At first glance, the idea of the Colorado Rockies pursuing any type of left-handed bullpen help right now seems both unnecessary and premature. After all, the club has several left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster, not to mention the fact that this club needs just a bit more than a decent lefty specialist who might throw 40-50 innings next season if they want to win.
Relievers ebb and flow from year-to-year, and there are perennially dozens available at various levels. The Rockies' focus during the upcoming Winter Meetings and heading into 2016 should be on acquiring starting pitching and prospects, in the hopes of being a club that will compete one day in the (near?) future. A left-handed reliever is a finishing touch to that plan and ought to come another year or two from now, rather than be a focal point in the middle of it.
But the Rockies are very weak from the left side of the bullpen, with five 2015 lefties (Yohan Flande, Jason Gurka, Rex Brothers, Ken Roberts and Aaron Laffey) now out of the organization, one (Christian Friedrich) suspect in high-leverage situations, and the most notable (Boone Logan) a bizarre veteran mixture of overpaid, bad, and yet — mystifyingly — a trade candidate on his expiring contract.
So while a lefty specialist ought not be Jeff Bridich's main focal point during the Winter Meetings or at any other point until the Rockies are close enough to contention, the lack of quality rotation depth and the need for a deep relief corps — especially at Coors Field — ought to leave Bridich open to lefty help if it falls into his lap this winter.
★ ★ ★
The in-house candidates from 2015
Logan is the most obvious reason for the Rockies not to pursue a left-handed reliever, of course. In the final year of a three-year, $16.5 million contract, the veteran lefty hasn't pitched nearly well enough to earn his exorbitant salary over the first two seasons, but before coming to Colorado he had a good lefty-on-lefty track record.
Logan's role as a lefty specialist is somewhat up in the air, anyways. He's done fairly well against lefties as a member of the Rockies, and yet, manager Walt Weiss hasn't shown a proclivity to use Logan in that role. If Logan is to be a general set-up man in 2016 (which is a mistake, but may well be the case), there's a need for a bona fide lefty specialist, especially considering the Rockies' underwhelming in-house options beneath Logan.
If Logan has a bad year, as he did in both 2015 and especially 2014, the need for a lefty will only magnify. Paradoxically, if Logan has a good year in 2016, the need will manifest itself, as well; a few good months from Logan on an expiring contract, and suddenly he becomes a trade candidate, which would leave the Rockies without their only (presumably) decent left-handed reliever.
Credit to Christian Friedrich for staying with the big league club the entire year in 2015, because there wasn't much else to excite you for the future. With a 5.25 ERA (but a 4.04 FIP!) in 68 games last summer, opponents hit .321 with an OPS of .820 off the reliever. And while Friedrich was comparatively better against lefties in '15, they still slashed .268/.320/.339 against him over 127 plate appearances.
Several things put Friedrich's bullpen spot in peril this coming year, not the least of which is general ineffectiveness that should reflect in the Rockies' hesitance to put him in late-inning lefty matchups. Aside from that, there's a non-zero chance Friedrich doesn't even make the club out of Spring Training, and — knowing that he's out of minor league options — he may well be out of the organization by April.
After being non-tendered on Wednesday, he's gone!
Y'all know how much I love Yohan Flande, and if you don't love him like I do, I challenge you to a duel. Right now. Behind the schoolyard. 3:00 pm. Fight me! (After being non-tendered on Wednesday, he is also gone!)
He's gone, fools!
He's gone, too, fools!
Laffey, also gone!
Underwhelmed yet? While a lefty reliever is far from the most important addition the Rockies should make, the current crew has significant holes that will make for another long year in the bullpen, and after shedding five lefty relievers since the end of the season the Rockies need reinforcements.
★ ★ ★
Free agents of note
Manny Parra (pictured above), 33, spent the last three seasons in the Reds' bullpen after failing as a starting pitcher with the Brewers. Over those three years in Cincinnati, Parra is 3-8 with one save and a 3.91 ERA over 150 games (115 innings). Parra isn't overwhelming out of the pen; opponents have slashed .260/.333/.386 against him in 1,022 plate appearances, but he has struck out 241 hitters in just 235 relief innings. Parra made $3.5 million in 2015.
Brian Matusz, 28, is coming off arguably the best season of his career as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, and thus might be too much of a stretch ($$$) for the Rockies this winter. Another converted starter like Parra, Matusz was 1-4 with a 2.94 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 58 games (49 innings) in 2015, logging 7.0 H/9, 3.7 BB/9 and 10.3 K/9. In his career coming out of the pen (715 plate appearances), lefty opponents are slashing just .207/.261/.350 against Matusz, who made $3.2 million in 2015, but may see a significant raise due to his age and strong 2015 campaign.
As Matusz enters the peak of his career, Perez, 34, is on the downside after a season split between the Diamondbacks and Astros in 2015. Perez started 195 games in his Major League career, and he's recently reinvented himself as a lefty specialist; for that, he'll be able to extend his career several more years. He misses bats (11.2 K/9 over 70 appearances/41 innings last summer), and has been hell on lefties, who slashed just .185/.235/.283 with five walks against 33 strikeouts in 98 plate appearances in 2015. But righties more than make up for that (slashing .310/.417/.465 in 2015), rendering Perez to that proverbial single-batter use more so than other pitchers on this list, which is a tough sell for (a) a team at Coors Field, and (b) a team that will be bad in 2016, anyways.
Ibarra, 26, will likely land his next gig on a minor league deal after earning just two Major League appearances to his name thus far in his career, and struggling in the Angels' system at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2015. The lefty has 303 career minor league appearances, split between the Angels' and Twins' systems, and he's been relieving full-time since 2012. In 2015 at Salt Lake, he was 3-3 with two saves in 61⅓ innings, allowing 70 hits and 33 walks (1.68 WHIP), but striking out 66 batters.
One of the stronger lefty specialists on this list who is also coming off the best year of his career, Sipp, 32, will probably be attractive to contenders and eschew any offer from a club in the Rockies' current position. Nevertheless, he's a talented reliever fresh off 60 appearances for the Astros in 2015, where he struck out 62 in 54⅓ innings (10.3 K/9) while allowing just 41 hits (6.8 H/9) and 15 walks (2.5 BB/9). He's an equal opportunity challenge for both righties and lefties; in 2015, right-handers slashed .190/.243/.370 against him while lefties managed a .227/.290/.309 clip. We can dream, though, right?
A veteran of seven years with the Padres and two more with the Diamondbacks, Rockies fans ought to know side-slinging Thatcher, 34, pretty well. Like Perez and Sipp, the Indiana native pitched out of the Astros' pen in 2015, where he struck out 26 hitters in 22 innings across 43 games. A relatively consistent performer across 405 career appearances who knows the NL West fairly well, Thatcher made just $1 million in 2015. I certainly wouldn't mind the Rockies going after a consistent, cheap option like this over the winter.
It'll be interesting to see if Beimel, 38, gets a gig this winter after an underwhelming 2015 season in the Mariners' bullpen. In 53 games (47⅓ innings), Beimel logged a 3.99 ERA (but a 5.48 FIP), 9.3 H/9, 3.0 BB/9, and most concerning, only 4.2 K/9, his lowest single-season strikeout rate since 2010... as a member of the Rockies. Been there, done that; he was OK in 2009 and 2010 in Colorado, but now at 38 years old, let's avoid Joe Beimel, eh?
Speaking of been there, done that... if Morales, 29, were to return to Denver, it would of course be his third time in a Rockies' uniform. But the lefty former-starter-turned-specialist does deserve credit for his strong 2015. The Venezuelan earned his World Series ring with the Royals, logging a 3.18 ERA (3.52 FIP) across 67 games, albeit in generally lower-leverage situations compared to other members of that strong Kansas City bullpen. Nevertheless, he's not yet 30 and he's again on the open market looking for a deal. Somebody will pay Morales, after he made $1.85 million in 2015.
Full disclosure: I played against Teaford, 31, when he was at Georgia Southern University. The lefty, who broke into the big leagues with the Royals between 2011 and 2013 (45 games over three seasons), made it back to the show in 2015 for four games with the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing one run in 5⅔ innings. Teaford, who played in Korea in 2014, primarily started at Triple-A in 2015 (26 games, 19 starts), so a comparison for him may be Flande, as a middle reliever, rather than any true lefty specialist.
Just like Sipp's profile, Bastardo, 30, is one of the better lefty specialists available this winter after coming off a strong season with the Pirates in 2015. In 66 games (57⅓ innings), Bastardo logged a 2.98 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 10.0 K/9, and just 6.1 H/9, though he did give up 4.1 free passes per nine innings, too. With 11.0 K/9 and just 6.5 H/9 over his career (seven years, 341 games), Bastardo misses a lot of bats. And after having made $3.1 million in his strong 2015 campaign, he'll likely get paid a lot more money (by a contender!) than what the Rockies are seeking to offer this winter.
Blevins, 32, had a bizarre 2015: he broke his forearm on a comebacker in April, and then re-broke it in August when he slipped off a New York City curb and fell just as he was ready to return to the New York Mets' playoff push. Now, the lefty may be a nice buy-low(ish) candidate coming off a lost season where he only appeared in seven games (five perfect innings with four strikeouts!) before the injuries. He made $2.4 million in 2015.
Breslow, 35, worked more in middle relief than he did as a lefty specialist in 2015, tossing 65 innings across 45 games for the Red Sox, and logging a 4.15 ERA (but a 5.27 FIP) with a 1.415 WHIP and 1.7 HR/9. The Yale University product has pitched all but 54 of his 524 career games in the American League (with many coming in the difficult AL East), but with now two straight underwhelming seasons out of Boston's bullpen, Breslow may not have much left in the tank that would even be worth a pursuit.
Detwiler, 29, has had an inconsistent Major League career and might be another nice buy-low candidate after a tough 2015 split between the Braves and Rangers. In Texas, he went 0-5 with a 7.12 ERA in 17 games (seven starts) before the Rangers released him in July and he was signed by the Braves, where he finished the year with a 7.63 ERA and a 2.348 WHIP over 24 games, all in relief. He'll turn 30 before Spring Training, and like Ibarra, will almost assuredly be signed to a minor league deal this winter. Nevertheless, clubs may still feel there's enough there in a former first-round draft pick for a low-risk chance.
Wright, 30, is another buy-low candidate coming off an abbreviated season that left him dealing with a shoulder strain, and saw him pitch just 11 games and get designated for assignment by one team (the Orioles) before being picked up on a minor league deal by another (the Angels). But his big league track record indicates the Alabama-born lefty is worth a shot in 2016, especially considering his .237/.313/.334 career slash line against lefties over 371 big league games. Wright made only $1.7 million in 2015.
I'd assume Thornton, 39, is at the end of his career if not for an exceptionally strong 2015, where he logged a 2.18 ERA (3.52 FIP) across 60 games (41⅓ innings) for the Washington Nationals. In fact, in the last two seasons for the Nationals, Thornton has allowed just 7.3 H/9, 0.2 HR/9, and 2.2 BB/9 while logging a 1.71 ERA and 3.30 FIP over 78 games (52⅔ innings). Now it all has to end sometime, you'd imagine — and especially so for a man just nine months from his 40th birthday. Nevertheless, Thornton still persists after 730 big league appearances, though he may not come incredibly cheap; he made $3.5 million in 2015.
★ ★ ★
Some of these names are great! Some are pretty underwhelming. Again, a lefty specialist does not a World Series club make (at least not with most of these guys, and not with the 2016 Rockies). But for a team that's now down to two (pretty damn suspect) 'pen lefties heading into the Winter Meetings, a cheap acquisition will help the 'pen, and in turn, take some pressure off a starting rotation that will already assuredly be taxed.
As for contracts, some of these guys (Beimel, Breslow, and Perez, for example) will not get a multi-year deal, and thus may be an unnecessary move for the Rockies to make if they're planning on writing off 2016 anyways. But for others (Parra, Matusz, and Thatcher, as well as the more out-of-reach Bastardo and Sipp), I'd hesitantly consider a two (or three?) year deal to lock up a known bullpen entity in advance of a supposed upcoming contention period.
That is, just as long as any hypothetical multi-year deal comes NOWHERE CLOSE to Boone Logan's disastrous $16.5 million contract...