It was well documented in the offseason that the Rockies spent $106 million building a “super bullpen” to complement their young starting rotation. The plan was to get 6-7 innings out of the starters before turning things over to Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Wade Davis. The season has not panned out this way on either end.
With the MLB trade deadline fast approaching and the Rockies only being a few games out of first place, it might be time for the Rockies to start thinking about making a trade. The most obvious deficit is in the bullpen, but it could also make sense for the Rockies to consider trading for a starting pitcher. There aren’t many free agent candidates available, but Jeff Bridich hasn’t ruled out pursuing a starter. Let’s look at some starters who may be available before the July trade deadline, and whether or not it would make sense for the Rockies to pursue any of them.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard seems likely to be moved by the Mets, it’s just a matter of finding the right suitor. Luckily for the Rockies, he is the youngest of this bunch at the ripe age of 25 - right about where most of their current starters are. That means that he should have more of an opportunity to play longer if he avoids injuries. Currently, he’s on the 10-day DL with a strained ligament in his right index finger but recently made a rehab start in Brooklyn. Last year, he spent time on the 60-day DL with a torn right lat in his back.
In 2016, Syndergaard was a top ten pitcher in WAR (5.0), ERA (2.60), and strikeouts (218), according to Baseball Reference. In his other three years in the bigs (2015, 2017, 2018), he hasn’t cracked the top ten in any category. His injuries are a point of concern, but his age and statistics could make him a good candidate to help solidify this rotation.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Archer is an enigma. He was an American League Rookie of the Year finalist in 2013 and an All Star in both 2015 and 2017. He also finished fifth in the AL Cy Young race in 2015. In his even years, he hasn’t been stellar and he was recently activated off the DL for an abdominal strain that he suffered in early June. So far in 2018 he has an ERA of 4.41, but before his injury he had a run of seven games with an ERA of 2.47 in May. He is under team control until 2021.
Either of these pitchers would add a solid veteran presence to this young rotation. J.A. Happ has been in the big leagues since 2007 and Cole Hamels since 2006. They are both nearing the ends of their contracts - Happ’s contract ends this year and Hamels’ ends next year - so they would definitely be a rental. Which one the Rockies choose to trade for, if either, would depend on what their goals are - just winning this year or pushing again next year.
Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
Corbin would be a long shot, especially with him playing for a division rival and a current playoff contender. He’s coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2014 and finally seems to have returned to form in 2018 after a rough stretch of mid-2015-2017. He’s not the top in any category this year, but he is a top eight pitcher in WAR (2.8) and WHIP (1.05). He is also only one of five National League pitchers to have pitched a complete game shutout this year.
Corbin is in the middle of a contract year and will be vying for a new deal from the Diamondbacks, but they also have center fielder A.J. Pollock to worry about. With current viable pitching options as Shelby Miller, Robbie Ray, and Clay Buchholz (as well as Taijuan Walker, who will return from Tommy John surgery next season), it would be much easier for the D-backs to part with a starter than with some of their more limited outfield depth.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
This would be a huge splash and a great jump starter for the Rockies (no pun intended). deGrom currently leads the National League with an ERA of 1.68 and WAR of 6.0. He also has a career 2.51 ERA at Coors Field, which is also notable. deGrom is currently in his third year of arbitration, set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Trading for him would cost a lot for the Rockies, but if they can find the right pieces they might be able to put something together.
Everything comes with a price, including baseball players. In order for the Rockies to land any of the above players, they are most likely going to have to package together some top prospects and/or major leaguers. Some prospects to consider might include any combination of Raimel Tapia, Riley Pint, Peter Lambert, Ryan Castellani and/or Jordan Patterson paired with Major Leaguers Gerardo Parra and/or Chad Bettis.
If the Rockies get a new starter, Bettis could be the odd man out in the current rotation, so it might make sense to trade him rather than put him in the bullpen or in Triple-A. Pint, Lambert, and Castellani are young pitching prospects with plenty of upside who could bring a lot to the table in the right system. Tapia and Patterson are excellent position prospects, but currently there are limited spots for them on the current roster so like Bettis, it might be beneficial to trade one or both of them. Parra is nearing the end of his contract and is having a pretty good year. With young talents like David Dahl knocking on the door, they could trade Parra to make way for the upcoming young talent that will most likely be on the roster next year anyway.
Which starter they pursue would indicate which players/prospects they package in a trade. Players like deGrom, Syndergaard, Archer, or even Corbin would probably command a higher price such as Tapia, Lambert, and/or Bettis. Happ or Hamels would still require some top prospects, but the Rockies wouldn’t have to give up as much for one of them.
Why a starter instead of a bullpen arm?
As mentioned earlier, the Rockies pitching staff as a whole needs a boost. This team has four starters and eight relievers. Of those eight bullpen arms, only three or four of them pitch fairly consistently well. If the Rockies are able to acquire a starting pitcher who can go deeper into games and/or limit run damage, they won’t have to rely on the bullpen as much and will be able to have some of their more consistent relievers pitch more often (or their less consistent relievers pitch in lower leverage situations). That can put less strain on the bullpen and give the Rockies a better chance at winning more games in the second half of the season.