DENVER — Leave it to the bearded, wise fly fisherman in the Rockies clubhouse to come up with a plan. How can the local ballclub avoid losing the core of a franchise revival after the eagerly anticipated 2018 season?
“You can really extend that window if you just sign everybody,” Charlie Blackmon, the All-Star center fielder and history-making leadoff hitter said with a laugh.
If Rockies CEO Dick Monfort and the folks who write the checks want to dig deep on pricey contract extensions for Blackmon and stud infielders D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado, few folks around these hills are going to steal the pen from their hand. Two former National League batting champs and the best third baseman in baseball for another half-decade or so?
That’ll do, Rox.
But Chuck’s not trying to pull the hair over our eyes. He knows better than anyone that when the clock strikes midnight on the 2018 season, Blackmon and LeMahieu are scheduled to be free agents. And the vacuum over at third base, Arenado, is due for a juicy new deal after the 2019 season.
“I think our window’s right now,” said Arenado, whose next contract, if it comes from the team that drafted him in 2009, appears destined to make him the highest-paid athlete in state history. His top priority is playing in October.
The big three in the lineup knows the time and score. So does the front office, which spent over $100 million to build a trustworthy bullpen, including a record $17 million annual salary for ex-Cubs closer Wade Davis, to alleviate some concerns about sophomore slumps along the starting pitching staff.
“We’ve got to guard a little against the sophomore season," manager Bud Black said.
“It’s exciting for me to know that if we have a lead late, we have a really good chance of winning the game,” Blackmon said.
Has there been a time in Rockies history when expectations entering a season were as big as the left-field scoreboard that’s in the process of being doubled in size? I can’t remember one. And by signing Blackmon to a one-year contract — one year after signing LeMahieu to a two-year deal — the Rox gave themselves an out if things don’t go as planned. As Black repeats roughly 162 times during the course of a season, "That's baseball." But since it’s fun to spend other people’s money, I would give Blackmon a long-term deal after his sensational season in 2017. His value is more than the 104 RBIs, a record from the leadoff spot. When a relatively young clubhouse sees how no-nonsense ball-aholics like Arenado, Blackmon and LeMahieu invest 100 percent of themselves into the process, it tends to impact the rest of the room.
Blackmon wants to stay in Colorado for the long term. Is it possible they reach a deal prior to the opener at Arizona on March 29 and Coors Field’s Opening Day against the Braves, April 6?
“That’s a two-way street. I really like playing here. It’s a great place to be. I like the people. I like my teammates,” Blackmon said. “I’ve also been on a one-year situation for the past 3-4 years. It doesn’t really change anything for me. I’m used to that ‘go out and produce’ mindset. Hopefully something happens. That would be great. I don’t plan to let that get in the way of playing baseball. I don’t want to be thinking about that during the season. That’s my time to work.”
There are no guarantees with the 2018 Rockies.
“You don’t want to look too far ahead,” Arenado said.
The men in the dugout believe the window of opportunity is open now.