Last year’s state of the position about the front office was about the “dual hallmarks” of the Jeff Bridich era. Under his leadership, the Rockies’ front office has exhibited two major traits since taking over in 2014, one a strength and one a weakness. The strength is the ability to identify minor-leaguers who will turn into major-league contributors, such as Germán Márquez. The weakness is the reverse. Bridich’s free agent spending on veterans like Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond has turned out poorly so far.
At the moment that analysis still holds. The strength was evident during the 2017 season, but a better understanding of the weakness will have to wait until Bridch’s most recent has a chance to prove or disprove the narrative.
Prospects aren’t untouchable
When the Rockies included Kevin Padlo in the trade to the Rays for McGee and Márquez, it signaled that Bridich was willing to trade from the team’s pool of prospects. Padlo wasn’t, and isn’t, a great prospect, but he was well thought of and displayed excellent on base ability. The Rockies actions during the 2017 season suggest even more that Bridich will trade prospects as win-now moves.
On July 26, the Rockies sent three prospects to Philadelphia for reliever Pat Neshek. The package included 20-year-old shortstop José Gomez. Then, on July 31, the Rockies traded for catcher Jonathan Lucroy for a player to be named later. That player ended up being 19-year-old outfielder Pedro González. Like Padlo, neither Gomez nor González are currently great prospects, but they do have organizational value. Unlike previous regimes, Bridich will trade good prospects.
There’s also an indication that Bridich will trade certain types of prospects. Gomez and González both have large range of possible outcomes, and they’re also both far away from the majors. It makes sense for a team seemingly entering a competitive window to trade low-level prospects, but it’s also not unheard of for those same teams to trade major-league ready prospects. The Brewers, for example, traded top 20 prospect and ready contributor Lewis Brinson to the Marlins for Christian Yelich.
If the Rockies are once again in the thick of a playoff race come the trade deadline, don’t be surprised if the Rockies trade players like Will Gaddis or Tyler Nevin to strengthen the major-league club. The splashiest the Rockies would get is probably Colton Welker or Ryan Vilade.
Spend early and often
The Rockies under Bridich appear to know what they want to accomplish during the offseason and take action early to do it. The Rockies signed Ian Desmond relatively early in between the 2016 and 2017 seasons. While it was a December signing, the Rockies inked him to play first base while there were still several other more proven first baseman on the market. Signing Desmond wasn’t a misreading of the market since Desmond was not thought to be a part of the first base market. But the first year of the contract went about as badly as it could, and Desmond is not due to make $22 million in 2018, the peak of the contract. About a week after the Rockies signed Desmond, they inked left-handed reliever Mike Dunn to a three-year contract.
This offseason, the Rockies wanted to either recreate their 2017 bullpen or identify other free agents that will approximate it. The Rockies then committed $106 million to three relievers over the next three seasons—Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw, and they did it before the calendar turned to 2018. In a typical year, that timeline wouldn’t be called early. But in this glacially moving offseason, it can be. Earlier in the offseason the Rockies offered Greg Holland the same three-year/$52 million contract they gave eventually gave Davis, but Holland turned it down.
While the spend early on the market act resembled the previous offseason, where the Rockies spent the money was new. The Shaw signing can be viewed as an approximation of the Dunn signing, but investing in McGee and Davis is a new act. Remember, when the Rockies signed Holland, it was extremely low risk. He only had $6 million guaranteed. He ended up making more money, but that was because he hit his incentives. This time around, the Rockies are making the commitment outright. How well this relief trio does will tell us a lot more about how well Bridich plays the free agent market. We only know for sure that he’s willing to act early.
The outcomes from Bridich’s previous actions have created a pattern, and that pattern has turned into narrative. If the Rockies once again have the best bullpen in the National League, thanks to the free agent signings, the weakness could look like a strength. Similarly, if Bridich and team starts missing on assessing the potential of minor-leaguers (internal or external), then the strength could start to look like a weakness. For now, Rockies fans can just hope that those two characteristics can strike a balance on the field and lead to competitive baseball for a few more seasons.