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MLB Winter Meetings: Rockies should beware the run on relief pitchers

A number of free agent relievers are expected to move. The Rockies should be careful.

The Colorado Rockies need relief pitchers. General manager Jeff Bridich has been open that the team is looking to add a couple pitchers to the bullpen. With essentially all of the back of their bullpen from 2017 moving on, the Rockies will potentially be in the market for a big ticket reliever.

With the Winter Meetings under way, the Rockies have been connected to a couple options for the back of the bullpen. Bridich confirmed the team’s talks about a potential trade for Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colomé. They are also reportedly still in talks to bring back Greg Holland as a free agent.

The rest of the bullpen market has started to budge, with Brandon Morrow signing with the Chicago Cubs to take one big name off the board. The 2017 standout for the Los Angeles Dodgers landed in Chicago on a two-year deal for $21 million; Morrow will get $9 million a year with either a $3 million buyout or a $12 million option for the third year.

That has set the market in an offseason where there are a lot of free agent pitchers and a lot of teams that need them. With the market set and everybody in the same place for the Winter Meetings, we have now heard the same rumor from a couple reporters: there’s going to be a “run on relievers” in the next couple days.

This is where I think the Rockies should be careful. Presumably the pitchers in whom they have interest will be fielding offers in the coming days. That has the potential to drive up prices, as does asking a pitcher to actually choose pitching half his games at Coors Field. Whether with extra years or extra millions of dollars, the Rockies will consistently face the prospect of paying a little extra to get somebody in free agency.

That has played out with two recent signings for the Rockies. Before the 2014 season, the club signed Boone Logan to a three-year deal for $16.5 million. Last winter they signed lefty Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million deal. If it seems like a lot that’s because it is a lot, and it shows that if the Rockies sign a pitcher when he is considered a valuable free agent, they’ll have to pay for it.

With that in mind, Jeff Bridich and the Colorado front office should beware the upcoming “run on relievers.” Take Holland as an example. If the Rockies are serious about signing him in the coming days, competing with other teams in the manufactured urgency of the moment, what will it take for them to win out?

Would it take a fourth or fifth year, depending on what other teams are willing to offer? Would it take more money on a per-year basis? Given the volatility of relief pitchers, those are questions the Rockies should be careful with. That’s true with Holland and even more true with somebody more elite like Wade Davis, in whom the Rockies are reportedly also interested.

This is not to say that the Rockies should not be pursuing free agent options for their bullpen. It is to say that this week could be especially dicey for them if they try to address the back of their bullpen in the heat of a “run on relievers.” The Rockies will tend to get their best value by buying low and identifying values for their bullpen, and it feels unlikely that they will be able to do that this week.

So what should the Rockies do? This certainly seems to make the case for a trade, in which you cash in well-earned prospect depth instead of saddling yourself with bad contracts. That makes a move like a trade for Colomé that much more appealing, or maybe even a trade for Zach Britton if they want to shoot higher. Otherwise, what the Rockies should really do is wait and see about cheaper candidates with upside later this offseason, as they did with Holland last year.

Maybe the Rockies will in fact make a splash by signing Davis or Addison Reed this week on a deal that falls in line with the market. That would be fine. But knowing the rising cost of free agency, especially for the Rockies with free agent pitchers, here’s hoping that the team avoids overpaying for players in the volatile world that is big league bullpens. Because if the Rockies cannot sign free agents at a fair price this week, they should be waiting and looking to other options.