WASHINGTON — Bud Black can’t remember the conversation exactly, but he was definitely in a room at the Ramada Inn next to a Phoenix dog track in 1982 when Seattle Mariners general manager Dan O’Brien called him in a hurry. Black, he was told, was the “player to be named later.”
“It was thirty … eight years ago? 36?” Black said, trying to recall. The Mariners jettisoned Black to the Kansas City Royals as part of a delayed trade, and he went on to win a World Series in 1985.
“It was a long time ago, bro,” Black said.
The fortune that guides the wake of a trade can start that suddenly, as the Rockies may learn soon after diving into the Major League Baseball trade deadline last week.
Now Colorado’s manager, Black gained veterans Pat Neshek, a relief pitcher, and Jonathan Lucroy, a catcher, within four days. The Rockies, on paper, are a better team than they were one week ago. But how good?
“From our vantage point, a couple of thousand miles away from Denver,” Black said late Sunday night after splitting a doubleheader with the Nationals and learning midnightcap the Lucroy deal was complete, “to get this type of player will pick everybody up.”
While the Rockies addressed, twice over, their greatest concern — pitching, always pitching — the rest of the best teams in the National League tried to outdo them.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, already a runaway leader in the NL West, on Monday traded for Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish to join a rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood. Los Angeles gave up three prospects, including perhaps the fourth-best player in its farm system, in an urgent attempt to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988.
“I think it will definitely be an emotional boost for the team,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi, who also upgraded L.A.’s bullpen in separate deals, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s hard to say they need it.”
The Arizona Diamondbacks, just a half-game ahead of Colorado for the first of two wild-card spots, landed left-handed slugger J.D. Martinez two weeks ago in a lineup-altering deal with the Detroit Tigers.
And two other postseason potentials, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, outbid the Rockies on trades. Chicago added top-notch reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila in a Sunday night deal with Detroit, and the Nationals swooped in to snag Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler on Monday.
The Rockies’ trades fit in specific context. General manager Jeff Bridich told The Denver Post he is not shy about leaning on a tremendously young pitching rotation, including four rookies whose average age is just 23. They have combined for 36 of the club’s 45 victories among starting pitchers.
“If you are at this level and you are good enough to be here,” Bridich said, “then you are good enough to play well here.”
So instead of bracing for a starting pitcher bidding war chasing Darvish or Oakland’s Sonny Gray, the Rockies tried to improve on the mound from the edges. Lucroy gives them an experienced catcher to guide the young rotation. Even though his offensive production has dipped since last July, it is of secondary concern.
“Jonathan gives us a guy with a veteran presence behind the plate as our young starters go into uncharted territory in the next two months,” Black said.
They also added Neshek, an all-star sidearmer, in an immediate late-inning upgrade to the bullpen. Neither trade cost Colorado any significant investment. And there is time, if the Rockies choose, to weasel another signing or trade through waivers. They added veteran slugger Jason Giambi in late August before playing in the 2009 postseason.
“It seems like the front office understands that we’re for real and we’re in this,” Colorado all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “And we’re trying to make moves to get better. It gets you a little more pumped up coming to the ballpark every day. That’s what we needed, with Neshek and Lucroy, to show there’s a little something to this.”
Looking ahead …
Jim McIsaac, Getty Images
John Leyba, The Denver Post
John Leyba, The Denver Post
Dustin Bradford, Getty Images
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Denis Poroy, Getty Images
Rich Schultz, Getty Images
Nam Y. Huh, The Associated Press
Mets LHP Steven Matz (2-4, 5.51 ERA) at Rockies RHP Jeff Hoffman (6-3, 5.58), 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, AT&T SportsNet; 850 AM
This is a battle of two struggling pitchers. Hoffman has shown excellent stuff and stellar command, but only at times, so his results have been iffy. It hasn’t helped that he’s gotten squeezed by the home plate umpire in his last two starts. The rookie was 2-2 with an 8.00 ERA in five starts in July, giving up five homers with a .324 batting average against. Matz is 0-3 with a 14.18 ERA over his last four starts, with opposing batters knocking him around at a .472 clip. The Rockies roughed him up July 16 at Citi Field, scoring seven earned run on nine hits in one inning. — Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post
Wednesday: Mets RHP Chris Flexen (0-1, 9.00) at Rockies RHP Tyler Chatwood (6-11, 4.78), 6:40 p.m., AT&T SportsNet
Thursday: Mets RHP Rafael Montero (1-7, 5.56) at Rockies RHP German Marquez (9-4, 4.08), 1:10 p.m., no TV
Friday: Phillies RHP Vince Velasquez (2-6, 4.91) at Rockes RHP Jon Gray (3-2, 5.52), 6:40 p.m., AT&T SportsNet