The Rockies are fully on board the extension train, having inked two significant deals with existing players this winter (Nolan Arenado, German Marquez) after doing the same this time last year with Charlie Blackmon. Club owner Dick Monfort indicated today that the team is interested in pursuing yet more deals, as Nick Groke of The Athletic reports (Twitter links).
Two players, in particular, seem to be in the crosshairs for Monfort and his front office, which is led by GM Jeff Bridich. Shortstop Trevor Story is one; Monfort said that the team would rather ink a long-term deal than try to find an eventual free-agent replacement. And Monfort also suggests he sees a path to a multi-year arrangement with lefty Kyle Freeland.
It’s interesting to see the concept of a free-agent replacement cited in relation to Story, since the Rox’ top prospect is also a shortstop. Brendan Rodgers figures to be ready for the majors well before Story hits the open market in advance of the 2022 season, though perhaps the preference is for an infield that features both — along with Arenado.
Story, certainly, has shown himself worthy of an investment. The 26-year-old turned in a sub-par season with the bat in 2017 but still launched 24 long balls. He has been outstanding with the bat in his other two seasons in the majors. Last year, he drove the ball out of the park 37 times and slashed .291/.348/.567 over 656 plate appearances — good for a healthy 127 wRC+. Story also swiped 27 bags. While his defensive metrics lagged following a strong ’17 showing, he has graded in range of league average at short. It’s an impressive overall package.
The Rox aren’t likely to get too much of a discount on a deal with Story. He’s already earning $5MM this season, which sets the stage for large earnings in his final two seasons of arbitration. With age generally on his side, and big money already locked in, Story can hold out for a significant payday.
As for Freeland, there’s always more risk for a pitcher — particularly one who calls Coors Field home. But altitude comes with the territory for the Colorado native, who’s in the same 2+ (non-Super Two) service class as Marquez. Freeland is a bit older — he’ll soon turn 26, while Marquez only just turned 24 — but has an argument for even greater earnings after a monster 2018 season. (Marquez was guaranteed $43MM over five years.)
Freeland showed ample promise in his MLB debut, but took things to quite a surprising new level last year. In 202 1/3 innings, he worked to a 2.85 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 to go with a 46.0% groundball rate. That showing earned him a fourth-place finish in the N.L. Cy Young voting — and probably would’ve warranted higher placement in most seasons.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that Marquez is the better pitcher to invest in, but that’s not to say that Freeland isn’t worthy — even if he does end up costing more. His history of 50+% groundball rates in the minors is noteworthy. And his productivity to date has already boosted his arb earning capabilities, so the Rockies figure to face some reasonably significant obligations in the near term.
It’s not clear whether talks will be pursued in the immediate term with either player. The team may prefer to wait and see how the season shakes out. Rodgers could reduce the long-term need for Story; Freeland may not repeat his ’18 successes. On the other hand, repeat showings from these quality younger players could make it that much more expensive to secure their services for the future.