Adam Ottavino had put together multiple impressive years in the Rockies pen before needing Tommy John surgery, but if he can come back healthy, he and McGee could become a formidable 8th and 9th inning duo. If only they had important games to pitch in.

In Act I of Julius Caesar, Cassius famously tells Brutus that “the fault…is not in our stars, But in ourselves”. Cassius was trying to convince Brutus that they deserved to be just as important as Caesar, but the sentiment is also an effective way of thinking about Shakespeare’s perception of human frailty and villainy: people are flawed, and those flaws can manifest themselves in terrible acts. This is also true for baseball owners and executives. It is fairly easy to imagine Act II, Scene I of Macbeth taking place at Ruben Amaro Jr.’s house, but instead of a dagger he sees before him, it’s an aging Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins winning a World Series. But this kind of description does not fit the Colorado Rockies. Ruben Amaro Jr. had a plan, it worked out terribly, but it was a plan. Dan O’Dowd never seemed to have a plan. It looked for a bit like Jeff Bridich had a plan, but it is difficult to suss out what kind of strategy would call for trading your best player away and trading for a good reliever (at a steep price) within six months. Macbeth had a plan. Cassius and Brutus, plan. Richard III had a heck of a plan. I called the Rockies Iago before, but that is not quite right, even Iago had a plan, as nihilistic as it was.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine the Rockies competing meaningfully in the next few years, and increasingly difficult to imagine them making coherent attempts to do so.

Late in Titus Andronicus, the villain Aaron proclaims

“I have done a thousand dreadful things

As willingly as one would kill a fly,

And nothing grieves me heartily indeed

But that I cannot do ten thousand more”

I do not know if the Rockies will be able to fit ten thousand dreadful things into the 2016 season, but I do suspect they’ll try.

 

Check out Effectively Wild‘s season previews and the schedule of our own companion previews.

2013-15 team stats via FanGraphs. Salaries via Spotrac.

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