- Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post breaks down the Rockies bullpen options entering the offseason. With Greg Holland, Jake McGee, and mid-season acquisition Pat Neshek all set to hit the open market, there are plenty of questions despite the generally promising performance of the unit in 2017. So long as Colorado is willing to spend near last year’s level (around $130MM), there ought to be some space to fit some reasonably significant salaries to fill out and improve the pen.
Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post tackles a number of topics pertaining to the Rockies’ offseason in his latest Rockies Mailbag column. Among the more interesting items of note, Saunders opines that Carlos Gonzalez’s days in Colorado are through, noting that it’s unlikely that he’ll receive a qualifying offer. Saunders also notes that the ascension of prospect Ryan McMahon, who has been working out at second base, could also cloud DJ LeMahieu’s future with the club. LeMahieu is a free agent after the 2018 season, and McMahon has little left to prove in the minors. McMahon cut his teeth as a corner infielder, however, so it seems possible that the Rox could yet view him as an option at first base, where they’re currently a bit unsettled. Ian Desmond, of course, is an option there, though he could also be utilized in the outfield or elsewhere on the diamond (perhaps even at second base, speculatively speaking, though he has hasn’t played there since 2009 with the Nationals).
Jonathan Lucroy has already openly expressed interest in returning to the Rockies, and MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes today that the Rox are “expected” to pursue a reunion with the 31-year-old backstop. As Harding points out, the Rockies will return a very young pitching staff in 2018, and the team could benefit from an experienced handler of that youthful group.
Lucroy, of course, exercised his contractual right to veto a trade from the Brewers to the Indians last summer after being informed by Cleveland that he’d likely see significant time at first base. Soon after, he was flipped to the Rangers, who utilized him as their primary catcher following last year’s non-waiver deadline and for much of the first half of the 2017 season. Lucroy took Texas by storm in 2016, mashing at a .276/.345/.539 pace with 11 homers and seven doubles in just 168 trips to the plate.
Unfortunately for both Lucroy and the Rangers, he struggled through the worst half-season of his career to open the 2017 campaign, batting just .242/.297/.338 with only four homers in 306 PAs. The two-time All-Star began to cede playing time to Robinson Chirinos in Texas and was eventually traded to the Rockies for a player to be named later (young but well-regarded outfield prospect Pedro Gonzalez). With the Rox, Lucroy’s season turned around, as he slashed .310/.429/.437 with a pair of homers, six doubles and three triples in his final 175 plate appearances.
Certainly, Lucroy’s overall line of .265/.345/.371 pales in comparison to the .292/.355/.500 output he managed in 2016, but the solid finish to the season helped to salvage some free-agent value. With a solid run to close out the year and an impressive track record, Lucroy still looks like a candidate to earn a multi-year deal in free agency, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently explored at length.
The Rockies and other interested parties will need to determine exactly what to make of Lucroy’s defensive skills. After throwing out a career-high 39 percent of opposing base thieves in 2016, Lucroy returned to his career norm in 2017, throwing out a solid-but-unspectacular 27 percent of runners. His framing metrics, meanwhile, once rated among the best in baseball. In 2017, Baseball Prospectus ranked him last among MLB receivers in that category. That doesn’t necessarily make him a poor defensive backstop — Salvador Perez routinely rates poorly but is generally regarded as a plus overall defender, for instance — but the deteriorated framing numbers certainly won’t do Lucroy any favors when negotiating with suitors this winter.
Even if the Rockies and Lucroy are ultimately unable to agree on a price point, Colorado seems likely to pursue some form of catching help this offseason. Outside of Lucroy, the Rockies received virtually no offensive production from the combination of Tony Wolters (.240/.341/.284 in 266 PAs), Tom Murphy (.042/.115/.083 in 26 PAs), Ryan Hanigan (.267/.324/.347 in 112 PAs) and Dustin Garneau (.206/.260/.353 in 74 PAs). Garneau has since been claimed off waivers by the A’s and the veteran Hanigan is a free agent, further thinning out the herd.
Dodgers phenom Corey Seager feels “normal-ish”, according to manager Dave Roberts (via an article by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com). Seager was injured while sliding into second base during the game in which the Dodgers clinched the NLDS series victory, and hasn’t done any baseball activity since then. Roberts adds that Seager won’t be traveling with the team to Chicago, though that could change under certain circumstances. Regardless, Seager can’t be added to the NLCS roster at this point unless someone on the current roster gets injured. In that case, the player Seager replaces would be ineligible for the Dodgers’ World Series roster, should the team advance that far. The 23-year old Seager batted .295/.375/.479 with 22 home runs during the regular season, and ranked first among all NL shortstops in fWAR. His situation will certainly be worth monitoring closely.
More from baseball’s NL West division…
- In a mailbag article for MLB.com, Rockies beat writer Thomas Harding points out that Colorado used only eight total starting pitchers this past season, which was incredibly lucky considering they averaged 12 starters per season from 2011-2016. Seven of those eight starters are set to return in 2018, and while they have youth on their side, Harding wonders how the organization will adapt if their luck with pitcher injuries regresses to the mean. The Rockies playoff hopes for the next few years will rest largely on the health and development of their young starters, including Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez and Kyle Freeland.
- Speaking of mailbag articles for MLB.com, Padres beat writer AJ Cassavell suggests that San Diego’s bullpen-related offseason plans will largely hinge on whether any teams will meet GM A.J. Preller’s asking price on lefty Brad Hand. If Hand is traded, the Padres’ bullpen will likely need a significant overhaul, including some spending on established major leaguers. However, if he isn’t moved and the club is able to retain Craig Stammen, their relief corps may only need a few tweaks for 2018. To say that Hand essentially was the Padres’ bullpen in 2017 isn’t an exaggeration; his 3.89 Win Probability Added (WPA) ranked fourth-best among all relievers in baseball. All other Padres relievers combined for -1.76 WPA, and Stammen was the only other arm in their ’pen to exceed 0.20.
- For the second straight offseason, the Rockies will have to work on shoring up their bullpen, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post observes. The Rockies signed Greg Holland and Mike Dunn to sizable contracts last winter, but Holland’s now set to opt out of his deal and head to the open market again. Colorado probably won’t be able to re-sign the closer, Saunders writes, and the fact that Holland isn’t the team’s only key reliever who could exit in free agency only worsens matters. Jake McGee and July trade acquisition Pat Neshek are also unsigned entering the offseason. Holland, McGee and Neshek were among the best options in a bullpen that made big strides from 2016 to ’17, jumping from 23rd in fWAR to sixth and last in ERA to 20th.
Once the option is formally declined, the Rockies will have the opportunity to make Holland a qualifying offer of a reported $18.1MM. Presumably, Holland will again reject that figure, thus setting up the Rox to recoup some draft pick compensation if he ultimately signs elsewhere.
This decision from Holland was largely expected, though his shaky second half at least created a marginal sense of doubt after an opt-out looked to be a virtual lock as late into the season as the non-waiver trade deadline. Set to turn 32 this offseason, Holland posted a brilliant 1.56 ERA through 40 1/3 innings from Opening Day to Aug. 4, but he limped to the finish line with a ghastly 8.47 ERA in his final 17 regular-season innings before serving up another pair of runs in the NL Wild Card game.
Holland was legitimately dominant for the season’s first couple of months, although as Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron pointed out during his August swoon, there were red flags about his performance long before his ERA eventually reflected a decline. Holland’s velocity dipped partway through the season (though to his credit, it did bounce back even in the midst of his ugly finish), and he began to struggle with his control as early on as June. Not only was Holland struggling with walks, but he was also unable to command his fastball within the strike zone, Cameron observed, throwing an abnormal number of middle-middle fastballs.
That said, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Holland would fade a bit down the stretch. The 2017 season was his first effort back after missing the entire 2016 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Agent Scott Boras will undoubtedly chalk some of Holland’s late dip in performance up to that fact, staking the claim that he’ll hold up better now that he’s had a full year to rebuild some arm strength. There’s likely some truth to the argument, though it’s of course nearly impossible to determine how much of Holland’s late struggles are attributable to the surgery.
Even with Holland’s end-of-season woes, though, his overall numbers on the year look solid. He wrapped up the year with a 3.61 ERA and an impressive 11.0 K/9 mark through 57 1/3 innings. While he averaged 4.1 BB/9, Holland averaged 1.1 HR/9 despite the league-wide uptick in homers and despite playing half his games at Coors Field. Of the seven homers he allowed, five came in his final 18 appearances.
Holland will be hitting the open market at roughly the same age that Mark Melancon did before scoring a then-record-setting four-year, $62MM contract with the Giants. Holland’s late slide and relative proximity to Tommy John surgery could put that contract out of reach, but it’s sure to be a talking point for Boras this offseason when negotiating with interested parties. And even if Holland comes up shy of that sum, it still stands to reason that he’s all but certain to considerably out-earn the one year and $15MM he’s leaving on the table to again test free agency.
For the Rockies, Holland will be just one of multiple relievers departing for the open market. He’ll be joined by two of the team’s top setup men: lefty Jake McGee and righty Pat Neshek. Beyond that, the Rox also stand to lose right-handed starter Tyler Chatwood to free agency, leaving GM Jeff Bridich no shortage of work to do when it comes to rounding out his team’s pitching staff.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Generally, of course, Jonathan Lucroy’s stock is down on the heels of a disappointing season. He entered the year with a chance at earning Russell Martin-type money — $82MM over five years — but now won’t scrape that stratosphere.
That said, there’s still a lot of value in the veteran. Just how much? Let’s take a look.
First and foremost, it’s important to note just how good Lucroy was from 2012 through 2016. After all, there’s a reason that folks thought he could meet or exceed that Martin contract. In 641 games over that span, Lucroy posted an excellent .291/.353/.465 batting line that rated about twenty percent above the league-average output. For a catcher that also was regarded among the best at defending his position, those are monster numbers.
That five-year run serves as a notable backdrop for what happened in 2017. Lucroy struggled badly out of the gates, slashing just .242/.297/.338 in his 306 plate appearances with the Rangers. He hit just four home runs in that stretch after drilling 24 in the prior season in 544 trips to the plate. Just as suddenly, though, Lucroy bounced back upon his summer trade to the Rockies. In his 175 turns, the veteran posted a .310/.429/.437 mark while drawing 27 walks against just 19 strikeouts. The power did not fully return — he hit only two more long balls — but clearly Lucroy was again an above-average offensive performer, even after accounting for the altitude boost.
So, how does one frame the recent years? Was the first half of 2017 just a detour? Or should we figure in Lucroy’s tepid 2015 season and isolate his excellent 2016 season as the outlier? What about that waning power?
In all likelihood, clubs will land somewhere in the middle on all of this. It’s certainly quite promising that Lucroy has restored his plate discipline nearly to the levels it stood in 2014, when he walked (10.1%) nearly as often as he struck out (10.8%) over 655 plate appearances. But his isolated slugging mark has now sat below the league average in two of the past three seasons. Plus, Lucroy managed only an anemic 22.3% hard-hit rate in 2017 while his groundball rate soared to over fifty percent for the first time in his career.
Of course, there’s still the matter of Lucroy’s work in the field to be accounted for. There was a time when his mastery of the dark arts behind the dish significantly bolstered the 31-year-old’s value. When he posted 6.2 fWAR in 2014, that was arguably an understatement, as it failed to account for Lucroy’s otherworldly framing skills and management of the pitching staff over a 153-game grind.
Now, the picture seems quite a bit different. Framing metrics panned Lucroy’s work over the first half of 2017. Though he ticked upward in Colorado, it’s still a far sight from the days when Lucroy was the poster child for the newly illuminated art of strike gathering. Still, he drew positive grades as recently as 2016, and it would be rather surprising for such a remarkable degradation in skill to occur so suddenly, so perhaps there’s a bounceback (or another explanation) here. And it’s worth noting that Lucroy has drawn plaudits for his presence on the defensive side from Rockies skipper Bud Black.
All told, the signals leave quite a lot of room for interpretation. No doubt many organizations will feel differently than others about what to expect from Lucroy. All will value the fact that he has been one of only four catchers to top three thousand plate appearances since the start of 2012 (and one of only three to post more than twenty WAR in that span). He seems clearly worthy of being awarded a regular job, but guessing at an earning range is more difficult. And that depends, too, on market factors.
Obviously there’s reason to expect that the Rockies could be interested in a return. The team has indicated satisfaction with Lucroy’s work and could use him just as much next year as this, though there are also internal options to be considered. Lucroy himself has made clear he’d welcome a chance to return. Beyond that, the possibilities are a bit more difficult to suss out. Few contenders have really clear needs behind the plate, though contending organizations such as the Diamondbacks, Angels, and perhaps Nationals could consider a move.
Other possible suitors could yet emerge. But Lucroy will face some competition. It helps that Kurt Suzuki has decided to remain with the Braves. But Welington Castillo is likely to decline his player option and Alex Avila will return to the open market. Chris Iannetta had a strong year, and he’s one of several solid veterans that may represent more cost-conscious options for organizations that prefer a timeshare at the position rather than paying more to land a heavily-used regular.
Recent comps are of limited utility, too. Big dollars have gone to Martin and Brian McCann (five years, $85MM), but as noted at the outset that seems highly unlikely here. Looking at other significant, multi-year deals, though, there’s a big gulf between those larger contracts and the three-year pacts signed by Jason Castro ($24.5MM) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia ($21MM). Lucroy has a strong argument to out-earn that pair, so it seems reasonable to anticipate at least a three-year arrangement with some possibility for a fourth.
Perhaps Francisco Cervelli’s three-year, $31MM extension represents a more noteworthy marker in this case. It’s telling, too, that Matt Wieters was guaranteed $21MM over two years despite a clearly inferior record to that of Lucroy, perhaps further suggesting that Lucroy ought to command an eight-figure annual commitment. Ultimately, it’s easy to imagine pursuit by two or more determined organizations pushing up the guarantee past the Cervelli level. Demand is less than crystal clear, so there’s some downside risk here as well, though it helps that Lucroy will not be subject to a qualifying offer since he was dealt in the middle of the season. Regardless of how it all shakes out, two things are clear after Lucroy’s 2017 campaign: he won’t be paid like the top-flight player he was for the prior five seasons, but he’ll still earn a hefty commitment when he hits the open market for the first time.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Rockies have almost $54MM in payroll coming off the books this winter in the form of Carlos Gonzalez’s salary and over $33MM in “dead money” paid to players no longer on the roster, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. Between that large sum and another $24MM being freed up by other impending free agents, Colorado has plenty of cash to spend this winter, though some of those funds could go towards re-signing some of those players, perhaps Greg Holland and Jonathan Lucroy. Saunders also wonders if the Rockies could look into extensions for Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu (free agents after 2018) or Nolan Arenado (after 2019).
Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond is drawing interest from two manager-needy teams, the Phillies and Tigers, Jon Heyman of FanRag reports. Redmond isn’t far removed from managing the Marlins, who went 155-207 on his watch from 2013-15. The former big league catcher played with the Marlins from 1998-2004, giving him familiarity with Tigers general manager Al Avila. The executive was in Miami’s front office for a portion of Redmond’s tenure as a player there.
- Greg Holland says he hasn’t yet thought at all about whether he’ll return to the Rockies, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. He is seemingly still unhappy with his appearance in the team’s Wild Card loss, which represented a disappointing end to an otherwise quality bounceback season. Holland didn’t quite max out his contract incentives — he needed to finish two more games to earn an extra $2MM — but did tack another $9MM on top of his $6MM base. His mutual option became a $15MM player option along the way, but the expectation remains that Holland will choose instead to enter the open market. While he wasn’t exactly back to his prior form as one of the game’s best relievers, Holland turned in 57 1/3 innings of 3.61 ERA ball with 11.0 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 while pacing the NL with 41 saves. He’ll soon turn 32 and hasn’t regained his prior fastball velocity since his return from Tommy John surgery, but Holland did sustain an outstanding 15.2% swinging-strike rate on the year and ought to draw quite a lot of interest on the open market.