Last week, I wrote about the Rockies' 2016 plan, which argued that Colorado's real contention window doesn't open until another 15 months from now. The front office has some of the pieces it needs for the next contention window already under control for several more seasons, but they just don't have enough resources to surround them with the rest of the ingredients that they need until they get a little more help from the farm.
This doesn't mean the Rockies can't enjoy success in 2015 if everything breaks perfectly for them, but it does mean that their better chance for more consistent, well-balanced success probably comes after the young arms gain more traction.
However, the 2016 plan is made with an assumption. If you follow this line of thinking, you probably believe that the Rockies are, on paper, an upper-seventies win team. This is where Fangraphs currently has them on their projected 2015 standings page, and I think that's a pretty good spot.
Now, if you know anything about these projections systems, baseball teams can easily over or under-perform a proper projection by ten, sometimes even 15 games (it's how you explain the 2013 and 2014 Red Sox), leaving the door open for the Rockies to contend if they hit the very high end of possibilities.
A week ago, I thought the Rockies also viewed themselves as currently constructed as an upper-seventies win team on paper. Seven days later, I'm not so sure. It's possible they actually view themselves as a low-eighties win team on paper (every team has their own way of projecting these things), and if that's the case, it completely changes how aggressive they should be when it comes to the rotation this winter.
Upgrading a high-seventies win team on paper by three or four games is likely a waste of money as the odds of that pushing you over the playoff bubble aren't too high. However, upgrading a low-eighties win team on paper by about three or four games is a total game-changer. The odds of making the postseason, or at the very least contending well into September, rise dramatically within these few rungs of the ladder. I can't stress that enough.
Where the Rockies actually sit on the projected win chart is up for debate, but it's imperative to realize that burning the precious resources this team has to spend on new players makes so, so much more sense if you believe the Rockies are say, an 82 or 83 win team on paper instead of a 77 or 78 win team since they probably have enough resources to push their projected win total up by another three or four games. If you think they project to win below 80, then it makes sense to hold onto those resources until the team is closer to truly contending, but if you think the Rockies project to win more than 80 on paper right now, then the argument changes entirely. Along these lines, if you've read the comments on this site from our own dmoneyrox, he clearly views the team as better than a high-seventies win squad on paper, and therefore has been advocating for a more aggressive offseason plan, particularly in the rotation.
So why am I no longer confident the Rockies see themselves as a high-seventies win team on paper? Well, with each passing day, I find the idea of Colorado being the mystery team that offered James Shields a five-year, $110 million contract to be more and more plausible. I have no sources when it comes to this situation, it's all speculation at this point. But if you fit the pieces into the puzzle, the Rockies being the mystery team makes a whole lot of sense.
Consider the following:
1) The Rockies clearly have more money to spend than most people think. They were involved in the Jose Abreu, Brian McCann, and Carlos Ruiz sweepstakes last offseason and they also offered Michael Cuddyer a $15 million deal for 2015 before he went to the Mets. That money is going to be spent somewhere. Maybe not until 2016, but it's going to be spent on players at some point.
2) James Shield is not a fly ball pitcher. Over the past three seasons, Shields only allowed fly balls 33 percent of the time according to Fangraphs (the major league average is 35 percent). Compare that to the three seasons before Jeremy Guthrie arrived where he allowed fly balls 43 percent of the time. So right off the bat, he doesn't have the most obvious Coors Field red flag.
3) Here's a list of the number of innings Shields has thrown over the last eight years:
This is something the Rockies front office should be salivating over. This team's biggest issue over the last four years has been their inability to get a lot of innings out of their desired starters, and acquiring Shields ostensibly would go a long way into fixing that. Of course, the same reason to like the guy here may also be a reason to shy away: that's a significant amount of miles on an arm for a pitcher entering his age 33 season. However, Shield has a very smooth, easy delivery and is probably a better bet than most pitchers his age to stay healthy.
4) Here's James Shields' average fastball velocity over the last four seasons:
This is important because any signing the Rockies potentially make here can't kill the team on the back end when the Rockies are solidly in their next contention window. At least for now, Shields is a guy who projects to age well.
5) Bridich said that his No. 1 goal this winter would be to address the rotation. This would certainly qualify.
6) Signing James Shields will cost a draft pick, but the Rockies are so deep in that department this year they can afford to sacrifice a selection more than most teams as they're currently projected to have four of the top 45 picks. Their first round pick (No. 3 overall) is also protected no matter what, so even though the Rockies must build through the draft to be successful, the Shields draft pick attachment probably scares the Rockies less than it would scare most teams.
7) It would make complete sense nobody knew the Rockies made that offer to Shields because they tend to play their cards extremely close to the vest. There's been numerous occasions over the last four or five years where the Rockies made a signing or trade that you heard nothing about until it was on the verge of being completed. The national media also tends to be asleep when it comes to the Rockies, so none of them would expect it either. When you're dealing with a mystery team, these are the things you look for.
8) Several teams originally thought to be interested in Shields have publicly expressed varying degrees of reluctance now that this mystery offer is on the table, citing they don't want to go north of $100 million, likely taking them out of the running.
9) Yesterday, an MLB Trade rumors link noted the following from Nick Cafardo:
One National League GM speculated that James Shields hasn't jumped on his rumored $110MM offer because he doesn't want to play for that team. Of course, at 33, teams are wary of giving a five-year deal. "There isn't a team who wouldn't want Shields for three years. But five? That's where it gets tough," one GM said.
It makes sense that Shields would be waiting for another offer if the team giving him the highest offer calls Coors Field home. He probably wants the money the mystery team offered him, but wants it to come from someone other than the mystery team, so he's hoping somebody else matches it or comes close.
All of this doesn't mean the Rockies are the mystery team, but again, the idea is plausible. Sometimes you get a false positive where the clues just happen to line up and throw you off, but for now, I think it's at least possible the Rockies land this very big arm in free agency this winter.
Hayden Kane over at Rox Pile also thinks the Rockies are the mystery team that gave Shields the offer.
In much less exciting "Rockies might be getting a pitcher in free agency" news, Jon Morosi reports that the Rockies are in talks with Ryan Vogelsong.
Our friend Sarah Ford over at Rockies Zingers has a fun piece on Nolan Arenado.