The Rockies traded one of the best players in franchise history without adding much in the way of major league talent this offseason. That would seem to indicate the franchise is headed for a full rebuild, but they’ve held onto the rest of their top players so far.
Major League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RHP Robert Stephenson and OF Jameson Hannah from the Reds for RHP Jeff Hoffman and RHP Case Williams
- Acquired LHP Yoan Aybar from the Red Sox for SS Christian Koss
- Acquired LHP Austin Gomber, 3B Mateo Gil, 3B Elehuris Montero, RHP Tony Locey and RHP Jake Sommers from the Cardinals for 3B Nolan Arenado and $51MM
- Selected RHP Jordan Sheffield from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft
Notable Minor-League Signings
- Matt Adams, Greg Bird, José Briceño, Ian Clarkin, C.J. Cron (later selected to 40-man roster), Brian Gonzalez, Chi Chi González (later selected to 40-man roster), Connor Joe, Taylor Motter, Chris Owings (later selected to 40-man roster), Dereck Rodríguez
- Nolan Arenado, David Dahl (non-tendered), Tony Wolters (non-tendered), Daniel Murphy (retired), Kevin Pillar, Matt Kemp, Ashton Goudeau, Drew Butera, James Pazos, AJ Ramos
The Rockies began the 2020 season red hot but fell off just as sharply, losing 31 of their final 46 games. Ultimately, Colorado’s 26-34 record was a slight step back from their 71-91 finish the year before, nowhere near the 94-win pace owner Dick Monfort boldly predicted last February. Back-to-back down years set the stage for change this winter.
For the second consecutive year, much of the focus on the Rockies’ offseason revolved around Nolan Arenado. The star third baseman signed a seven-year, $234MM contract extension in February 2019. Less than a year later, though, Arenado made plenty of headlines when he voiced frustration with organizational leadership, telling reporters in January 2020 he felt “disrespected” by the front office. That didn’t stop Arenado from sticking in Denver for the season, but there was plenty of speculation about the 29-year-old potentially being on the move last winter after another losing season.
Arenado did wind up traded, although that wasn’t an inevitable outcome. His lofty contract presented a challenge for potential buyers on the heels of a season with lost gate revenues. Making matters worse, Arenado was coming off by far the worst offensive season of his career, having slumped to a .253/.303/.434 line while battling a shoulder injury.
Still, Arenado’s elite track record attracted plenty of reported interest. The Mets, Braves and Dodgers were among the clubs that either spoke with the Rockies or were speculated as potential fits (although Colorado never seemed likely to send him to their division rivals in Los Angeles). Ultimately, it wound up being the Cardinals that pulled the trigger on an Arenado deal in late January.
The Rockies got five players back from St. Louis, none of whom looks to be a potential franchise-changing talent. Southpaw Austin Gomber is the most famous, having pitched to a 3.72 ERA/4.62 SIERA over 104 career MLB innings. He is capable of stepping right into the big league rotation. But as a 27-year-old with below-average velocity and swinging strike rates, Gomber profiles as a back-of-the-rotation type.
The other four players in the Arenado deal have yet to reach the majors. Corner infielder Elehuris Montero was once a top 100 prospect; the powerful 22-year-old now sits eighth in the Colorado farm system, per Baseball America. Fellow infielder Mateo Gil and right-hander Tony Locey are a little further down the organizational rankings, while righty Jake Sommers did not make the Rockies’ top 30.
Arenado’s contract and lackluster 2020 numbers made it unlikely the Rockies would be able to bring back an elite young player in a trade. Nevertheless, the return they ultimately received felt light, especially given the financial hoops the team had to jump through to push the deal across the finish line. Colorado agreed to pay down $51MM of Arenado’s contract, including his entire $35MM salary for 2021. Meanwhile, the Cardinals agreed to guarantee an extra year on the eight-time Gold Glove winner’s contract and permit him to opt-out of the deal after 2022 (in addition to his previous post-2021 opt-out opportunity) in exchange for Arenado waiving his no-trade clause.
Without knowing what other offers were on the table, it’s impossible to say the Rockies should’ve taken a different return from another organization. It’s likely Colorado values the players they received more highly than public prospect rankers and observers do. But the Arenado saga seems to reflect poorly on the team, however one feels about the player’s public comments. Angering the face of the franchise to such an extent the organization feels compelled to trade him while his value is at its nadir is surely an outcome nobody with the Rockies would’ve foreseen or desired when signing him to a mega-extension less than two years before.
Arenado’s departure was the most significant of the winter, but he wasn’t the only familiar face to leave town. The Rockies non-tendered catcher Tony Wolters and outfielder David Dahl last November. Moving on from Wolters wasn’t unexpected. Colorado stuck by him for a while based on his defense and clubhouse presence, but the 28-year-old has simply never hit at an acceptable level.
The latter cut was more surprising. Dahl has dealt with myriad injuries and was terrible in 2020, but he’d been an above-average hitter between 2017-19. Projected for an arbitration salary in the $2.5MM range, he’d have certainly been affordable enough to keep around. Ultimately, it seems the front office just wanted to give opportunities to other players.
With Dahl gone, the Rockies will turn to a combination of Charlie Blackmon, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson and Yonathan Daza in the outfield. Blackmon has a long track record of high-end hitting, although he fell off precipitously down the stretch last season after a blistering start. The rest of the group is looking to establish themselves as core pieces for the future. Tapia, Daza and Hampson are contact-oriented speedsters, while Hilliard has huge power but needs to rein in his strikeout totals.
Wolters’ departure leaves just two catchers on the 40-man roster. The season-opening job belongs to returnees Elias Díaz and Dom Nuñez, although an injury and/or underperformance could open the door for José Briceño, who inked a minors contract over the offseason.
Another pair of minor-league signees have easier paths to playing time on the infield. C.J. Cron and Chris Owings had their contracts selected to the 40-man roster prior to Opening Day. Cron has some on-base deficiencies but brings plenty of power, so the appeal of adding him to Coors Field is obvious. At the very least, he should be an upgrade over the Rockies’ first basemen of the past few years. No team got less production at the position from 2018-20, where the now-retired Daniel Murphy and Ian Desmond (who has opted out of the 2021 season over COVID-19 concerns) failed to live up to multi-year free agent contracts.
Owings will get some early-season run at second base. Top prospect Brendan Rodgers finally seemed in line for everyday playing time, but a hamstring strain in Spring Training will sideline him at least into late April. Once Rodgers returns, Owings figures to work in a utility role. Third base belongs to a combination of Josh Fuentes and Ryan McMahon.
Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the coming months is how the team will handle star shortstop Trevor Story. The 28-year-old is on track to be one of the top players on next winter’s free agent market, so Story looks like an obvious trade candidate on paper. That was also true over the winter though, particularly after the Arenado deal. Yet general manager Jeff Bridich shot down speculation about an offseason Story trade and pushed back against the notion the franchise was embarking on a full-scale teardown.
Indeed, the two-time All-Star opened the year in Colorado. A midseason deal still seems the most likely outcome but an acquiring team would no longer be able to tag Story with a qualifying offer next winter, likely reducing his value compared to what the Rockies could’ve received over the offseason. At the same time, the team and Story’s representatives had not discussed a potential extension as of late February. The Rockies’ lack of action while Story’s service clock ticks is rather puzzling, but it’s conceivable they can salvage the situation with a midseason trade if he performs up to expectations over the first few months.
There’s a case to be made for the Rockies to trade off a few key pitchers, as well. Like Story, Jon Gray is ticketed for free agency at the end of the year. He looked like a speculative offseason trade candidate but his name didn’t come up in any substantive rumors. Gray had a terrible 2020 season, so there’s plenty of logic for the Rockies in hoping he can rehabilitate his value with a decent start this year.
The situation isn’t as urgent for Opening Day starter Germán Márquez, but there’s a case to be made for Colorado to move him as well. Márquez is one of the game’s more underrated arms. He throws in the mid-90’s with a pair of plus breaking balls, has had plenty of success despite a brutal home environment for pitchers, and just turned 26 years old. Márquez is also reasonably controlled through 2024 under the extension he signed two years ago. That makes him a potential franchise building block, but he’s also the organization’s most valuable potential trade piece. A deal doesn’t seem especially likely given Bridich’s comments about avoiding a full rebuild, but there’s an argument to be made for putting him on the block this summer.
Márquez and Gray will be followed in the rotation by Gomber and holdover Antonio Senzatela. Kyle Freeland would’ve gotten a starting spot but a shoulder strain led to a season-opening IL stint. Freeland’s injury might’ve played a role in the Rockies’ decision to sign Jhoulys Chacín to a one-year deal on the evening before Opening Day. The right-hander returns to Colorado on the only guaranteed free agent contract the Rockies gave out all offseason.
There wasn’t a whole lot of turnover in the bullpen. The club did bring in the hard-throwing Robert Stephenson as part of a deal that sent Jeff Hoffman to the Reds. Stephenson and Hoffman are both one-time top prospects who showed flashes of promise but generally hadn’t lived up to expectations with their previous teams, so it’s something of a challenge trade. Rule 5 draftee Jordan Sheffield is the only other outside addition to the current bullpen, which will lean heavily on returnees Daniel Bard, Tyler Kinley, Yency Almonte and Mychal Givens. Unfortunately, former closer Scott Oberg might not be able to continue his career after a setback with persistent blood clots in his throwing arm.
The 2021 season doesn’t figure to be an especially enjoyable one for Rockies’ fans. The current roster comprises mostly unproven youngsters, journeymen and bounce back hopefuls. Bridich may bristle at the notion of a full-on rebuild, but the Rockies aren’t in position to keep up with the powerhouse Dodgers and Padres at the top of the division. Rather, public projections suggest they’re likely to finish last in the NL West (and near the bottom of MLB as a whole).
Perhaps more important to the organization than their place in the 2021 standings is whether they can rebuild a culture that, at least from the outside, seems to have gone sour. Arenado’s vocal displeasure with franchise leadership was the most visible example of frustrations, but the Rockies appear to have issues far beyond their spat with the former face of the franchise.
Ken Rosenthal and Nick Groke of the Athletic published a lengthy piece last month that details mounting frustrations among some players and lower-level front office members with a few of Monfort’s and Bridich’s roster decisions and their perceived lack of communication of the organization’s long-term vision. Rosenthal and Groke also question whether the Rockies’ analytics department, which saw the departures of four of its six staffers over the winter, is properly equipped to help Monfort and Bridich build a sustainable winner moving forward. The article is well worth reading in full for Rockies’ fans who haven’t yet perused it.
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