The Rockies don’t want your pity; they just want to be heard. In a season dominated by terrible teams such as the Twins and the Braves, they’ve largely slipped under the radar, but don’t let that fool you. Although there are worse teams, rest assured, the Rockies have been bad.
The trouble is, they’ve only been a little bad, hovering in that nebulous area between first and last. They sit comfortably behind the contending Giants and Dodgers in the National League West, but well ahead of the lowly Padres and Diamondbacks.
Third-place teams generally don’t get a great deal of attention. Sure, the Cubs won 97 games last year in that spot, but that’s a fluke. More typical are the experiences of last year’s Marlins, Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Indians, where the public reaction is, “Oh right, they played games, too.”
This is where the Rockies now find themselves. But if being only a little bad is bothering them, they’re hiding it well.
“Third place is an okay place to be,” said one front office staffer, speaking anonymously. “It’s neither here nor there, but all in all it’s not horrible. Would we be getting more notoriety if we stuck an immobile Matt Kemp in left field every day or had a starting rotation led by Ervin Santana? Sure, but that’s not our concern. We just focus on doing what we do.”
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what the Rockies are doing. They have some exciting young talent in Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, and David Dahl. Even a few pitchers show promise: Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, and the recently recalled Jeff Hoffman could be a part of the team’s future. But the Rockies have played most of 2016 without a real catcher, first baseman, or left fielder.
“It’s frustrating to see Gerardo Parra’s name in the lineup all the time,” said one season ticket holder, adding quickly, “but hey, at least we’re not the Diamondbacks.”
And this is a key point. “Not the Diamondbacks” has become a rallying cry in Denver, as fans and club officials alike are fond of noting that they aren’t the team that blew giant wads of cash on Zack Greinke or traded Dansby Swanson for Shelby Miller. They aren’t systematically making poor decisions that will ensure their place in the cellar for years to come.
But that only serves to underscore the larger issue: People don’t realize that the Rockies have been bad. It’s not that they want to be known as bad, it’s that they want to be acknowledged at all.
“We’ve been trying to raise awareness,” said the anonymous front office staffer. “We’re letting the community know, getting the word out that, ‘Hey, we were just okay for the first four months, but we’ve really sucked in August.’
“It’s tough, because we didn’t stumble out of the gate like the Braves did. We didn’t change managers six weeks into the season. We didn’t trade for a broken-down former MVP candidate. A lot of the things a team does to get into the spotlight, we didn’t do. But we’re okay with that.
“The Braves are having their day in the sun right now, fighting to get the first pick in next year’s draft, but it won’t always be like that. Our time will come. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The Rockies aren’t going anywhere, you can count on it.”
While some remain confident that the Rockies aren’t going anywhere, others are less certain.
“With their young major-league talent and some of the kids coming up through the system, they could be competitive sooner rather than later,” said an anonymous rival NL West executive.
“Well, they could find themselves in third place. So maybe not competitive, but not in the cellar.”
When advised that the Rockies were in third place now, the executive said, “No shit?”
Told of these comments, the Rockies staffer chuckled. “It’s a problem of perception,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what’s going on around here. With Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki gone, we don’t have as much of an identity as we used to, but that’s going to change.”
When asked how, he simply waved his hand and chuckled again. It was very convincing, indeed.
As for fans on the street, they seem to be taking it all in stride.
“We’re less awful than the Rays,” said one, wearing a Dante Bichette jersey and matching mullet.
“And the Reds,” said another, wearing a David Nied cloak of irrelevance.
“Not to mention less red,” said Bichette.
“And more rocky,” said Nied.
Advised of the fans’ comments, the anonymous staffer smiled. “It’s gratifying to know that our efforts to spread the word that we’re bad–just not that bad–are paying dividends. These are smart people who know their baseball. They know who Dante Bichette is, they know who David Nied is.”
They know you’re less red than the Reds?
“And more rocky,” said the staffer.
Game. Set. Match.
Geoff Young is a baseball writer who is neither red nor rocky. You should follow him on Twitter.