Since the December signing of first baseman Daniel Murphy, the general consensus, at least in terms of major signings, is that the Rockies appear to have disconnected the gas to the hot stove. If the Rockies have indeed set their 2019 roster, this piece by Thomas Harding speculates on the impact of the Murphy signing and plays out future lineups.
Harding’s article led me to ask three questions: What is the potential of this lineup? Where are the gaps? And what if the Rockies made one more deal to maximize potential and minimize gaps — say, for free agent and former D-backs center fielder AJ Pollock?
Not making any more big deals would be consistent with Jeff Bridich’s managerial philosophy, which rests on the Rockies growing their own team supplemented with a few strategic trades and signings. (However, that player-development philosophy would seem to be at odds with the Rockies’ reticence to play less-experienced players. For more, see here and here.)
Moreover, Bridich has maintained that rather than management stepping in, players need to play to their abilities. As Bridich told Harding prior to the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline: “There are some players on this team, that in order for us to get to where we want to get to and do what we want to do, they have to be the ones that play better.”
Similarly, here’s what he told Patrick Saunders in early November:
“I do believe that in 2018 we had a roster and a team that was good enough to go to the World Series, but there were certain opportunities in September and October that we did not take advantage of. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Bridich went on to say that he considered 2018 a “learning experience” and expects the Rockies’ competitive window to remain open. However, he also acknowledged the need for more offense and added, “This team is not going to look the same in two or three months as it does right now.”
Since then, the Rockies have added Murphy and signed some minor-league players, but beyond that, there’s no sense the Rockies’ thinking has changed in terms of its current roster. Some veteran players will be missing and, presumably, some less-experienced Rockies will take their places.
Let’s assume, then, that there will be no more deals. Based on the current 40-man roster, the Rockies’ 2019 outfielders will be Charlie Blackmon, Noel Cuevas, David Dahl, Ian Desmond, Raimel Tapia, and Mike Tauchman. The Rockies do not appear to be interested in re-signing free agents Carlos González, Matt Holliday, and Gerardo Parra even though in 2018, González and Parra were behind only Blackmon in terms of outfield innings played.
This creates an outfield mystery. If the Rockies are finished adding players, it means that the team will rely on a reshuffled outfield with their most experienced fielder learning a new position. Conventional wisdom suggests that Blackmon will move to left, Desmond will play center (his position with the Rangers), and Dahl will take over right, presumably with Cuevas and Tapia providing bench depth. Frankly, this outfield seems more consistent with a team rebuilding than one in a contention window during its last guaranteed season with Nolan Arenado.
That said, let’s consider the possible opportunities and drawbacks with this group of players.
For the last two years, it’s been clear that the Rockies need bats. Based on wRC+, since the start of 2017, the Rockies ranked 28th, besting only the Giants and Padres; according to OPS+, they were 25th.
Here are the slash lines for the 2018 outfielders on the 40-man roster. I’ve added Hampson and Wolters because they’ve played the outfield and provide alternatives worth exploring.
2018 offensive numbers
|Not currently on roster|
Blackmon, Dahl, and Holliday were the best outfield hitters followed by González and Hampson and then Desmond, Tapia, and Parra. After that, the numbers drop off significantly. In terms of offense, with this projected 2019 lineup, there’s no significant addition, though young players getting more at-bats will certainly give them practice and, hopefully, drive up their numbers. Moreover, the Rockies’ new hitting coach, Dave Magadan, may also have an impact.
Based on position, innings played, and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), here’s how the Rockies looked defensively in 2018. Read this data with the understanding that DRS has significant limitations (especially at Coors) and that more data provides a more accurate assessment. (A single-year’s assessment is not a large DRS sample size.) So while DRS is an imperfect measure, it’s probably the best one we have, which is complicated the fact that the Rockies bench saw little action.
|Player||LF Innings||DRS||CF Innings||DRS||RF Innings||DRS||OF Innings||DRS|
|Player||LF Innings||DRS||CF Innings||DRS||RF Innings||DRS||OF Innings||DRS|
DRS does not tell the entire story: Desmond, who has an average DRS, played center field at Globe Life Park, an easier center field than Coors and has limited innings in this position; Dahl is the fastest player in the outfield followed by Desmond and Blackmon; Dahl and Desmond simply haven’t played enough center field at Coors to provide a clear sense of their abilities.
Now consider the corners. Parra was, easily, the best defender with an OF DRS of 6. Holliday was significantly worse with a -2 DRS while González had a -8 DRS. In addition, Parra was the more flexible defender, playing in left and right field. If the Rockies are thinking about defense, Parra is the best defender. He will also not return in 2019, which means the Rockies, as currently built, plan to rely on relatively inexperienced outfielders at Coors to play one the most challenging outfields in baseball.
None of this makes sense.
When I began writing this piece, I wondered if the Rockies would be best served by signing Holliday or González or Parra to an inexpensive one-year contract. My research led to a surprising conclusion: With the loss of González and Parra, the 2019 Rockies will have a very inexperienced outfield, and given Dahl’s history of injuries, having a fourth outfielder prepared to step in will be key.
In terms of Holliday, González, and Parra, the decision is clear: For a right-handed bat, Holliday is the obvious choice; for an effective outfielder, Parra should get a contract. But neither of these signings make sense in terms of the Rockies’ offensive and defensive needs.
Furthermore, based on DRS, no young Rockies player provides a clear path forward, and it’s impossible to have a clear sense of their defensive potential given their limited MLB playing time.
So, what are the Rockies 2019 plans for the outfield?
Here’s one solution: The Rockies should sign AJ Pollock.
He has the right-handed bat of Matt Holliday and the defensive skill of Gerardo Parra. In addition, he would bring post-season experience, which the Rockies crave.
Pollock rakes at Coors and knows the division. In 2018, he hit a slash line of .257/.316/.484, for an OPS+ of 106. Against the Rockies, he’s hit .333/.385/.617. As the D-backs’ center fielder, Pollock played 936 innings with a DRS of 6. Moreover, he’s played more innings in Coors’ center field than most of the Rockies, with the exception of Charlie Blackmon.
Signing Pollock (who would probably take Tauchman’s place on the 40-man roster) would give the Rockies center field experience. This would allow Blackmon, Pollock, and Dahl to play the outfield with Desmond, Tapia, Cuevas, and Hampson relieving them to learn their positions and to provide off-days for veterans Blackmon and Pollock. The Rockies should also try Hampson in center field. It’s time to see how his speed plays there.
There are concerns about Pollock’s injury history, but he played over 900 innings in 2018, which can help a Rockies team trying to train and assess young fielders.
Jon Heyman reported that Pollock seeks a 6-year deal, though MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he’ll get a four-year deal worth about $60 million. This seems like a lot for the Rockies — part of the attraction of Daniel Murphy contract was its short duration. But the Rockies need to add something to the outfield to round out the offseason and make an already competitive team even better. AJ Pollock can provide it.
Consider me #TeamPollock.
Should the Rockies pursue AJ Pollock?
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