One way to characterize a major league roster is to break it into the three groups of players: stars, contributors, and survivors.
Your stars carry the team on their back for weeks at a time when they get hot, or give the team a win almost every fifth day if they're a pitcher. These are the Larry Walker, Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki type players. They are very rare birds, and the closest thing the Rockies have to this now are Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez, depending on how loosely you want to define star.
The next group are the contributors, and on a good team, they will represent the contingent. The best examples of contributors on the Rockies are guys like Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu. They're not household names across the country, but they add positive value to the purple pinstripers .
Then we have the survivors. These are players who are only on a major league roster because 25 guys need to take the field each trip through the rotation. In short, the Rockies have way, way too many of these players, and this really shows up when it comes to the bench.
If we very loosely define our bench guys as players who accumulate less than 300 plate appearances and more than 100 plate appearances (to eliminate guys who just filled in for a week or two because of injury or guys who joined the team at the end of the year for a September cup of coffee), we see how problematic the bench was last season:
A couple of the players like Corey Dickerson and Justin Morneau ended up on this list by accident thanks to injuries, and Jose Reyes ended up here because of the timing of the Troy Tulowitzki trade. However, the rest of this list seems to capture what we're looking for - Or perhaps more accurately, exactly what we're not looking for.
These ten players racked up 1,865 plate appearances in 2015 and combined for -4.1 rWAR. Five of them (Barnes, Descalso, Reyes, Ynoa and Parker) who combined for -3.7 rWAR, could get playing time again this season depending on how things break.
If the Rockies are ever going to get better, they need the bench to be made up of more contributors and fewer survivors. When the Rockies last made the playoffs in 2009, contributors is something that defined this part of their roster. They had five productive outfielders in Dexter Fowler, Brad Hawpe, Carlos Gonzalez, Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs, and on top of this, they had two catchers in Chris Iannetta and Yorvit Torrealba who sucked up all the plate appearances from that position while still providing positive value.
Looking forward to 2016, outlining the bench is going to require some guess work. First, let's eliminate the guys we think are going to be the starters:
C: Nick Hundley
1B: Mark Reynolds
2B: DJ LeMahieu
3B: Nolan Arenado
OF: Carlos Gonzalez
OF: Charlie Blackmon
OF: Gerardo Parra
I left shortstop off this list for now because that position is in a state of anarchy for the first spring in years. Jose Reyes has a court date on opening day and a likely suspension coming, Trevor Story should stay in Triple-A to start the season to push his service clock back, and the race between Daniel Descalso and Chisthian Adames is too close to call. This position could be in flux until the all star break, and I expect both Descalso and Adames to fall in the 100 to 300 plate appearance window by season's end.
Beyond that, I see Tom Murphy starting the season as the backup catcher and slowly getting more and more starts as the season progress. (It's also possible the club gives Dustin Garneau time here if he has a good spring. However, the bar has been raised and it won't be easy for him to get playing time here without an injury unless Hundley is traded mid season.) This position should be the club's best chance to get solid production from the bench all season long.
At the corner spots, Ben Paulsen could get time at both first base and the outfield. If he can repeat his performance from a year ago, it will provide satisfactory production.
Meanwhile, with Corey Dickerson gone, Brandon Barnes is now the easy pick as the fourth outfielder, and should see starts whenever a left hander is the opposing pitcher. This is partially because he has a career on base percentage 33 points higher against southpaws, but also because he can play all three outfield positions and every guy ahead of him bats left handed. Barnes will likely once again provide positive value in the club house, and negative value on the WAR sheet. Your opinion of his presence on this roster will likely depend on which you value more.
Finally, if the Rockies don't open up the year with an eight man bullpen, I think Rafael Ynoa has a chance as the last bench spot thanks to his position flexibility. This should help get the Rockies through the first few weeks of the season when their options will be limited. He's not a guy you'd normally want to open the season with, but this team is what it is at this point.
So to review, that would be a five man bench of Descalso / Adames (whichever one isn't considered the starter at short), Murphy, Paulsen, Barnes and Ynoa to open the season. This is a bench combination that doesn't bode well for this team's chances.
On the Farm
Another key to consider here is that the bench is never still. A baseball roster is a living, breathing organism during the season, and this exercise will look completely different in July than it does now - And you know what, I think the outlook will look better as the days grow warmer.
By the middle of the season, we should have some clarity on the Jose Reyes situation, and Trevor Story should be starting everyday, potentially pushing the least productive member of the Adames / Descalso battle off the roster.
The other thing we could see happen by August and September will be David Dahl and Raimel Tapia knocking on the major league door. These guys probably won't have a major impact on the bench this season, but they may have an important role in getting in a position where they could dramatically increase the affordable depth the Rockies can put on the field in 2017.
Until then however, the Colorado bench is going to continue to be a major weakness for most of the 2016 season.