The question that begins every offseason starts with “What should.” Entering November, that question tended to look like “What should the Rockies do to maintain the bullpen” and “What should the Rockies do to improve the offense?” The Rockies have answered the first question. The major question after the three bullpen signings is “What now?” The specifics to that question pertain to both the bullpen and the offense.
What about Adam Ottavino?
The Rockies’ erstwhile closer now appears to be, at best, number five on the bullpen depth chart (after Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, and Chris Rusin; possibly after Mike Dunn as well). Ottavino is owed $7 million in 2018, after which he’ll become a free agent. If Ottavino rediscovers the strike zone and returns to his previously dominant self, it won’t help the Rockies as much as it would appear. There are only so many high-leverage innings to distribute to relief pitchers, so there’s a point of diminishing returns if Ottavino is excellent but serving as a mop-up reliever and only occasionally being asked to get big outs.
Of course, the one thing all pitchers are good at is getting injured. Ottavino could also be a critical depth option if any of the guys at the top of the depth chart end up on the disabled list—something that’s likely to happen. The role that makes the most sense for Ottavino right now is insurance on the 25-man roster.
It could make sense for the Rockies to gauge the trade market for Ottavino. If he can manage to find his control and command again, he’s an elite reliever. But he’d have to prove that with real innings before the Rockies could get a solid return for him.
What about Antonio Senzatela?
Senzatela’s situation may not have changed at all. He doesn’t seem to have room in the starting rotation, and as a two-pitch pitcher, Senzatela appears destined for the bullpen. As opposed to Ottavino, however, Senzatela’s value isn’t necessarily as a shut-down reliever. If we consider Davis, Shaw, McGee, Rusin, Dunn, and Ottavino bullpen shoe-ins, that leaves two spots. The remaining relievers on the 40-man roster, according to RockiesRoster.com, are Scott Oberg, Carlos Estévez, Zac Rosscup, Rayan González, Jairo Díaz, Jeff Hoffman, and Senzatela.
I think the Rockies still want Hoffman to be a starter, so I’d expect him to begin the year in the Albuquerque Isotopes’ starting rotation. González and Díaz are high-octane relievers who both recently had Tommy John surgery. I expect both of them to be called upon only in the case of injury. That leaves Oberg, Estévez, Rosscup, and Senzatela. Rosscup could find his way on the roster as a fourth lefty, but he’d be redundant.
It makes sense for the Rockies to fill out the seventh and eighth spots with one of Oberg or Estévez in the role of “last man in the ‘pen” and add Senzatela as the right-handed version of Rusin.
What about the offense?
This is the elephant in the room. The Rockies have solidified the 2018 bullpen; however, without any offensive upgrades, it’s not clear whether or not the 2018 team will be any better than the 2017 club. Given how much the Rockies have invested in free agent relievers, it seems unlikely that they’ll get the checkbook out for a free agent hitter.
That leaves two options. First, the Rockies could still upgrade the offense on the trade market. The farm system is still deep, and they could use that to get someone like José Abreu or Andrew McCutchen without draining the farm or coming close to that old yarn “mortgaging the future.” To do that, players like Ryan McMahon, Ryan Castellani, Yency Almonte, Raimel Tapia, Colton Welker, and Riley Pint will have to be on the table. The Rockies could trade for a bat without trading their jewel, Brendan Rodgers.
Finding an established bat is probably the safest way to turn this offseason from a qualified to an unmitigated success. And while nobody gets awards for “winning the offseason,” it would set the Rockies up to do a lot of winning during the on-season as well.
The other option is to gamble on bounce-backs and the immediate maturation of young hitters. Ian Desmond is a great bet to be better in 2018, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be a positive contributor. The same goes for Trevor Story (though Story adds a lot with his glove). But we also can’t discuss bounce-backs without also acknowledging some declines. Blackmon probably had a career-year in 2017, and while he should be well above average again, it’s not exactly pessimistic to think he’ll have a hard time repeating his MVP-caliber season. On the young hitter side of the coin, McMahon, Tapia, and David Dahl all have high potential, but I’d feel better if the Rockies weren’t relying on them too much.
If the Rockies do nothing and count on players who had good seasons repeating (not to mention counting on the rotation repeating its performance, which is a story about risk for another day), players who had poor seasons bouncing back, and prospects to be immediately effective, it could work. But it’s a risk. If the gamble doesn’t pay off, a solid bullpen may not be able to save the season.
Besides the offense, what else can the Rockies do this offseason?
Here’s something they can do: Lock Nolan Arenado up long-term. The Rockies, and Rockies fans, may be shy to do this given how the Troy Tulowitzki extension turned out, but they’re different players. In Arenado the Rockies have a generational third baseman who’s already halfway to a Hall of Fame career. As it stands, he has two years remaining with the club. My heart is telling me that I want him to stick around for his entire career. But my head agrees. Extending Arenado will make this the most ambitious offseason in Rockies history.