This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
The Colorado ballclub only added a few pieces to its depth chart this winter, but that doesn’t mean the offseason lacked for consequential decisions.
Major League Signings
- Daniel Murphy, 1B: two years, $24MM (includes mutual option)
- Total spend: $24MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired RHP Jordan Foley from Yankees in exchange for RHP Jefry Valdez
- Acquired C Chris Rabago from Royals in exchange for cash considerations (selected in Triple-A Rule 5 from Yankees)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Nolan Arenado, 3B: seven years, $234MM (had previously agreed to $26MM arbitration contract for 2019)
- Drew Butera, Carlos Gonzalez (still unsigned), Matt Holliday (still unsigned), DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Gerardo Parra
The Rockies are coming off of repeat postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history. While the club was bounced in the play-in game in 2017 and was swept in the NLDS last year by the Brewers, fans still savored the first full playoff series since 2009. If they’re to make it back into the tourney for a third-straight campaign, the Rockies will have to do so without a few key members of their recent squads — and without any major outside reinforcements.
This is an organization that has bet on its own players more than most in recent years. GM Jeff Bridich doesn’t swing many trades, preferring instead to hang onto and promote the club’s homegrown talent. His two biggest contracts have come via extensions, not free agent signings. Last year, it was outfielder Charlie Blackmon who secured a big payday to forego the chance to test the open market at the end of the season. This time around, the club took on the much more difficult task of working out a deal with franchise centerpiece Nolan Arenado.
Perhaps the game’s best third baseman, Arenado is a premium defender and excellent power hitter who is only entering his age-28 season. His new deal includes a hefty $33.4MM average annual salary for its newly guaranteed seasons, a record for a position player. And it provides him with full no-trade rights and an opt-out opportunity after the third year. The terms hardly represent a bargain for the Rox, who’ll bear the risk of injury or performance issues that arise during the season to come. But the team surely had legitimate concerns about what it would take to retain Arenado if he was allowed to test the open market.
The Rockies also reached another, less-consequential late-February extension by working out a new deal with manager Bud Black. He’s now under contract through 2022. Black, Bridich, and owner Dick Monfort have seemed to be on the same wavelength since the former took over for Walt Weiss before the 2017 season. It’s hard to argue with the results.
There’s a hypothetical world where second baseman DJ LeMahieu also ended up staying around. The club had interest, but it always seemed a bit lukewarm after a club-wide offseason letdown in 2018. LeMahieu ultimately signed with the Yankees for the same guarantee that the Rockies gave his replacement, Daniel Murphy.
Though he’s closing in on his 34th birthday and wasn’t fully himself last year after returning from knee surgery, Murphy looks to be a clear upgrade with the bat. He’s nowhere near LeMahieu’s class with the glove, but the Rockies won’t be asking him to line up at second base. Instead, the club will slot Murphy in at first while moving around some other pieces to fill in other areas. (More on that below.)
Otherwise, the Rockies’ only outside acquisitions rate mostly as depth. Mark Reynolds may crack the roster as a bench bat, while Alec Asher and Chi Chi Gonzalez boost the pitching ranks. In a manner of speaking, the team addressed one other need by bidding adieu to veterans Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra. That’s no slight to the players — both have certainly had their moments through the years and could still be useful contributors. But the organization probably ought to have exchanged pleasantries with Gonzalez for good last winter. Doing so now, while also letting Parra walk, cleared out a left-handed-hitting logjam in the outfield for some younger, cheaper, higher-upside players.
We just touched upon (but didn’t name) a few players whose changing status in the Colorado organization could make or break the coming season. Outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia now have an opening to seize major roles. The same holds true for second base/utility candidates Ryan McMahon and Garret Hampson. There’s a fair bit of ceiling for that foursome, though it’s still anyone’s guess which of them will turn out, and to what extent.
Putting real trust in these players carries obvious risk, though it also made good sense. It’s a deserving slate of players. And the Rockies were pressed for payroll space after making some fairly significant outlays on the open market in recent seasons. Mid-season trades can always be considered; it’s worth noting, too, that prized youngster Brendan Rodgers could force his way into the infield picture.
Dahl and Tapia are highly cost-efficient, interesting young players. But neither hits from the right side, meaning that the Rockies again have a skewed outfield mix. That was addressed in part by one other roster shift related to the Murphy-for-LeMahieu substitution. Ian Desmond will move off of first base and into center field, bumping Blackmon to a corner role. That’s a much more sensible alignment, though it remains to be seen how Desmond will handle the work up the middle now that he’s 33 years of age and is a few seasons removed from his previous (and only) season of work in center. Of greater consequence: can Desmond finally emerge from his doldrums at the plate and will Blackmon decline further from a productive-but-not-peak showing in 2018?
If there’s a glaring weakness on this roster, it’s behind the dish. Chris Iannetta is closing in on his 36th birthday and suffered through down season last year both with the bat and in the framing department. Tony Wolters is younger and scored well at earning strikes for his pitchers last year, but has been a dreadful hitter the past two seasons. While Tom Murphy remains an intriguing player given his offensive output in the minors, he’s a bit of a wild card. All things considered, it’s a bit surprising that the Rockies didn’t find a way to improve the catching situation this winter.
The bullpen is the other area of concern on paper. Adam Ottavino was the team’s best reliever last year, but he was never a realistic target in free agency. The club had little choice but to put its hope in a group of arms in which it is heavily invested. Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Mike Dunn are all earning big bucks; only Davis was a quality performer last year, and he wasn’t at this best. Seunghwan Oh succeeded after a mid-season trade; the team will cross its fingers that he and Scott Oberg can repeat their strong seasons and that Chris Rusin can rediscover his form. Otherwise, we’ll see some younger arms in action. Antonio Senzatela will be sidelined to open the season but could factor in again once he’s up to speed; Yency Almonte, DJ Johnson, Harrison Musgrave, Carlos Estevez, Rayan Gonzalez, and Jesus Tinoco are among the options on the 40-man.
So … we’ve made it this far in a Rockies discussion without talking about the rotation? That’s a good thing, as the unit didn’t need upgrading and looks rather interesting once again. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland will hope to repeat as a quality 1-2 punch, with the talented Jon Gray still a threat to overtake both. Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis seem like reasonable choices at the back of the staff. Perhaps Jeff Hoffman can still tap into some upside; Peter Lambert could make himself a factor. Otherwise, there’s some depth in some of the hurlers listed already above, along with Ryan Castellani and minor-league signees Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Alec Asher.
2019 Season Outlook
Overtaking the Dodgers in the NL West will be a very tough task, but the Rockies probably have the best shot to do so of the rest of the teams in the division. The Wild Card won’t be an easy back-up plan, either, as a densely packed National League figures to be full of competition. It’s clear that the Rockies believe their window is open, as it continues to set payroll records and is probably on track to do so again next year (when including reasonable guesses at arbitration salaries). That could set the stage for some interesting trade deadline decisions.
How would you grade the Rockies’ offseason moves? (Link for app users.)