The Colorado Rockies finally made a big trade in 2015, when they shipped off Troy Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco. It was the biggest move made by Jeff Bridich since he took over as general manager last winter, and one that has the potential to define his tenure. In the time since, he has signed Gerrardo Parra and traded away Corey Dickerson, but has stayed away from the nuclear rebuild that many might have been expecting.
Player development is the one area that this franchise has excelled at across the board over the last five years, even while the team at the Major League level faltered. Thanks to good drafts and international scouting, the Rockies have been assembling one of the top farm systems in all of baseball. The team had seven prospects named to the Baseball Prospectus top 101, including six in the top 50. As these players start to arrive in Denver over the next few years, the team will begin to improve, regardless of what moves the front office makes in the meantime.
Before the 2015 season the organization signed new player development contracts with the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Boise Hawks and the soon-to-be Hartford Yard Goats. These moves brought the Rockies improved facilities at all three levels as well as the advantages of having players get used to altitude in Albuquerque at a park that is not quite as hitter friendly as Colorado Springs had been for years.
As far as the Major League level goes, some of the moves made have been curious, but seem to make more sense in full context now as spring training begins. Signing Gerrardo Parra in turn allowed the team more flexibility to trade Corey Dickerson, for example. The bigger question relates to why the Rockies wanted Jake McGee to be the centerpiece in a trade for Dickerson, in the first place—on paper, a team with no shot of contending in 2016 doesn't need a shut down closer—but that will be worked out this summer.
Perhaps the thought was that McGee could bring back a larger prospect return, should the team decide to flip him in July, or they were just looking to strengthen the bullpen, which they certainly did. With the addition of McGee, the Rockies now have Jason Motte, Chad Qualls and Jake McGee at the back end of the bullpen to start the year. All three fit the mold as hard throwing fastball pitchers. Qualls throws a fastball about 64% of the time, and of the new trio, he is the least reliant on the pitch.
The question now is, where does the team go from here? It's looking increasingly unlikely that the Rockies will sign Yovani Gallardo, who would have provided another steady, veteran arm in a rotation that will be made up primarily of young prospects. As it stands, I don't think the Rockies will sign any more Major League free agents unless something really specific and unfortunate happens during spring training. More or less, the team seems to be content with the product that they will put on the field in 2016.
However, Jeff Bridich is not a particularly transparent man. Word of the Tulowitzki trade didn't get out for hours after he had been pulled from the game in Chicago. It was rumored that teams had interest in Dickerson, but no one had any idea that the Rockies were engaged in serious discussions with the Rays until after the deal was done. We really have no idea what he has up his sleeve.
With that being said, the Rockies seem to be treading water. None of the offseason moves the team made will make them exponentially better in and of themselves. If anything, the additions in the bullpen and adding a platoon partner for Ben Paulsen in Mark Reynolds might move the team from 68 to 70 wins—and of course, all the additions are short-term. This isn't a contention year for the Rockies, and I don't believe that the front office is approaching it that way, so it's not necessarily problematic to bring in short-term free agents like that. There simply isn't enough talent on the roster as it is currently constructed for this team to contend in 2016, though, and and fi the Rockies feel otherwise, that's problematic.
Of course, there are other takes on the Rockies' offseason; Matt Gross believes the team's plan is fatally flawed, and while it's not a conclusion I necessarily agree with, it is well supported. I don't know how Bridich sees it, but his moves indicate to me that he isn't necessarily trying to accelerate the arrival of the team's contention window. I don't have an issue with any of his moves, but they aren't ones that make this team a threat in the NL West.
Despite the lack of anything particularly inspiring this offseason, you can't forget that top five farm system, and because of that, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Assuming the Rockies don't make a win now move that involves trading four or five of their top 15 prospects for Mike Trout, the fruits of excellent drafting and strong player development should start to show at Coors Field in the next couple years.
That doesn't make what should be a rough 2016 any easier, but it does mean there is a reason for you to suffer through it.