It hasn’t been an enjoyable 12 months for the Rockies organization. There was plenty of goodwill to go around heading into last season after back-to-back playoff berths and the long-term extension franchise player Nolan Arenado signed. But just about everything has gone in the wrong direction for Colorado since then. The club fell on its face in 2019, winning a meager 71 games, and its higher-ups have since irked Arenado. The five-time All-Star surfaced in trade rumors while making it known that he was unhappy with the Rockies’ inactivity over the winter.
The Rockies used the offseason to sign only one major league free agent – untested right-hander Jose Mujica – and for a relatively paltry $563K. Now, expectations are that they’ll again sit near the bottom of the league in 2020 (if there is a season). One key reason the team has slid down the standings and just might stay there? An utter lack of big-money success on the free-agent market.
Since general manager Jeff Bridich assumed the reins after the 2014 season, the Rockies have signed eight free agents to guarantees worth $10MM or more. All of those deals have been landmines to this point, and five of those players are still eating into the team’s payroll – one that Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs estimates will check in at a franchise-record $156MM on Opening Day. With that much cash already tied up, owner Dick Monfort was unwilling to authorize Bridich to spend in recent months. Maybe that’s a good thing, as you’ll see below…
Parra came to the Rockies off a solid season divided between Milwaukee and Baltimore, though he was anything but effective as a Rockie. He ended his tenure in Colorado with minus-1.1 fWAR and a .283/.320/.407 line (just a 77 wRC+ when adjusted for ballpark) over 1,249 plate appearances. Motte, meanwhile, didn’t even see his entire deal through. The Rockies cut ties with him after 2016, a year in which he notched a 4.94 ERA/5.68 FIP with minus-0.3 fWAR.
It was a head-scratcher from the get-go that the Rockies splurged on Desmond to play first base, as he didn’t look to have the bat to handle the offensively charged position and had spent his career to that point as a shortstop/outfielder. The gamble has not paid off at all for the Rox, who still owe Desmond $25MM through 2021 (including a $2MM buyout for ’22). The 34-year-old accounted for a hideous minus-1.7 fWAR during his first three seasons with the team and batted .252/.313/.429 (80 wRC+) in 1,474 PA. The Rockies moved him back to the outfield last year.
Colorado parted with Dunn late in 2019. He’s now retired after serving as a replacement-level reliever (minus-0.1 fWAR) with the club, though that looks like a generous assessment in light of his 5.93 ERA/5.02 FIP across 85 frames. Injuries limited Dunn to just under 35 combined innings in his final two seasons.
- Wade Davis, RHP: three years, $52MM
- Jake McGee, LHP: three years, $27MM
- Bryan Shaw, RHP: three years, $27MM
Evidenced by the $106MM spent on these three, the Rockies made a sincere effort to bolster their bullpen after 2017. The decision has blown up in their face. Davis, lights-out for most of his career, has been awful since joining Colorado. His contract’s still the largest ever on a per-year basis for a reliever, but his production has tanked. He pitched to an almost 9.00 ERA in 2019 and didn’t last the full season as the Rockies’ closer. Meantime, McGee and Shaw haven’t been much better, if at all. Combined, these three have registered minus-0.3 fWAR in 227 1/3 innings since they signed their contracts.
Desmond couldn’t solidify first base for the Rockies. Murphy hasn’t been able to, either. Once among the premier hitters in the game, the 35-year-old Murphy could only muster a line of .279/.328/.452 (good for a career-low 86 wRC+) and a personal-worst minus-0.2 fWAR in 478 PA.
If you add up the fWAR for all these players, the figure amounts to minus-3.7. The value of the contracts the Rockies handed this group comes to $256.5MM. That’s a lot of wasted money, and it’s part of the reason the Rockies are in such an unenviable position at the moment.