Mere days ago (doesn't it seem like years?) the Colorado Rockies and free agent starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo were rumored to have some level of mutual interest on a contract. Then, general manager Jeff Bridich remained non-committal, whatever interest that had been there evaporated, and we all moved on to covering a major trade.
And yet still Gallardo remains unsigned now entering the first week of February, one of many free agents on the open market seeing lukewarm interest at least in part because of baseball's qualifying offer system. The loss of a draft pick to sign a free agent like Gallardo is a concern, to be sure, but if the Rockies' plan is different than what many may have assumed, could they give up a pick for a bona fide starter?
The Rockies undoubtedly have pitching depth this spring, a topic on which I've pontificated recently, but the quality of it will always be a question until their top prospects acquit themselves at the big league level. With ace Jorge De La Rosa aging and in the final year of his contract, a few unknown entities like Jordan Lyles and Tyler Chatwood, and youngsters like Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, and Tyler Matzek who enter 2016 with various questions surrounding, the consistency of a pitcher like Gallardo would be something worth pursuing.
At the start of the offseason, the Mexican-born right-hander was projected to receive a four-year, $52 million deal as the 20th-best free agent available, according to MLB Trade Rumors. At the time, Tim Dierkes wrote about Gallardo:
Gallardo, 30 in February, spent his career with the Brewers before a January trade to the Rangers. Once one of the NL’s better pitchers, Gallardo has settled in as a mid-rotation arm. His peripheral stats this year suggest he was fortunate to manage a 3.42 ERA, and his qualifying offer could hamper his market. The Tigers could work, as a team seeking multiple starters with a protected first-rounder.
Gallardo's fit in Colorado isn't perfect, to be sure—we profiled him briefly when rumors first surfaced—but as time marches on and clubs are now just two weeks from spring training report dates, common sense would dictate the price is coming down for Gallardo and other remaining free agents seeking to break camp with a team before it gets too late in the spring process.
Suddenly, less than $13 million per year is probably enough to land Gallardo. Though the conventional wisdom may be that the Rockies must overpay free agent pitchers in money and/or years, perhaps in the case of a good pitcher attached to a qualifying offer that still hasn't found a job now literally a few days before spring training, Bridich can buy low and get a good deal even considering the lost draft pick.
Combine this with De La Rosa's age and expiring contract, and Gallardo can feasibly become a transition point between the 2016 Rockies (that probably won't be good) and the 2018 Rockies (that probably should be good). Throw in how the Rockies' plan may not be as tied to a prospect-laden rebuild as initially thought, and suddenly, trading a draft pick for a pitcher of Gallardo's quality on a team-friendly deal could be a bargain taken with the young arms coming through the system.
Of course, there's some precedent for Bridich making a move this late in the offseason to acquire a veteran free agent starting pitcher:
1 year ago today, the Rockies signed Kyle Kendrick for 1 year, $5.5 million. He went on to lead the NL in HR and ER allowed with -0.5 WAR.— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) February 4, 2016
With the Rockies about to enter spring training, this may seem out of left field—we've been there, done that with Gallardo and nothing came of it—but it'd be a prudent pursuit if the club can do it cheap. Using urgency as leverage by offering Gallardo, say, $33 million over a three-year deal doesn't break the bank and would give the Rockies a legitimate starter for the next few years as Gray and Hoffman take their lumps on the job. If his counter-offer is too large, then, the Rockies can pass and enter spring training just as they already planned, with no harm, no foul.
If you were in Jeff Bridich's shoes, would you sign Yovani Gallardo, assuming you can get him cheaper than what may have been on the table a month ago? What sort of contract would you offer the pitcher right now, all things considered?