Consider this post the first in our (hopefully long) stream of free agents the Colorado Rockies could, should, or might consider adding during the hot stove fun that will take place over the next few months. Some of the players we'll profile are great fits in Denver; others, while fitting, are also more unlikely for the Rockies to pursue. Consider today's profile in that group.
Wei-Yin Chen, a 30-year old Taiwanese-born left-handed pitcher, is now a free agent (well, more on that in a second) after four successful seasons as a starter for the Baltimore Orioles. The Scott Boras client (I know, but keep reading) won't be 31 years old until July, and certainly must feel like a payday is on the horizon after a few decent years in Baltimore.
And even though the O's put up a qualifying offer — which would keep him in Baltimore for another season at $15.8 million — the prevailing wisdom is that he'll take on the open market and see what the league will offer. Chen has had four strong seasons with the Orioles, and he's right on that line of being unlikely for the Rockies to pursue (like Mike Leake), but not unrealistic (like Zack Greinke, David Price, and Johnny Cueto). But before we get into that, let's meet the lefty.
Scouting Wei-Yin Chen
Here is Chen's career in Baltimore:
Here he is on video, first from 2015 (apologies for the interesting music):
And then from 2013:
In no particular order of importance, here are some observations I've taken from watching Chen pitch this summer, as well as doing the research on this particular post:
- Minimal drive and a high finish on a stiff front leg make it appear as though Chen cuts off his lower half during his delivery and throws almost exclusively with his arm. At times, it almost seems as if he's throwing (91-93 mph) darts at the plate.
- Considering the 30-year old has averaged 29 starts and 177 innings a year over each of the last four seasons, and has thrown a remarkably consistent 91.5 mph fastball over the same time frame, it doesn't appear as though a relative lack of lower body drive has thus far hampered his health or results.
- In fact, viewed differently, Chen's minimal delivery may be uniquely suited to the altitude-related rigors of a place like Coors Field, as opposed to the max-effort delivery of (to overexaggerate the point) a pitcher like Tim Lincecum.
- Chen hasn't been killed by home runs in his career (1.2 per nine innings over his 706 big league frames), but he has been slightly susceptible recently; he allowed 28 home runs in 2015.
- To balance that out, though, Chen doesn't walk anybody. He's walked less than two batters per nine innings in each of the past two seasons, and for his career holds a remarkable 3.18 (547-to-172) K:BB ratio.
The case for the Rockies to pursue Chen
Chen is, obviously, a consistent and effective hurler if you believe four years of decent-to-good work are enough to legitimize a starting pitcher in this league. The folks at MLB Trade Rumors predict Chen is due for a five-year deal worth around $80 million (with the Tigers being the likely suitors, in their minds). And while $80 million is likely too big a commitment for the Rockies, the per annum ($16 million) is what Colorado's going to have to prepare to pay if they want to attract any worthwhile free agent pitcher in the next few years.
Barring some ridiculous and unforeseen offseason moves, the Rockies aren't going to contend in 2016. But I could still see a hypothetical case this winter to sign Chen with 2017 and 2018 in mind, as a consistent veteran to help bring along prospects into the club's supposed contention years. Chen's track record is strong enough over several years in a tough part of the American League that he'll attractive to many teams, and his contract demands aren't likely to be so outrageous as to completely scare the Rockies out of the conversation.
A three-year deal (near $50 million) or a four-year pact (closer to $65 million) for a pitcher like Chen ought not be seen as totally unrealistic in the Rockies' front office. However, the likelihood of Chen taking an offer from Colorado when he's represented by Boras and looking at a market ready to give money hand over fist to free agent pitching is... small.
The case against the Rockies pursuing Chen
Chen has been given a qualifying offer by the Orioles. He likely won't take it, instead hoping to cash in on free agency with Scott Boras, but any team that signs Chen after the qualifying offer will lose a draft pick. Since their first pick is top-ten protected, the Rockies would lose their second choice, a compensation pick at the end of the first round (last year, the Rockies selected Mike Nikorak with that pick). For a team focused on rebuilding, losing high draft picks is a difficult trade-off, even for a decent free agent.
And then there's Boras. The Rockies thankfully don't have to deal with the super-agent any more in at least one case, but Boras will impose his will upon all negotiating teams this winter. Expect an even more uphill battle for a team that plays its home games at Coors Field if they try to sign one of Boras' pitching clients.
So why write about Wei-Yin Chen, anyways?
Chen is, to me, the perfect player with which to begin this free agent series. Chen — and Mike Leake — are just about at the very top of the free agent ceiling the Rockies could realistically pursue, if the front office chose to go that route. Obviously, Jeff Bridich and company may well sit on their hands and wait for prospects to pan out — which is fine, too! — but if the Rox decided to pursue a free agent starting pitcher this winter, Chen is about as good as it's going to be.
There's no Johnny Cueto or David Price in the pipeline, so if we start with Chen and work (depressingly) downward, the Rockies' options become more and more likely. Even with that said, though, Chen is a stretch; he has a notorious agent and he's coming off in many ways the strongest year of his big league career. He'll be looking to get paid, and in the current climate of starting pitching around Major League Baseball, somebody will pay him.
Ultimately, Boras may seek for Chen a five-year deal, and a fifth year for a player receiving a qualifying offer is the icing on an already-difficult cake. But the thought of the Rockies paying about $16 million a year for a decent pitcher ought not be that crazy. After all, unless multiple pitching prospects pan out the way the Rockies are hoping (and even if they did) Colorado would be wise to seek an experienced free agent below the top-level options on the market — whether this winter or next — if they hope to truly compete after 2016.
There's about a 2% chance you'll see Wei-Yin Chen with the Rockies next year, but hopefully this exercise wasn't all for naught; rather, Chen may well be a good top of the market reference point for the Rockies if/when they seek free agent pitching this winter.