It’s the bottom of the eighth inning on a warm night at historic Wrigley Field, and the Colorado Rockies are an out away from avoiding a three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Chicago Cubs. Veteran utility infielder Matt Duffy, forced into a role with the Cubs as a result of the front office’s decision to blow up the roster at the trade deadline, hit a weak roller to shortstop, surely putting an end to a doubleheader nightcap that was slated to go only seven frames.
But upon fielding the weakly hit grounder, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story airmailed a fairly routine throw to first base, allowing the tying run to score and extending the game even further into the night.
It was a situation all too common this season for Story, who has a host of throwing errors that have helped lead to speculation about his health. The velocity on his throws is way down from where it sat during previous seasons, and that prompted at least one team to consider acquiring him at the deadline and placing him in the outfield. Story spent time in early June on the injured list with an elbow issue, and at other points this season he’s dealt with hand and forearm soreness as a result of being hit by pitches. Regardless of the reason, many of Story’s throws seem to have some overcompensation attached to them, leaving some talent evaluators concerned about his future as a shortstop.
That may or may not be entirely fair, but it’s worth noting that Story’s overall defense has taken a hit this season. The 28-year-old shorstop averaged 12 defensive runs saved per season during his first five big league campaigns, but he’s been a net negative through 109 games in 2021. That, combined with an unusually poor season offensively–Story was hitting just .244/.322/.444 entering Sunday–raises the question: just how much will Story fetch as a free agent this offseason?
A season or two ago, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say Story was likely in line for a long-term deal in the range of $150-200 million, or maybe more. But the pandemic placing a hamstring, perceived or not, on payrolls league wide may have killed that possibility. Plus, Story’s arm strength issue and questions surrouding his real offensive value–again, fair or not–have surfaced where they might not have shown before. He’s still a likely candidate to get nine-figure deal from a contending team, but we’ve seen stranger things before.
Consider this: the Rockies are going to extend a qualifying offer to Story after the season, and that is likely to be in the $20 million range. If he finishes the season with similar numbers to what he has now, would Story accept the sure thing and hit the market again after 2021 with what will hopefully be a better résumé?
It would have sounded crazy back when Story was legitimately the best shortstop in the game and the economy–within baseball and everywhere else–was thriving. But now? Don’t be surprised if the unexpected comes to fruition.