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A richer Arenado looks to lead Rockies to 1st NL West title

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By PAT GRAHAM

AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) A certain Colorado Rockies player struck it rich this spring: Leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon .

Although, All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado didn't fare too bad, either, with his eight-year contract worth $260 million. Blackmon profits through Colorado's experiment to bat Arenado in the No. 2 spot - a plan that could spill into the regular season.

That means even more juicy pitches for Blackmon in what's become a loaded lineup with the addition of Daniel Murphy . After back-to-back postseason appearances, the Rockies are setting their sights even higher this season - the first NL West title in franchise history.

"We have a lot of guys who can hit and do a lot of things," said Blackmon, whose team hit a franchise-low .256 in 2018 and smacked 210 homers (fifth-most). "Nolan can really hurt you but there's not one place you can hide in the lineup. Or one place you can say, `All right, if I get through here, then I'm OK.' It's a long lineup and everyone can hurt you."

Arenado, who turns 28 on April 16, was on track to be eligible for free agency after this season. But he liked what he saw in this team and wanted to stay put. He's coming off a season in which he hit an NL-leading 38 homers.

What's more, manager Bud Black had his contract extended through the 2022 season.

"We have a great group," said Arenado, whose deal includes a provision that allows him to opt out after three years and become a free agent. "I really believe we can win. I wouldn't make this decision if I didn't believe that."

Arenado is a four-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner. His lucrative deal is one of several this spring along with Manny Machado ($300 million, 10-year contract with San Diego) and Bryce Harper ($330 million, 13-year deal with Philadelphia). Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is close to finalizing a $432 million, 12-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The deal was disclosed by a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been finalized and had not been announced.

Colorado brought in Murphy to play first base, which means Ian Desmond will move to center. And that also means Blackmon switches to right field with David Dahl taking over in left. It could be a breakout season for Dahl, who's being mentored by Arenado.

"We're pretty similar. We both work hard," said Dahl, whose team lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a tiebreaker game last season to decide the NL West champion. "I might be more laid back than him. I think our personalities rub off on each other."

The Rockies boast a young starting staff led by hard-throwing righty German Marquez and hometown lefty Kyle Freeland. Jon Gray tries to recover his electric stuff after a season in which he went 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA and was left off the postseason roster. He's been working on his slider with solid results. His fastball is coming around, too.

"I know what I've got to do now," Gray said. "I feel good about that."

Here are things to know before the Rockies open the season March 28 with a four-game series in Miami:

NEW FACES: Sure, he's new this season, but Rockies fans are familiar with Mark Reynolds. The non-roster invitee played first base for the Rockies in 2016 and `17, hitting 44 homers and batting .274. He figures to make the team and spell Murphy at first base.

ROOKIES TO WATCH: Touted infielder Brendan Rodgers, who could join the team later in the season. Rodgers was a first-round pick in 2015.

STATE OF THE BULLPEN: With Adam Ottavino leaving for the New York Yankees in free agency, the Rockies are searching for a reliever to fill the eighth-inning role. The spot could go to Scott Oberg or Seunghwan Oh. Waiting in the ninth will be closer Wade Davis, who led the NL with a team-record 43 saves. Colorado needs bounce-back seasons from Jake McGee (2-4, 6.49 ERA) and Bryan Shaw (4-6, 5.93).

UP THE MIDDLE: Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson and Pat Valaika could platoon to fill the hole at second base after DJ LeMahieu signed with the Yankees. Trevor Story is coming off an All-Star season at shortstop, hitting .291 with 37 homers.

TAKE THE EXTRA BASE: Desmond recently shared some baserunning secrets with his teammates. The Rockies have been given a green light on the base paths. "We do have a lot of speed on our team," Desmond said. "We have a lot of heady players."

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

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Updated March 19, 2019

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