With the Rockies’ fortunes sinking during a brutal stretch of play in the run-up to the trade deadline, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports that the organization “would listen to offers” for star outfielder Charlie Blackmon. It’s not clear at this point whether any such discussions have occurred.
At first glance, it seems rather unlikely that a deal will end up coming to fruition. The Rockies have positioned themselves as a win-now franchise in recent years by hammering out monster extensions with Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, inking a less-costly but still-significant deal with starter German Marquez, and drawing several free-agents (chiefly, Ian Desmond and a procession of relievers) with contracts that depreciated like new luxury cars rolling off the lot. The Colorado payroll sat at a record $145MM this season and already has hefty money on the books (before arb raises and other additions) for the next few years: $120MM+ for 2020, $82.8MM for 2021, and over $60MM for the ensuing two seasons. Dealing Blackmon would significantly harm the near-term outlook in the midst of a contention window that the team has already largely committed to.
Then again, perhaps there’s a shot here at a bit of a mulligan. The somewhat extended financial position is of obvious concern given the top-heavy state of the roster. Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and David Dahl make up a nice group of position players to build around. Marquez and Jon Gray are a solid duo of young starters, with Scott Oberg and Carlos Estevez looking like quality, controllable relief arms this year. But that’s less than a third of the roster. Seven Rockies players have produced at least 1.0 fWAR this year (including Oberg but not Estevez); no other man on the roster has exceeded 0.5. Even as several of the free-agent acquisitions have gone south, the club has seen a few hiccups from promising young players trying to figure out the majors. And then there was the collapse of starter Kyle Freeland.
The picture has changed quite a bit since the Rockies acted decisively to keep Blackmon from testing free agency at the end of the 2018 season, and then did the same with Arenado after a Wild Card campaign. That’s true both of the team and of the veteran outfielder, who is owed $21MM this season as well as in 2020 and 2021. The deal includes a $21MM player option for the 2022 season and a floating-value player option for the final contemplated campaign. From a starting point of $10MM, that final option can move up to $18MM depending upon plate-appearance and MVP-voting results over the other seasons of the deal.
The Rox are in a bind through no fault of Blackmon, who has been the team’s best hitter. Through 381 plate appearances, he’s carrying a .319/.365/.602 batting line with 23 home runs. That translates to a strong 132 wRC+. Blackmon has been an excellent hitter for past four seasons and obviously has maintained his ability to square up the baseball. That said, he has outperformed the expectations of Statcast based upon his batted-ball data, with a .403 wOBA but only a .347 xwOBA, though that has also been true in each of the three prior campaigns. It’s also notable that Blackmon’s never-exceptional walk rate is down to 5.5%. That matter links up to another possible concern: Blackmon has posted yawning home/road splits this year. While the numbers are less dramatic over the full course of his career, no small part of Blackmon’s overall success has come from a whopping lifetime .378 BABIP at Coors Field.
While the hitting output and outlook remain mostly positive, the cracks are beginning to show in the other areas of Blackmon’s game. He was already moved out of center field after grading terribly there last year. The UZR and DRS grading systems remain pessimistic about his work in the corners in 2019, with Statcast’s outs-above-average and outfielder jump measures also taking a dim view of Blackmon’s glovework. Likewise, Blackmon is no longer a stolen-base threat or even a positive-value performer on the basepaths by measure of Fangraphs’ BsR grade. Statcast identifies a clear drop in his foot speed and percentile rank among MLB runners. These developments may not directly implicate his eye, bat speed, and reflexes at the plate, but they’re also of note from a hitting perspective because Blackmon is so heavily dependent upon reaching base via contact to maintain his on-base numbers.
So, should we add Blackmon to the top of the list of available trade deadline targets? There’s some reason to think the Rockies could make him available, though it’d be awfully tough to deal such a popular player and it would hardly solve the team’s payroll predicament in one fell swoop. Presumably, the club would want any acquiring team to take on most or all of the remaining money owed to Blackmon while also coughing up young talent. There’d surely be interest, but given the above-noted concerns, it’s also easy to imagine some trepidation from the market. Morosi speculatively considers the Rangers, Reds, and Cardinals as organizations that might conceivably target Blackmon, but it’s not hard to come up with reasons to believe each of those organizations would be hesitant to meet the Rockies’ presumptive asking price. Ditto other potential trade matches. The veteran outfielder also has 15-team no-trade protection, which could complicate matters. All things considered, it’s interesting to contemplate the possibilities but it still feels rather unlikely that Blackmon will end up on the move.