What if you could change a nightmare’s conclusion? Instead of waking up in a worried heap, you could reverse course right before the final scene.
Kyle Freeland’s 2019 has been that nightmare. His final two starts after returning from a groin injury are a chance to alter the mirage. Balls flying over the fence, inside fastballs fluttering over the plate and sliders that stay flat have all placed skepticism around the southpaw’s dream year.
The final two appearances from Freeland are set to be abbreviated but represent a chance to bounce back. According to Nick Groke of The Athletic, the club plans to start him against the Dodgers Saturday. After throwing two-to-three innings or 35-40 pitches – whichever comes first – he’ll make his final stand against the Giants Thursday. Between the two starts, he’s expected to get roughly 100 pitches – the equivalent, usually, of a full start.
The Rockies’ hope for a brighter future largely hinges on those 100 pitches.
Back-to-back postseason runs were largely made because of Freeland, especially in 2018. His 2.85 earned run average catalyzed the team nearly winning the National League West before falling in the tiebreaker game.
Replicating the second-best season in franchise history from a starter was an unfair expectation. Dropping to a 6.98 ERA in 20 starts, marred by injuries and a career-high 25 home runs, wasn’t either.
The Dodgers and Giants each represent an opportunity.
Both teams have seen Freeland before – 20 times combined. If his mechanics return to form, with his body staying towards the plate instead of opening up, then it should be smooth sailing. If not, this season could be merely a precursor to a downward slope.
Coincidentally, the Rockies are set to open arbitration talks with Freeland for the first time this offseason. He’s not set to be a free agent until 2023 and has yet to sign an extension the likes of German Marquez’ five-year, $43 million deal.
The Rockies’ future hinges largely on Freeland’s ability to return to form. His future is also looming.
If Freeland enters free agency in 2023, it likely means one thing: he was unable to recapture his form in Colorado.
As a hometown kid, the Rockies keeping Freeland, if he bounces back to being a good-to-great starter, is probable. If he doesn’t – and they don’t – his career arc takes a severe turn.
Jhoulys Chacin, for example, was released by the club after his age-26 season. He too found success at Coors Field, registering a sub-3.70 ERA in three of his six years with the club. The starter’s final year before his dismissal, he tallied a 5.40 mark – a full run lower than Freeland’s this year.
Similarly, Freeland is just exiting his age-26 season. He’s under team control through his age-29 campaign. If he were to exit the club, the prospects of finding a quality gig elsewhere are limited.
Even with his youth, Chacin has pitched for six different clubs since his release from the Rockies in 2015. In those four years, he’s made $19.2 million – a far cry from even Marquez’ team-friendly extension.
For the team, keeping Freeland for his career’s entirety is the goal. Not only did he grow up right down the road, but his bulldog mentality on the mound has been infectious.
To build a contender for 2020 and beyond, the club needs Freeland. They need Jon Gray and Marquez as well. If the trio simultaneously reaches their apex, few teams can top their three-game rotation.
Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon can handle the offensive load.
Several moves need to be made to create a winning environment: high-paid relievers need to pitch better; pieces around the Rockies’ top hitters need to get on base and starters need to push into the later innings instead of hemorrhaging runs in early frames. All are in-house upgrades that don’t require a trade or signing.
The season has been over for multiple weeks. Eliminated from contention, the Rockies are in tryout mode.
Even without the intensity of a playoff chase, the Rockies’ game-to-game developments can have a large effect. If Freeland can find his footing – even in meaningless games – the ramifications are vast.