With September around the corner, the focus for many teams (and their fans — specifically those who read MLBTR with regularity) will shift to the upcoming offseason. A third of the teams in the league currently find themselves more than seven games back from a playoff spot, and about half the teams in baseball are 5.5 games or more away from even securing a Wild Card playoff berth.
We’ll be looking at every team in the league in depth with MLBTR’s annual Offseason Outlook series. For the time being, though, we’re taking preliminary big-picture looks at what some of the non-contending clubs will need to focus on in order to reverse their current standing.
The Rockies are up first as we look at three needs for the upcoming offseason…
1. Increase their willingness to trade hitters. It’s easy enough for people to answer the question when asked, “Who was the last impact bat the Rockies traded away?” thanks to this July’s Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster. However, prior to that swap, the most recent instance of the Rockies trading a significant hitter came in the 2013-14 offseason when they traded Dexter Fowler. Prior to that, it’s probably Matt Holliday — all the way back in 2008. For a team that struggles to develop pitching but seems to routinely produce above-average bats (even after adjusting the numbers to account for Coors Field’s impact), it’s puzzling that they’ve shown such reluctance when it comes to trading hitters. The Tulo trade was a good start, but moving Carlos Gonzalez and perhaps someone like Charlie Blackmon should be a consideration for new GM Jeff Bridich, assuming owner Dick Monfort won’t stand in the way of such a deal.
2. Find a long-term solution at catcher. The Rockies have had a revolving door at catcher for quite some time (Wilin Rosario, Miguel Olivo, Chris Iannetta, Yorvit Torrealba), but more troubling has been the lack of a premium defender at the position. Nick Hundley has been solid with the bat in his first season in Denver, but he also ranks as the worst pitch-framer in all of baseball, per StatCorner.com and second-worst per Baseball Prospectus. Rockies pitchers are already at enough of a disadvantage due to their home environment, and adding a catcher that can help get them ahead in the count via framing would do wonders, even if he comes without a big bat. The Rockies have premium defenders at third base and second base (and had one at shortstop in Tulo); that same emphasis should be applied behind the plate.
3. Overhaul the pitching staff. Yes, it’s obvious. No, it isn’t terribly insightful. But, for a team that has used 12 starters and received a collective 5.34 ERA/4.96 FIP in 2015 (to say nothing of a relief corps with a league-worst 5.00 bullpen ERA), it has to be mentioned. Jon Gray may yet develop into a mid-rotation arm or better, and the Rockies probably still have hope for Eddie Butler as well. Neither is a sure thing at this point, however, and only Gray shows the promise of turning into a strikeout pitcher for Colorado. Dating back to 2007, the Rockies’ collective rotation has posted a K/9 rate greater than 6.5 just twice — 6.8 in 2009 and 7.3 in 2012. The Rockies are right to prioritize ground-ball pitchers, but Colorado’s lack of strikeouts in such a hitter-friendly park is particularly detrimental. Luring free-agent strikeout pitchers to Coors Field is a difficult task, as it requires the team to overpay. However, targeting high-strikeout arms in trades should probably be a priority for the Rockies; recent trade acquisitions for the rotation have included ground-ball pitchers such as Jordan Lyles, Brett Anderson and Wilton Lopez. Bridich’s prioritization of power arms in the Tulo trade was evident, and the continuation of that emphasis could go a long way toward finally developing a pitching staff that can have some degree of success pitching at altitude.