- Lefty Jake McGee picks up a $5.9MM salary from the Rockies, also via Heyman (on Twitter). That’s just shy of his $6.1MM projection. Though the high price tag (driven by prior years’ save tallies) had made McGee at least a hypothetical non-tender candidate, it’s not surprising to see him return. Colorado will hope that he can restore some velocity and improve upon the 4.73 ERA and 7.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 that he posted in his first year with the Rox.
- There’s been no formal extension offer made by the Rockies to Carlos Gonzalez, who said last week that the team has expressed interest in an extension. According to Heyman, that could be due to the fact that initial suggestions were deemed “too low” by Gonzalez’s camp to even merit an official offer. CarGo is just one year away from free agency and could be an appealing trade piece for the Rox this summer if the team doesn’t contend in 2017.
2:24pm: SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets that the two sides settled on a $3.175MM salary.
12:35pm: The Rockies announced today that they’ve avoided arbitration with right-hander Jordan Lyles on a one-year deal. Terms of the contract weren’t disclosed. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had pegged Lyles, a Ballengee Group client, for a $3.3MM salary in 2017.
Lyles, 26, missed the majority of the 2015 season with a foot injury and split the 2016 campaign between the Rockies and the team’s Triple-A affiliate. Formerly a starter with the Rockies and Astros (and a well-regarded prospect in the Houston farm system), Lyles shifted to a bullpen role for the bulk of this past season but struggled to a 5.83 ERA in 58 2/3 innings. Lyles averaged a career-low 4.9 strikeouts and averaged a career-high 4.3 walks per nine innings in his time at the big league level this past season. Those struggles led us to peg him as a potential non-tender candidate, but he’ll return despite his troubles. Lyles’ 51.5 percent ground-ball rate this past season was encouraging, as was the fact that he allowed just four homers in his 58 2/3 frames despite pitching at Coors Field. He also saw his fastball velocity trend upward, settling at a career-best average of 92.9 mph after moving into a short-relief role.
With five years and 21 days of big league service under his belt, Lyles is one year away from reaching the open market, so demonstrating some form of improvement next year will be of extra importance for the former No. 38 overall draft pick. With Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez and Eddie Butler all in the rotation mix, it might be difficult for Lyles to get back into a starting role in 2016. However, if he’s able to perform capably in a multi-inning relief role, he’d still boost his 2017-18 free agent stock nicely.
It’s been pretty quiet on the Rockies front lately, but GM Jeff Bridich spoke to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post on a number of offseason topic yesterday. Here are some notable takeaways from that chat and a bit more on the Rockies’ offseason…
- Many Rockies fans seem to like the idea of bringing back former franchise cornerstone Matt Holliday to fill the club’s first base vacancy in 2017, but Saunders notes that Bridich downplayed the likelihood of a reunion with Holliday. Said the GM: “We have just now started looking into the reality of Matt. With the way that our outfield is situated… the outfield for Matt doesn’t make a whole lot of sense right now. So right now we are just trying to wrap our minds around whether he’s a viable option at first base.” Certainly that’s not a firm denial of any possibility, but it’s not a vote of confidence in Holliday’s first base abilities either, and Bridich’s comments seem to rule out the possibility of Holliday getting any time in left field next year. Holliday played 61 innings at first base last year — his lone experience at the position.
- Similarly, a signing of Colorado native Mark Melancon seems to be on the wishlist of some fans, and Bridich did confirm to Saunders that the team has at least spoken to Melancon’s representatives. However, the GM characterized Melancon as one of “a lot of guys” whose agents have been contacted by the Rockies. Saunders recently cast some doubt on the Rockies’ ability to compete with other big-spending teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees and Nationals to acquire Melancon’s services, however, and it does seem unlikely that they’d win a bidding war, based on the team’s recent history with free agents.
- In addition to Melancon, Bridich confirmed to Saunders that he’s spoken to the agent for former Marlins lefty Mike Dunn. Bridich also voiced confidence in last winter’s trio of bullpen acquisitions — Jake McGee, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls — stating that he believes each can rebound from a disappointing first year with the Rox. Saunders notes that between McGee, Adam Ottavino and Carlos Estevez, the Rockies’ 2017 closer may already be on the roster.
- Elsewhere, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports that the Rockies have expressed some level of interest in a reunion with Mark Reynolds, who performed reasonably well on a low-cost one-year deal for Colorado last year (Twitter link). Reynolds played a passable first base in the estimation of Defensive Runs Saved (+4) and, to a lesser extent, Ultimate Zone Rating (-1.9). He also batted a solid .282/.356/.450 with 14 homers in 441 plate appearances, although park-adjusted metrics like OPS+ and wRC+ felt that his overall offensive output was about league-average after compensating for Coors Field. (And it’s worth noting that Reynolds raked at a .310/.383/.497 clip at home while hitting a pedestrian .255/.329/.403 on the road in 2016.)
- MLB.com’s Mike Petriello has the Rockies atop his speculative list of teams that make sense as a landing spot for Chris Carter, who was designated for assignment by the Brewers yesterday. Petriello raises a point we’ve examined at MLBTR in the past, noting that Mark Trumbo would be a strong fit in Colorado were it not for the fact that signing him would require the Rockies to forfeit the top unprotected pick in next year’s draft (No. 11 overall). As Petriello further examines, the difference between Carter and Trumbo, from a statistical standpoint, hasn’t been all that great over the past few years. Each offers enormous power with plenty of strikeouts and questionable on-base percentages. The difference between the two, from my vantage point, would be that Trumbo hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase his first base skills in years, as he’s been played out of position in the outfield. Trumbo has rated as a solid defensive first baseman in the past, when given the opportunity, while Carter’s glovework has consistently graded out poorly. Then again, if there’s a sizable enough gap in terms of the required dollars (to say nothing of retaining the draft pick), the downgrade to Carter’s glove may be viewed as an acceptable price to pay.
- Could Colorado native Mark Melancon return to his home state in a Rockies uniform? Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post has serious doubts, as the Rockies have been burned on big pitching contracts in the past and the team would have to outbid several big-market teams in need of a closer to land Melancon’s services. Making the signing, on the other hand, would show that the Rockies are serious about contending with their current core of talent, and Melancon would obviously be a big upgrade for a Colorado bullpen that struggled last year.
- The Rockies have brought back infielder Josh Rutledge on a minor league deal, per the MLBRosterMoves Twitter account. He receives a camp invitation in the contract. Rutledge, 27, cracked the majors with Colorado and has taken most of his plate appearances there. After a minor league stint with the Angels, he returned to the majors with the Red Sox in each of the last two seasons, posting a cumulative .276/.338/.358 batting line over 141 plate appearances. Rutledge missed the bulk of the past season due to knee issues and took free agency after being outrighted by Boston.
There’s just one guaranteed year on Carlos Gonzalez’s seven-year, $80MM contract, but the Rockies are interested in working out a longer-term pact to keep him in Denver, the outfielder himself tells Venezuelan journalist Wilmer Reina (Twitter link). Gonzalez said that while the Rockies want an extension, there’s still a lot to be negotiated.
Gonzalez, 31, has been with the Rockies since 2009 and established himself as a star there earlier this decade. While he didn’t follow up 2015’s 40-homer campaign with that same type of power, he’s coming off a season in which he batted .298/.350/.505 with 25 home runs and 42 doubles. That OBP was his highest since 2012, though Gonzalez’s walk rate, swinging-strike rate and contact rates all remained worse than the league average in 2016. The improved OBP was driven by a slight dip in strikeouts and a more notable spike in his average on balls in play. Gonzalez’s defense held steady at average to slightly above, in the estimation of metrics like DRS and UZR, though Gonzalez has a more favorable reputation around the game, as he was a Gold Glove finalist in right field this past season.
For the Rockies, though, they have a trio of left-handed-hitting alternatives in the outfield in David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon and Gerardo Parra, although the latter of that group struggled through a terrible first season in Colorado (.253/.271/.399). There’s been some talk of moving Gonzalez to first base, but as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding notes (Twitter links), that thought was due more to recent injuries than to a perceived need to move him for defensive purposes, and it also wasn’t necessarily an immediate plan.
Certainly, with four left-handed-hitting outfielders, it could be argued that Gonzalez is a somewhat superfluous asset for the Rockies, who should look to cash in on the still-productive veteran in a trade. (MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explored this more at length when previewing the Rockies’ offseason.) The Rockies, though, do seem intent on trying to contend in 2017, and Gonzalez is a better option in the outfield than Parra, so hanging onto him would make the team better. Beyond that, the return for a 31-year-old that is owed $20MM in his final year before free agency may not be as robust as many would expect considering Gonzalez’s name value. Considering the flooded corner outfield market, the Rox could feel there’s a chance to get a similar return if they explore a trade in July rather than moving one of their more productive bats before the 2017 season even opens.
Whether pursuing an extension is wise, of course, is entirely dependent on the price. Gonzalez would be 32 in the first season of a theoretical deal, and his bat is likelier to either continue at its solid-but-elite 2016 pace or to decline than it is to return to the form he showed in his mid-20s from 2010-13. Likewise, his defense figures to deteriorate a bit as he progresses into his mid-30s. For a team whose payroll is on the rise but still doesn’t compare to the most aggressive-spending clubs in the game, a misstep on an extension — even one for a player that is one of the faces of the franchise — would be a significant burden.
Certainly, with current holes at catcher, first base and in the bullpen (plus opportunities to add some rotation depth), an extension for Gonzalez wouldn’t seem like an immediate priority for GM Jeff Bridich and his staff. And while Gonzalez has voiced an openness to an extension quite recently due to the team’s improved play in 2016, today’s comments don’t make it sound like talks have progressed very far — if they’ve even begun at all. It seems likelier that an extension would be pursued later this winter, after some more of the club’s offseason shopping has been completed and after the team’s arbitration cases have been settled.
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For the first time in a while, perhaps, the Rockies have more answers than questions on their roster heading into 2017. But plenty of needs remain to be addressed if the team hopes to break a string of six-straight losing campaigns — let alone crack the postseason for the first time since 2009.
- Carlos Gonzalez, OF: $20MM through 2017
- Gerardo Parra, OF: $19.5MM through 2018 (includes buyout of 2019 club option)
- Adam Ottavino, RP: $9.1MM through 2018
- Jason Motte, RP: $5MM through 2017
- DJ LeMahieu, 2B: $4.8MM through 2017 (arb eligible in 2018)
- Chad Qualls, RP: $3.25MM through 2017
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; link to MLBTR projections)
- Jake McGee (5.127) – $6.1MM
- Tyler Chatwood (5.039) – $4.8MM
- Jordan Lyles (5.021) – $3.3MM
- Charlie Blackmon (4.102) – $9.0MM
- Nolan Arenado (3.155) – $13.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: McGee, Lyles
Other Salary Obligations
- Jose Reyes: $26MM through 2018
Pitching is always the great question in Colorado. The thin air of Coors Field poses a unique challenge, and the organization has yet to find a systematic means of dealing with that problem.
While altitude-master Jorge De La Rosa is finally moving on, though, the organization finds itself with a reasonably promising array of starters entering the winter. At the top of the list is Jon Gray, who made good on his billing (and draft status) with 168 solid frames in his first full season in the majors. Tyler Anderson showed well in his debut year, and the still-youthful Tyler Chatwood bounced back nicely from Tommy John surgery. While Chad Bettis wasn’t quite a good in the earned run department as he was in his surprising 2015 season, he still profiles as a sturdy rotation piece after providing 186 frames.
Having four bona fide starters isn’t enough, of course, but the Rockies have some other internal options. Jeff Hoffman — the top prospect acquired in the Troy Tulowitzki deal — comes with some upside. Another first-round arm, lefty Kyle Freeland, reached Triple-A last year and may soon be ready for a chance at the bigs. German Marquez also briefly touched the majors last year after an impressive run in the upper minors, though he’s still just 21 years old. The club could still give a shot to Jordan Lyles, if he’s tendered; though he’s coming off of a rough year, and has dealt with injuries, he’s not far removed from a promising 2014 season in which he recorded a 4.33 ERA over 22 starts. And Eddie Butler has always been seen as having plenty of talent, so it would be unwise to rule him out as an option if he can get back on track early in 2017.
Still, there’s plenty of reason to believe that GM Jeff Bridich should search for a way to bolster that unit. Top-tier free agent starters and those seeking a place to re-launch their careers are generally unwilling to go to Colorado, at least absent a substantial overpay, so that’s an unlikely course. Bridich has utilized the open market previously, signing Kyle Kendrick to an ill-fated, $5.5MM pact before the 2015 season, so he could still look to fill some innings that way. Otherwise, the Rox could look to the trade market to obtain a reliable arm.
The same general calculus holds true in the bullpen, where there’s an even more apparent need for improvement. Colorado will hope that its investments in Jason Motte and Chad Qualls look better at the end of next season than they do at present. While Boone Logan finally contributed in the third year of his own free agent contract, he’s now back on the market. Last winter’s major trade acquisition, lefty Jake McGee, will need to reverse his plummeting velocity and strikeout numbers.
There’s some hope, at least, that the Rockies will get more out of Motte, Qualls, and especially McGee in 2017. But the real cause for optimism lies elsewhere in the pen. Adam Ottavino picked up where he left off when he underwent Tommy John surgery, and seems to have the inside track on the closer’s role. Carlos Estevez faded after taking over the ninth last year, but he has a big heater and generated 9.7 K/9 over his first 55 major league frames. And southpaw Chris Rusin, who flamed out as a starter, thrived in a bullpen role, working to a 2.58 ERA with a 41:8 K/BB ratio in his 45 1/3 relief innings.
That gives Colorado six rather clear pen options, with any of the above-noted starting candidates also representing plausible relievers depending upon how things shake out. There are a few others who could be considered, too, including young righty Miguel Castro. But as with the rotation, the addition of at least one sturdy arm would seem to make quite a bit of sense. Bridich has suggested that finding impact arms will be a key focus, though as he admits, it may require a calculated roll of the dice to get something done.
Indeed, beyond the problem of marketing the game’s worst home pitching environment, the Rockies have another potential limitation at play. The organization is fresh off of a season in which it carried a team-record $112MM payroll, and is already in for $66MM for the coming year, with an estimated $36.3MM in arbitration payouts still to be accounted for (as well as a host of league-minimum salaries to fill out the roster). While non-tendering Lyles or even McGee could free up some cash, it would also mean shedding depth. Owner Dick Monfort has said that the organization will set another record in salary in 2017, but it’s not clear whether that will represent a significant increase over last year’s number. If not, there’ll be some tough decisions to make.
The obvious question is whether the Rockies will consider dealing from their stock of left-handed-hitting outfielders to facilitate the acquisition of players that could help elsewhere. Center fielder Charlie Blackmon is the team’s best trade piece, as he’s still reasonably priced, is controlled for two more years, and is coming off of an outstanding all-around campaign. He’d be the type of piece that might bring back a truly high-quality rotation piece, and could be replaced up the middle by David Dahl, who was excellent in his debut last year.
Still, parting with Blackmon would mean giving up one of the club’s best all-around players and relying heavily on Dahl. And depending upon the return, it might not do much to change the financial picture. Shedding some of the obligation owed to Gerardo Parra would obviously make sense to Colorado after his ugly and injury-riddled first year with the team, but they’d be selling low and might not find a willing slate of buyers.
Instead, it may finally make sense for the organization to pursue a deal involving star Carlos Gonzalez. He’s owed a cool $20MM — over a sixth of the team’s current projected payroll — in the final year of his deal. Though he has finally been healthy for two consecutive seasons, and has knocked 65 homers since the start of 2015, his overall production at the plate of late has been more solid than great. And the recent iteration of Gonzalez doesn’t draw above-average reviews from metrics with the glove or on the bases. It’s unlikely at this point that a rival organization would give up a major haul of prospects to add the 31-year-old, but shaving his salary off of the books — and possibly picking up a solid arm in the process — might be a way to gain some breathing room without really harming the team’s immediate outlook.
Gonzalez says he’s open to an extension (though there’s no evidence of talks), and would even be okay with moving to first if that’s what’s needed, but it’s far from clear that the Rockies would be best off with all four southpaw swingers on the roster. In fact, the team even has two other possible lefty outfield options on hand in Jordan Patterson and Raimel Tapia, both of whom hit well in the upper minors and briefly reached the bigs last year. As things stand, Colorado would still be in need of a quality right-handed bat to utilize in the outfield, if not also at first, and there wouldn’t appear to be much cash to work with.
If one of the three veteran outfielders ends up being traded, the remaining needs would be fairly evident. The left side of the infield is stocked with superstar Nolan Arenado and slugging shortstop Trevor Story, who’ll be looking to build off of an impressive rookie year that was cut short due to injury. DJ LeMahieu has established himself as a high-quality, everyday second baseman. And there are at least two plausible, albeit uncertain, options on hand both behind the dish (Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy) for the open utility infield role (Christian Adames and Pat Valaika).
The biggest hole is at first, and that’s also perhaps the spot that the Rockies could target for a value bet in free agency. That’s just what Colorado did last year in signing veteran slugger Mark Reynolds, with somewhat middling results. Given the lefty-leaning nature of the outfield, a righty bat would likely make the most sense. Mark Trumbo could conceivably be a target, though it would be surprising to see the Rockies spend that big — particularly on a hitter whose power masks a questionable all-around offensive profile. A lengthy commitment also wouldn’t be preferable; top prospect Ryan McMahon hasn’t yet mastered Double-A, but he could be an option in the corner infield in the near future. Looking at shorter-term possibilities, there’s wide interest in Mike Napoli, but he could be a match. Better bang for the buck might be found with a player such as Steve Pearce or Sean Rodriguez, both of whom would also offer greater defensive versatility. On the trade market, bat-first, right-handed options such as Chris Carter could probably be had. It’s also easy to imagine a platoon coming together.
The most intriguing option, though, could be Matt Holliday. The 36-year-old, who began his career in Colorado, can still swing the bat and has expressed some interest in a return. He’d represent an option both at first and, at least on occasion, in the corner outfield. While there could be some overlap in needs, adding a righty bat that’s capable of playing the outfield is a near certainty. Indy ball project Stephen Cardullo hit well at Triple-A, but he’d be a stretch in what figures to be a fairly active fourth outfielder role. The team might prefer to add a center-capable option, particularly if Blackmon is moved, which would make relatively affordable players such as Jon Jay or Rajai Davis seem to be plausible targets. This year’s market includes a fair number of reasonably youthful, buy-low options, such as Austin Jackson, Peter Bourjos, and Desmond Jennings.
Behind the dish, Wolters and Murphy could make up the duo. The former was useful enough in his first major league stint and the latter annihilated pitching at Triple-A and (quite briefly) the majors. Dustin Garneau is also on hand, so there’s not a huge need here. But with sturdy veteran Nick Hundley departing, Colorado could be on the lookout for a short-term addition to bolster the depth. Likewise, filling in for free agent Daniel Descalso could mean checking into the utility pieces available for a meager commitment.
Beyond acquisitions, the Rockies could also spend some time looking into extensions. It’s a bit early to move on Gray, but he’s one possibility. And the club could look to lock up some innings at a reasonable rate with Chatwood. The big fish, though, are Blackmon and especially Arenado. Neither will be cheap, but this might be the time to make a move if the Rox hope to employ either for the long haul. An early attempt to buy out Story’s arb years at a reasonable rate and add some team control might also be considered.
All said, expectations are fairly high this winter. But new skipper Bud Black will need some new weapons to call upon if the Rockies hope to compete in an NL West division that will (as usual) feature two high-powered teams in the Dodgers and Giants.
Though Tyler Chatwood is entering his last year under contract, there hasn’t been any sign that the Rockies are considering trading the righty, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes as part of a reader mailbag. Chatwood missed all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery and posted solid numbers in his comeback year, managing a 3.87 ERA, 6.66 K/9 and a 57.2% grounder rate over 158 innings. It’s unclear whether the Rockies can extend Chatwood given his issues pitching at Coors Field, and he’d make a very interesting trade chip in this offseason’s thin free agent pitching market. That said, given how Colorado has traditionally struggled to find any viable rotation help, the team might prefer to hang onto Chatwood for as long as possible. Saunders’ entire mailbag piece is well worth a read, as he also addresses such topics as the Rockies’ first base search and new manager Bud Black.