The Colorado Rockies could decide to trade their closer right now. They could do it tomorrow or next week or closer to the trade deadline. They don’t need to wait to see the results for the rest of the month or decide that they’re sellers to make the move a good idea.
As we know, the team spent money in free agency this past winter when few teams were spending. They did so on their bullpen, inking the trio of Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Wade Davis to three-year deals. Spending that big in the bullpen was a dicey proposition at the time, and that would have been true even if those three were performing well in 2018. What has made that strategy look especially questionable is the struggles of those three pitchers so far this season.
Shaw has been a well-known disaster. We’ve heard that his issues can be attributed at least partially to injury and we can hope that he’s due for a bounceback. But even granting him the benefit of the doubt, his $27 million deal doesn’t feel great given his 7.36 ERA (65 ERA+) in 42 appearances this season.
McGee has continued his up-and-down act with the Rockies by struggling again in a manner reminiscent of his 2016 campaign after a sparkling 2017. His most recent disaster came on Tuesday when he didn’t record an out and gave up a decisive three-run home run to David Peralta of the Diamondbacks. Also in the first year of a $27 million deal, McGee has a 6.06 ERA (79 ERA+) in 38 appearances. In other words, the Rockies couldn’t trade either of those pitchers for any value.
That’s not the case with Davis though. Davis has been the best of this group and a good closer, but he has struggled just enough to serve as another reminder of the volatility of relief pitchers. He has 25 saves on 29 save attempts to go along with a 4.04 ERA (119 ERA+). Davis has struggled with his command at times and seems to have had a knack for blowing saves at the worst time.
Wade Davis very well might be a solid closer for the duration of his time in Colorado, but that’s not any more likely than him melting down and losing the job between now and the end of the season. That’s no dig at Davis. Look around the league, this season or any season. Relievers, save for the most elite of the elite, are fickle and strange creatures. They are great one day and struggle the next.
Look at some other options the Rockies could have considered this past winter. Tommy Hunter hasn’t been great for the Phillies. Old friend Juan Nicasio has a not-so-nice 6.09 ERA for the Mariners. Addison Reed is a mess in Minnesota. Greg Holland is a bigger mess in St. Louis. Pat Neshek has only appeared in four games this year because of a forearm injury.
Adam Ottavino, who would likely step in at closer in the event of his bold, hypothetical and unlikely move, is an example of this closer to home. The same Adam Ottavino who had an ERA north of 5.00 last year and was left off the postseason roster is now the dominant force of the Colorado bullpen. Did I mention relievers are weird and unpredictable?
The Rockies can trade Davis for a nice return right now. If they end up in a position to sell, they were just one step ahead on a move they could have made anyway. If they end up staying in the playoff race, they can still make other additions and have internal options to fill spots in the bullpen to mitigate the loss of their closer.
Rumors have started about teams being interested in Davis, even with Colorado’s recent surge in the standings. By trading from the position they are currently in, the Rockies could make sure they got the return they wanted. That would be especially important if a potential trading partner wanted them to pay some of that three-year $52 million contract to get top prospects in return.
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Let’s remember what team we’re talking about here. The Rockies are never truly buyers or sellers in the all-in sense that we like to think of those terms. They’ve gone through a rebuilding phase but never shown a willingness to truly bottom out and start over. That means that they’re facing the tall task of so many middle-class MLB teams: finding a way to contend while also maintaining and adding to a strong farm system.
The Rockies could walk those parallel paths with this move — a move that would acknowledge that they are highly unlikely to make the playoffs this year but still a winning streak away from being contenders. They could bolster their farm system, get out from under a multi-year bullpen deal, still have an outside chance to contend this year and the same chance to contend next year, and have only a marginally worse chance of having a competent bullpen the rest of the season.
That last point has less to do with Wade Davis, who is undeniably talented, and more to do with the sketchy weirdness of bullpens. The riskiness of the Rockies’ “all in on the bullpen” plan this past winter has been on full display, and this is a chance to retool on the fly. For the right return, the Rockies should take that chance, whether or not they’re “sellers.”