- The Rockies “will look at” free-agent catchers Travis d’Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Martin Maldonado, Robinson Chirinos, Jason Castro and Alex Avila, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. While the Rockies won’t spend much this offseason, nobody in that group of catchers figures to break the bank on the open market, and the club’s need behind the plate is obvious. Colorado’s backstops struggled to the majors’ 28th-ranked fWAR (minus-1.7) in 2019, when Tony Wolters, Chris Iannetta, Dom Nunez and Drew Butera all managed miserable offensive numbers.
We’re going to see a whole lot of players added to 40-man rosters in advance of tonight’s deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. We will use this post to track those contract selections from National League teams that are not otherwise covered on the site.
- The Dodgers announced that they’ve selected the contracts of right-hander Mitchell White, infielder/outfielder Zach McKinstry and outfielder DJ Peters. Both White and Peters are considered to be among the club’s top 15 prospects. McKinstry isn’t generally ranked inside L.A.’s top 30, but the 24-year-old had a big season between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019 while appearing at six defensive positions (shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield slots).
- The Diamondbacks announced that they’ve selected the contracts of right-handers Taylor Widener and Riley Smith as well as the contracts of infielders Andy Young and Wyatt Mathisen. Widener, 24, was one of the organization’s best pitching prospects coming into the season but was blown up for an eye-popping 8.10 ERA in 100 innings. He’s only a year removed from 137 1/3 innings of 2.75 ERA ball and an 11.5 K/9 mark in Double-A, however. Smith, 24, was sharp in Double-A before struggling in Triple-A — like many pitching prospects throughout the league (and with the D-backs in particular). Young, acquired in the Paul Goldschmidt trade last winter, hit 29 homers while playing three infield positions between Double-A and Triple-A. Mathisen, 26 in December, hit .283/.403/.601 in 345 Triple-A plate appearances.
- The Giants, surprisingly, did not add anyone to their 40-man roster prior to tonight’s deadline.
- The Rockies selected the contracts of infielder Tyler Nevin, left-hander Ben Bowden and right-handers Ashton Goudeau and Antonio Santos (Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post first reported the news on Twitter). Those four moves will fill the team’s 40-man roster. Of the four, Bowden and Nevin draw the most fanfare. Nevin, the No. 38 pick in the 2015 draft and son of former MLB slugger Phil Nevin, posted deceptively solid numbers in an extremely pitcher-friendly Double-A environment in 2019 (.251/.345/.399 — good for a 122 wRC+). Bowden, a second-round pick in ’16, posted gaudy strikeout numbers but struggled in Triple-A after dominating in Double-A in 2019.
- The Padres selected outfielder Jorge Ona’s contract and designated outfielder Nick Martini for assignment, as outlined here.
- The Cardinals announced the additions of Jake Woodford, Elehuris Montero and Alvaro Seijas while designating righty Dominic Leone for assignment (as detailed here at greater length).
- Outfielder Corey Ray and right-hander J.P. Feyereisen will head onto the Brewers 40-man, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter). It’s not yet known if the team will make further roster additions, but it would have five additional spots to work with to do so. Ray was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft but is coming off of a rough season. Feyereisen, who was added in a quiet September swap, will have a chance to challenge for MLB relief opportunities. Milwaukee also added infielder Mark Mathias to the 40-man roster after acquiring him in a trade with the Indians tonight.
- The Cubs announced that they’ve added catcher Miguel Amaya, infielder Zack Short and right-handers Tyson Miller and Manuel Rodriguez to the 40-man roster. Amaya is the most highly regarded of the bunch, ranking second among Chicago farmhands and drawing some top 100 consideration at MLB.com.
- Four additions to the 40-man were announced by the Reds, who have selected the contracts of catcher Tyler Stephenson and right-handers Tony Santillan, Ryan Hendrix and Tejay Antone. All four rank within the club’s top 30 at MLB.com, headlined by Santillan at No. 4 and ranging all the way to Antone at No. 30. Santillan thrived in a brief Double-A debut in 2018 but struggled there in a larger 2019 sample (4.84 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 in 102 1/3 innings). He’s still just 22, though, and is regarded as a potential big league starter. Stephenson is a former first-round pick who hit well in a highly pitcher-friendly Double-A setting (.285/.372/.410; 130 wRC+). Hendrix posted big strikeout numbers as a reliever in 2019, while Antone displayed sharp ground-ball skills as a starter and reached Triple-A for the first time.
- The Pirates added prospects Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Will Craig, Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce to the 40-man roster while also designating four pitchers for assignment (as explored in greater length here). Lefty Williams Jerez and right-handers Dario Agrazal, Montana DuRapau and Luis Escobar were cut loose.
- Yesterday, the Braves announced the addition of five prospects to their 40-man roster: outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer. (More about those moves here.)
- The Nationals announced that they have selected the contract of southpaw Ben Braymer. They still have a huge amount of 40-man flexibility to work with. Even after this move, the Nats have nine openings. The organization also surely expects to fill many of those slots with free agents and/or trade acquisitions after losing quite a few significant players to the open market. Braymer is a former 18th rounder out of Auburn who had a nice run last year at Double-A before being hit hard in the batter-friendly International League.
- The Phillies picked up lefty Cristopher Sanchez in a trade with the Rays and added him to the 40-man roster. Philadelphia also selected the contracts of lefties JoJo Romero and Garrett Cleavinger and right-hander Mauricio Llovera. (Details on those moves here.)
- The Mets announced the additions of Andres Gimenez, Thomas Szapucki, Ali Sanchez and Jordan Humphreys to the 40-man roster and designated righty Drew Gagnon for assignment. (More on those moves here).
- The Marlins opened some eyes by eating the remaining $22MM on Wei-Yin Chen’s contract and adding six prospects to the 40-man roster: Sixto Sanchez, Lewin Diaz, Nick Neidert, Jazz Chisholm, Humberto Mejia and Edward Cabrera. (More details here.)
Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made waves last offseason with his aggression in the trade market, dealing from the Mets’ minor leagues to bolster the Major League roster with the likes of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. However, Van Wagenen suggested at the GM meetings that his club will be hesitant to once again dip into the farm system to facilitate trades, reports Tim Healey of Newsday. The Mets’ crop of prospects isn’t an especially deep one—FanGraphs ranks them as having the 22nd-best minor-league system in baseball—and particularly lacks players who are close to the Majors and could contribute in 2020. That said, Healey believes that high-ceiling prospects in the lower minors—a group that includes the likes of Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos, and Matthew Allan, among others—will be hard to pry from Van Wagenen’s hands. After an 86-win season last year, it seems that the Mets feel they can make the jump to contention while still hanging onto their young prospects in hopes of maximizing their competitive window.
Here’s more from around the Senior Circuit…
- Following the Reds’ hire of Driveline founder Kyle Boddy to serve as the organization’s pitching coordinator, Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer offers a glimpse into the Reds’ motivation for targeting Boddy, who had previously never been a full-time employee of an MLB club. In tasking Boddy with developing minor league pitchers, the Reds hope to foster a greater continuity between the philosophies implemented in the Majors and minors. With pitching coach Derek Johnson and staff communicating their message to Boddy, the goal is for the pitching corps to be aligned across all levels of the organization. The addition of Boddy represents a continuation of the Reds’ effort to become more forward-thinking in their player development processes under manager David Bell. And the early returns have been promising: in 2019, the Reds ranked among the top five National League teams in ERA, FIP, and xFIP—a drastic improvement over the prior year, in which Cincy was bottom-three in all three categories.
- Shortstop Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies’ first-round draft choice in 2015, hasn’t enjoyed quite as much success as the only two players drafted before him—Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman—but after an injury-shortened debut campaign, Rodgers is recovering well from shoulder surgery and is setting his sights high for 2020, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Rodgers landed on the injured list in June with a shoulder impingement, but he ultimately opted for surgery after nagging discomfort throughout his minor-league career. He’s expected to be fully healthy ahead of spring training, and Rodgers feels he’s past the initial adjustment period, during which he admits shoulder pain and self-imposed pressure affected his performance. A natural shortstop, Rodgers is obviously blocked by teammate Trevor Story at that position, and he’ll have to overtake Ryan McMahon for regular playing time at second base. But given Rodgers’s pedigree and minor-league track record, there’s no doubt that he has the talent to bounce back in 2020.
In one of the winter’s most fascinating storylines, the Nationals face the potential loss of two more centerpiece players after bidding adieu to Bryce Harper last winter … and then winning a long-awaited crown. The D.C. organization would like to “get quick resolutions” on both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter), rather than engaging in a protracted courtship. If it’s a fond farewell, in either situation, then the Nats would like to get on with sorting out a replacement plan. The offseason could take any number of different directions for the defending World Series champs.
More from the National League …
- The Cubs like Nicholas Castellanos and he likes the Cubs. So … why not bring him back? Sahadev Sharma breaks down the situation for The Athletic (subscription link), explaining the many barriers to a reunion. In part it’s simply a financial issue, but there is also a legitimate dilemma in the outfield. Kyle Schwarber’s season went much like that of Castellanos, starting meekly and ending quite strong, so why replace the former with the latter? Both are bat-first players that probably shouldn’t be standing on the same outfield grass for too long. That leaves the focus on center field, per Sharma, which is where things get tricky. There are loads of other clubs facing similar situations and relatively few up-the-middle options available — particularly in free agency. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs sort things out, but Castellanos seems to be a bit of a mis-fitting puzzle piece — unless, perhaps, other developments intervene and his market doesn’t develop as he hopes.
- It is still tough to gauge whether the Rockies will end up pulling off some major roster moves or simply make a few tweaks. GM Jeff Bridich and owner Dick Monfort have suggested the club will need to improve largely from within, while also expressing optimism that it can do so. But we’ve heard persistent chatter regarding possible trade scenarios involving top Colorado players — much of it speculative, to be fair. Odds are, the Rox will simply be looking for affordable, marginal improvements this winter. Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post provides a transcript of Bridich’s most recent comments. Bolstering the pitching and finding a second catcher are the two goals, though it still seems those will be of modest expense. So what of the idea of trading Jon Gray? Saunders tweets that the Rockies could be open to it … if they can secure a major package involving significant prospects as well as “an established pitcher” to replace Gray. That feels unlikely to come to fruition.
- The Cardinals have traded away a huge volume of outfield talent in recent years and have plenty of internal options at or near the majors. Yet the teams still enters the winter with a possible need in that area, as Mark Saxon of The Athletic writes (subscription link). He reasons that the team needs to add a left-handed-hitting piece and looks at a few theoretical trade possibilities. The trick is that the Cards don’t appear interested in raising payroll and all the veterans cited will not be particularly cheap. Joc Pederson ($8.5MM), David Peralta ($8.8MM), and Jackie Bradley Jr. ($11MM) probably wouldn’t require major prospect hauls to acquire, but could bust the self-imposed St. Louis budget. We actually predicted that this year’s top two left-handed-hitting free agent corner outfielders, Corey Dickerson and Kole Calhoun, would secure less annually than each of those players.
Rockies right-hander Jon Gray was an oft-mentioned name at this week’s GM Meetings, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com, with the Padres among the clubs interested in acquiring the former No. 3 overall pick.
That Gray would emerge as a potential trade candidate isn’t really a surprise; as explored here at MLBTR a month ago, the Rockies are in a tough spot as a team that is projected to have a franchise-record payroll in 2020 before making a single addition to improve what was a 71-91 club in 2019. Gray and shortstop Trevor Story are the two members of the club that are relatively short-term assets (both controlled through 2021) and have performed well enough to have legitimate trade value. Owner Dick Monfort began the offseason by declaring a lack of payroll flexibility. As such, if the Rockies are to look to ways to improve, they may need to walk a fine line and move some quality big league pieces to simultaneously pare back spending and add more affordable (but less proven) near-MLB talent.
Gray, who last week turned 28, has demonstrated front-of-the-rotation ability at times in his big league career but has yet to establish much in the way of consistency. He’s averaged better than a strikeout per inning in 641 1/3 MLB frames and has delivered sub-4.00 ERAs in two of the past three seasons despite pitching his home games at Coors Field. However, Gray also logged a mediocre 4.61 ERA in 2016 and a woeful 5.12 mark in 2018.
Inconsistency notwithstanding, Gray is a former No. 3 overall pick and vaunted top prospect who averages better than 96 mph on his heater and owns a career 11.4 percent swinging-strike rate. He’s not exactly the prototypical Statcast darling, as he has below-average spin on his fastball and slider, but he’s managed to consistently generate punchouts all the same. And, that low spin rate has helped Gray to post above-average ground-ball tendencies throughout his MLB tenure.
Gray has only made 30 starts in a big league season once, although his durability isn’t questionable in the same way that it would be for a pitcher with a history of arm troubles. Rather, Gray has twice suffered a fracture in his left foot, limiting him to 110 1/3 innings in 2017 and 150 innings this past season. Outside of those two injuries, the only issue that’s ever shelved Gray during his MLB career was an abdominal strain in 2016. He did have some shoulder fatigue late in the 2014 season — his first full year of pro ball — but Gray’s right arm has an otherwise clean bill of health.
There are at least some parallels between the Rockies’ current situation with Gray and the situation the Pirates faced with Gerrit Cole two offseasons ago. Both are flamethrowing former top picks/prospects. Gray has a 112 ERA+ over his past four seasons — the same mark that Cole posted from 2014-17 in Pittsburgh. And, as was the case with Cole, Gray has another two years of club control remaining and a decidedly non-prohibitive (for most clubs) projected arbitration salary at $5.6MM. (Cole had settled at $6.75MM at the time of his trade.)
That’s not to suggest that Gray will erupt with a new club in the same manner that Cole did, but rather to underscore that Gray is the type of pitcher teams will dream on when scouring the trade market. The fact that this winter’s trade market lacks a clearly available frontline starter should only lead to further intrigue surrounding Gray, although there’s no guarantee that the Rockies will ultimately part ways with the hard-throwing right-hander. The Colorado organization, by all accounts, is hopeful of a bouncing back as a collective unit in 2020, so moving Gray for down-the-pipeline prospect who won’t reach the Majors until 2021-22 doesn’t seem likely.
The Rockies have announced a minor-league deal with infielder Eric Stamets. He’ll receive an invitation to MLB Spring Training.
Stamets, 28, was pressed into duty early in 2019 by the Indians but struggled mightily in brief MLB action. He went down on strikes in half of his 48 plate appearances and managed just a pair of hits. Stamets was ultimately dropped from the 40-man and allowed to depart at the end of the season.
The Rockies can’t expect much offense. Through over one thousand Triple-A plate appearances, Stamets carries a .230/.299/.379 slash line. But he’s obviously valued for his glovework at shortstop and ought to function as depth or perhaps challenge for a utility role in camp.
The Rockies are coming off a 71-win season, and even the most optimistic observer would be hard-pressed to expect a major bounce-back effort in 2020. Not only are the Rockies stuck in a division with the juggernaut Dodgers, who figure to rule the NL West yet again next year, but the Rox seemingly aren’t in position to spend their way out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. Rockies owner Dick Monfort has said the team lacks payroll flexibility, which suggests it won’t be in for an offseason of headline-worthy acquisitions.
The Rockies opened this year with a franchise record $145MM-plus in payroll, and they’re already in line for a 2020 outlay in the $160MM range, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs. At least a small portion of that is slated to belong to right-hander Jon Gray, who MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects will make $5.6MM via arbitration next season. However, considering next year will be Gray’s penultimate season of control, now may be as good a time as any for Colorado to trade him.
Gray, who turned 28 earlier this week, has endured his share of ups and downs since he joined the Rockies as the third overall pick in 2013. His results have alternated between very good (especially for someone stuck pitching half his games in hitter-friendly Colorado) and unspectacular, with Gray’s output this year falling in line more with the first category. He racked up 150 innings of 3.84 ERA/4.06 FIP ball with 9.0 K/9, 3.36 BB/9 and a personal-best 50.4 percent groundball rate. Along the way, Gray posted a career-high 96.1 average mph on his fastball, which ranked in the majors’ 89th percentile, per Statcast.
Aside from his velocity, Gray wasn’t any kind of Statcast hero in 2019, as he finished toward the bottom of the league in most of its key categories. Nevertheless, Gray’s most recent production, his career numbers (4.46 ERA/3.77 FIP with 9.4 K/9, 2.96 BB/9 and a 47.1 percent grounder rate) and his affordability over the next couple years would likely lead to plenty of interest if the Rockies were to place him on the trading block.
With few possible exceptions (Corey Kluber? Matthew Boyd? Chris Archer? Jose Quintana?), this offseason’s class of starters who might be attainable via trade doesn’t look as if it’ll be teeming with front-line potential. Meanwhile, free agency has two obvious aces – Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg – followed by Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and a series of flawed choices. It’s possible some starter-needy teams would just assume swing a trade for Gray than pay up for someone like Jake Odorizzi, who’d also cost a draft pick to reel in, or sign another good but unspectacular free agent.
With Gray, it seems the worst-case scenario is that an acquiring team would be picking up a competent mid- to back-end starter who wouldn’t put much of a dent in its payroll. Best case? The hard-throwing Gray morphs into a front-of-the-rotation bargain. With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine a slew of contenders lining up for Gray’s services if the Rockies were to make him available. Colorado owns one of the majors’ least impressive farm systems (per Baseball America), and dealing Gray could help the franchise improve its class of pre-MLB talent. Moreover, the Rockies doesn’t appear likely to contend in 2020, and there hasn’t been any word about a potential Gray extension. All that said, this looks like an opportune time for general manager Jeff Bridich to consider parting with Gray.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Garcia, 26 in January, briefly touched the majors in 2019. He showed only a 90.4 mph average fastball and didn’t get many swings and misses, though it’s awfully hard to read much into a six-inning sample.
It was a bit of an odd season for Garcia, who struggled in the bigs and in a 13-start stint at Triple-A. Before that, though, he was quite successful at the Double-A level, where he spun 68 innings of 1.85 ERA ball with 11.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, and a 49.3% groundball rate.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here to read the other entries in this series.
The Rockies endured one of the more disappointing seasons of their 27-year history in 2019. It may seem hard to remember now, but just a season ago, the 91-win Rockies came within one game of derailing the Dodgers’ now-seven-year run of dominance in the NL West. This season, they floated around .500 for much of the first half before face-planting hard in July and August. Despite scoring 55 more runs overall, the 2019 Rockies finished with an inverse record of the year prior at 71-91, 35 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.
- Nolan Arenado, 3B: $234MM through 2024 (opt-out after 2021)
- Charlie Blackmon, RF: $43MM through 2021 ($21MM player option for 2022, $10MM player option for 2023)
- Wade Davis, RP: $17MM in 2020 ($15MM mutual option for 2021 with $1MM buyout, becomes player option with 30 games finished in 2020)
- Ian Desmond, 1B/OF: $23MM through 2021 ($15MM club option in 2022 with $2MM buyout)
- Daniel Murphy, 1B: $8MM in 2020 ($12MM mutual option in 2021, $6MM buyout)
- Bryan Shaw, RP:$9MM in 2020 ($9MM club option in 2021 with $2MM buyout)
- Jake McGee, RP: $9.5MM in 2020 ($9MM club option in 2021 with $2MM buyout)
- German Marquez, SP:$38MM through 2023 ($16MM club option for 2024, $2.5MM buyout)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Chad Bettis – $3.8MM (outrighted, elected free agency)
- Scott Oberg – $2.0MM
- Jon Gray – $5.6MM
- Tyler Anderson – $2.625MM (claimed by the Giants)
- Trevor Story – $11.5MM
- Tony Wolters – $2.0MM
- Carlos Estevez – $1.2MM
- David Dahl – $3.0MM
- Kyle Freeland – $2.4MM
This team is equipped with high-end, in-their-prime talent on offense, stunning regressions to reckon with in the rotation, and an overpaid bullpen still one season from financial freedom. The likeliest route to flipping the script (again) and returning to playoff form – and this won’t be fun to hear – is probably internal improvement. On that front, Bud Black and company have more questions than answers.
What’s worse, if you’ll pardon a mixed metaphor, the front office has their backs against the bottom line: per Cot’s Contracts, the Rockies ran out an Opening Day payroll of just over $145MM, a team record they’ve reset every season since 2014. Assume a $9MM jump to mirror their rise in payroll the past two offseasons, and a 2020 Opening Day payroll would land around $156MM. Unfortunately, even after the subtraction of Anderson and Bettis, Roster Resource projects their current payroll at around $159MM.
There’s just not much wiggle room in the numbers. The money owed either belongs to core members of the roster (Arenado, Story, Gray, Marquez) or unmovable veterans performing who are below or near replacement level (Davis, Shaw, McGee, Desmond). In another year, the commitment to those four drops from $50.5MM to $13MM, assuming Davis finishes fewer than 30 games (which shouldn’t be a problem after an 8.65 ERA in 50 outings this season).
Thinking creatively, maybe there’s an AL team out there in love with Charlie Blackmon. Despite manning right field for the Rockies, the numbers say Blackmon’s no longer a super-viable option for NL teams (he stepped down the defensive spectrum in 2019 but remained among the worst-rated defensive outfielders in the game with -9 Outs Above Average). Blackmon doesn’t steal bases anymore, though a 125 wRC+ pegs him as genuine asset at the dish – in good company with Bryce Harper, Gleyber Torres and Matt Chapman. Still, the total Blackmon package rounded down to just 2.0 fWAR in 2019 – fine production for a regular position player, but shy of true All-Star status, unfortunately, given the All-Star money still coming his way ($64MM over the next three seasons, by the end of which he’ll be 36 years old). There aren’t many teams who need at designated hitter, and with cheaper, shorter-term alternatives on the market like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Howie Kendrick, Avisail Garcia, among others, it seems likely Blackmon remains in Colorado for 2020.
The other fatty contract they could look to move belongs to Daniel Murphy. With just $14MM guaranteed remaining, it’s possible GM Jeff Bridich could find a taker, but it’s not the best time to sell on the soon-to-be 35-year-old. Even if someone takes the contract, after a less-than-inspiring .279/.328/.452 line, a trade won’t net much talent in return or provide enough relief to afford a difference maker in free agency. However, losing Murphy’s $8MM could be enough to grab a rotation arm on a one-year deal in the mold of Wade Miley.
They could instead explore moving Ryan McMahon, who filled out their infield quartet this season by taking on full-time responsibilities at second base. On the surface his .250/.329/.450 line with 24 home runs looks okay, but 88 wRC+ puts him 12 percent below league average without enough defensive fortitude to make up the difference. A near 30 percent strikeout rate more or less tells the tale for McMahon at the plate. Still, he and Murphy provide too much the same skillset to make their pairing on the right side a benefit, and if Bridich gets creative he might use the surplus to shuffle some pieces around.
A significant shakeup doesn’t seem possible without moving one of their core assets. It would not be easy to break up Arenado and Story, who make up, essentially, a perfect left side of the infield. They’re both plus-plus defenders and power hitters in their athletic prime who are beloved by the fan base. Arenado has full no-trade protection, and the organization has shown little interest in trading Story. That said, with an estimated $11.5MM coming his way and another arbitration season to follow, it’s a logical time to move him. It won’t be fun, but a Story trade might be what’s best for the long-term health of the franchise.
Also a key part of this conversation is top prospect Brendan Rodgers, who struggled over two big league stints before a torn labrum ended his season in July. He’s not the defender at shortstop that Story is, but he can probably stick there if need be. If he becomes the full-time second baseman, that means bumping McMahon into a full-time utility role until Murphy’s contract runs out. That would make sense if the Rockies weren’t strapped for cash and in need of serious help on the pitching side. There’s definitely a trade to be made somewhere on the offensive end of the roster, but it’s doubtful any of the Rockies’ imperfect-fitting bats carry enough value to make much of a difference via trade. Story or David Dahl are excpections, though the organization seems intent on keeping them.
Speaking of Dahl, the Rockies plan to keep him in center next year, and though he’s passable up-the-middle, he’s not exactly a profit center out there from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, he’s produced as promised, despite being continually beset by ticky-tack injuries like the high ankle sprain that cost him the second half of 2019. As a .297/.346/.521 career hitter, he is no doubt an asset on that side of the ball, but he’s also a qualified Super Two facing an arbitration raise for the first time this season despite never putting together a full season.
Outside of a successful cup of coffee from Sam Hilliard and decent play from free agent castoff Yonder Alonso, the Rockies’ offense cratered after their core four (Arenado, Story, Blackmon and Dahl). Tony Wolters and Garrett Hampson have elite skills – defense and speed, respectively – but have yet to shore up the weaker parts of their games. Ian Desmond can line up at multiple outfield positions and first base, but his bat doesn’t play at of those spots. Raimel Tapia took a full turn in left field at age 25 and came up empty, as fWAR and bWAR agree that he was worth almost a full win below replacement (-0.9). That’s not a rousing cast of characters, but the core is strong enough that the Rockies should have no trouble augmenting with cheaper veterans taking the leftover at-bats in left and behind the plate. In a perfect world, one of those veterans could also be a backup plan to Dahl in center field (Michael A. Taylor of the Nationals could be a reasonable trade pickup).
The real scapegoat of the Rockies’ disappointing 2019, and where they should devote most if not all of their offseason attention, is pitching. The bullpen was bad in 2019, producing the second-highest FIP and second-lowest fWAR while commanding a serious chunk of the payroll. The inherent volatility of bullpen arms will allow the Rockies to trot out Davis, Shaw and McGee with at least an outside shot of returning some of their value, while Jairo Diaz, Scott Oberg, James Pazos and Carlos Estevez will do their best not to relinquish their squatters’ rights on the other bullpen spots. As much as the bullpen is in a less-than-ideal situation, the rotation needs the most work after a collective 5.87 ERA/5.31 FIP that ranked dead last in the NL.
It’s certainly unfair to heap an entire season’s worth of disappointment on a single player, but if we were to saddle just one man with the blame, Kyle Freeland would win the vote in a landslide. Jon Gray was last year’s demoted ace, but a redemptive campaign saw him reclaim ace-by-default status thanks to his year-over-year ERA shriveling from 5.12 in 2018 to 3.84 in 2019. Marquez is their third rotation asset, but his ERA rose to 4.76 as he stayed around the plate so often (4.9 BB%) opponents were able to barrel him up at an above-average rate (7.9%). Marquez and Gray will be counted on for mid-rotation production, at minimum, with a ceiling of a number one. The same could be said of Freeland, though with an even lower floor. That’s way too much baked-in variance for the top three of a rotation. If they produce somewhere between the 3.91 ERA they averaged in 2018 and the 5.11 ERA average of 2019, it’ll certainly help, but that alone won’t be enough to close the gap on the Dodgers.
Of the three, Gray is the most likely to be turned into a package of prospects, but the former No. 3 overall pick’s value is tough to pinpoint. By FIP and exit velo, Gray’s 2018 and 2019 were almost identical campaigns. This season saw a slight dip in strikeout rate, a third consecutive year of a rising walk rate (from 6.5% to 7.0% to 8.8%), and a career-high hard hit percentage of 43.6 % that ranks in the bottom four percent of starters league-wide. On the plus side, he did put the ball on the ground more often and dramatically lowered opposing launch angles. In sum: Gray kept the ball down, but gave up harder contact, which doesn’t profile as significantly predictive for future seasons, even if the results this season make the improvement appear significant.
That said, Gray’s stuff is good enough that if the Rockies were to dangle him, there are sure to be teams out there confident in maximizing his potential. If Bridich and company don’t want to move someone like Story or Dahl, Gray would probably land the biggest return. The Rockies need arms to compete in a National League with most clubs in go-for-it mode, and if the Rox don’t believe in the crew that crashed and burned this season, the trade market might be the only solution.
It’s certainly tough to trust the incumbents. On the whole, the 2019 pitching staff performed much like Gray. Their 48.8% groundball rate was second in the majors. With Story and Arenado on the left side, groundballs should turn into outs more frequently than for your average MLB infield, so that’s a sound strategy. Unfortunately, when they weren’t burning worms, the basically put together a perfect cocktail for a “crooked number.” The Rockies’ 7.85 K/9 rate as a team was 15th in the NL, while their 3.66 BB/9 ranked as the NL’s second-highest figure. Plus, over 20 percent of fly balls that Colorado allowed turned into homers, which was worst in the majors. Not missing bats, giving up plenty of free passes, and yielding fly balls that leave the yard at uncommonly high rates is the recipe for big innings.
Organizationally, the Rockies are in a tough spot, and they’re going to have to get creative if indeed they want to compete. A Story trade would bring the largest injection of talent to the system, but given the organization’s fondness for him and Rodgers looking more like a future second baseman, an extension seems more likely. Still, they’ll need to explore all their options on the trade market.
The Rockies already lost a couple of players from their 2019 collection, with Sam Howard, Pat Valaika, and Tyler Anderson claimed on waivers. Chad Bettis was also outrighted and is likely to enter free agency along with Tim Melville. But the issues facing this team in the offseason run much deeper than the fringes of the roster. The outlook isn’t great after a 91-loss season, but Bridich has indicated a rebuild is not forthcoming. On one hand, that seems shortsighted. On the other, urgency is understandable when you consider 2019 marked the 27th consecutive season since their inception that the Rockies failed to capture a division title.
The Rockies pitching staff collapsed in 2019, and it led to a myriad of attempted fixes, per The Athletic’s Nick Groke. So far, however, the Rockies remain at a loss. There is concern about the state of the baseball and how it reacts in Colorado’s altitude, but scouts around baseball also point to a habit of “careless deliveries” among Colorado hurlers as a cause for concern. Bud Black and his team are hard at work trying to diagnose the issue(s), and without payroll flexibility over the winter, identifying internal solutions might be their best chance at improvement in 2020. Still, it’s a dispiriting read for Colorado’s fans, as the Groke writes that the Rockies went so far as to “shut down their top starter, 24-year-old German Márquez, in late August, in part to save him from the bombardment.” They’ll have a clean slate in 2020, but a long road ahead as the Dodgers remain a juggernaut, while the Diamondbacks and Padres are rising contenders. Let’s check in elsewhere around the NL…