Once all of the details are ironed out and Nolan Arenado has been officially traded to the Cardinals, it’s possible that Rockies owner Dick Monfort and GM Jeff Bridich won’t mention the word “rebuild” when explaining the trade to fans and media. It could be sold as a perfect storm of a superstar player’s displeasure with the front office coinciding with an unprecedented economic downturn, leading the Rox with no choice but to move Arenado despite the team’s full intention to contend in 2021.
But, let’s be real — the Rockies face a big uphill battle in the NL West. The Dodgers and Padres are arguably the two best teams in baseball, the Giants are a looming threat considering all their available payroll space following the 2021 season, and even the Diamondbacks could be primed for a rebound considering they couldn’t seem to catch a break last year. After two consecutive losing seasons and the impending loss of Arenado, Colorado seems like a prime candidate to blow things up. Several trade candidates remain on the roster, each with some obstacle that could limit what the Rockies could receive back in terms of high-quality young talent.
Trevor Story’s name has been whispered in trade rumors all winter, but Story is only under contract through the 2021 season and many of the top contenders have already addressed their shortstop needs. Charlie Blackmon’s bat wasn’t quite as potent in 2020 as in past years, and trade suitors may balk at the $52MM (in guaranteed money and in two years of player options) owed to Blackmon through the 2023 season. Scott Oberg’s continued health issues make him a question mark going forward. Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela each have three years of team control remaining and would definitely get some trade attention, though neither pitcher has been consistent enough to merit a blue-chip return.
Assuming the Rockies don’t go totally scorched-earth with a rebuild and start shopping former top prospect Brendan Rodgers or current top prospect Zac Veen, that leaves one player who would instantly bring back a big trade package. From an overall consideration of team control, financial cost, and Major League track record, German Marquez is not just the Rockies’ best trade chip, but one of the more intriguing trade chips in all of baseball.
Let’s begin with Marquez’s underrated statistical record, as only 14 pitchers have accumulated more fWAR than Marquez (12.2) over the last four seasons. Marquez has a 4.21 ERA and an above-average 24.2K% and 17.8K-BB% over 613 2/3 innings since the start of the 2017 season. He averaged 177 frames per year during the regulation-length 2017-19 campaigns, while tossing a league-high 81 2/3 innings in the abbreviated 2020 season. One knock on Marquez is that he allows quite a bit of hard contact, but he has limited the damage thanks to an ability to keep the ball on the ground (47.6% career grounder rate).
These are solid numbers for any hurler, but particularly impressive for someone who pitches their home games at Coors Field. As you might expect, Marquez has some pretty notable home/away splits — a 3.51 ERA in 341 1/3 road innings during his career, and a 5.10 ERA over 293 innings in Denver. It is certainly possible that the right-hander could reach another level of performance if he didn’t pitch in such a hitter-friendly environment, which makes him all the more interesting for trade suitors.
Marquez is entering his age-26 season, and is already locked up through at least the 2023 season on a five-year, $43MM contract extension signed in April 2019. $36MM remains owed to Marquez over the final three guaranteed years of that contract, which includes the $2.5MM buyout of a $16MM club option for 2024. Less than two years later, the Marquez extension still looks like a very canny move from Bridich and company, if for not quite the reason they expected — this affordable price tag makes Marquez a fit for almost every contender in the league, pandemic-lowered revenues notwithstanding.
While Marquez hasn’t had a Cy Young Award-winning peak like Blake Snell, Marquez is over two years younger than Snell, has fewer injury concerns, and is owed less money than the $39MM Snell is scheduled to make through the 2023 season. By that token, Colorado is certainly within its rights to ask for a trade return similar to what the Rays received for dealing Snell to the Padres this offseason. An enterprising team with some payroll space to spare could also sweeten the pot by offering to take some more money off the Rockies’ hands — perhaps the last $11MM remaining on Ian Desmond’s contract, in terms of salary, the buyout of his 2022 club option, and his $1MM assignment bonus in the event of a trade.
It remains to be seen if the Rockies will start a full-fledged rebuild immediately once Arenado is gone, or perhaps if the team will take the rebuild route whatsoever. There’s a ticking clock on a Story considering his lack of remaining control, but the Rockies might not be in a particular rush to move Marquez quite yet since he is still signed through 2023. The argument can be made, however, that Marquez will never be as valuable as he is right now, so if the Rockies did want to start looking to the future, the time is now to maximize their return.