As a Rockies fan, I’ve found this hot-stove season to be, well, pretty darn frigid. Last year, the Rockies were this close to winning the NL West for the first time, but they just didn’t have enough offense. In the off season, I kept waiting for the big signings . . . which never came. The Rockies signed Daniel Murphy to play first base, and that was it.
Not gonna lie: I was disappointed.
Earlier this week, I tried to move beyond my general malaise and evaluate the potential of the 2019 Rockies based on 2018 wRC+ and Steamer-projected wRC+. That article is here, but to summarize, the 2019 Rockies look to be a bit better offensively than the 2018 Rockies. That said, the big unknown is the Rockies’ decision to increasingly rely on four less-experienced players (Noel Cuevas, Garrett Hampson, Ryan McMahon, and Raimel Tapia) and utility infielder Pat Valaika, who had a miserable 2018 after a very good 2017.
MLB.com’s Thomas Harding has now reported that former Rockies first baseman Mark Reynolds would return to the Rockies on a minor-league contract. (Read Eric Garcia McKinley’s take here.) According to Jon Heyman, he would receive a salary of $1 million with the possibility of another $1 million in various incentives. And to be honest, I like this decision because it fills in some bench gaps and makes the Rockies’ plans for 2019 a little clearer.
Based on wRC+, here’s what the Rockies look like after adding Reynolds:
Comparison of 2018 Rockies wRC+ and Projected 2019 Rockies Based on Steamer wRC+
|Position||2018||wRC+||2019||Steamer Projected wRC+|
|Position||2018||wRC+||2019||Steamer Projected wRC+|
|First Base||Desmond||81||D. Murphy||115|
At a projected wRC+ of 92, Reynolds would be a less effective player than he was in 2018 (112 wRC+), but he’s still a significant offensive improvement for the Rockies’ bench.
In addition to his bat, Reynolds brings experience and a knowledge of the Rockies’ organization. If the Rockies are going to give four young players an opportunity to become everyday players, then a veteran presence will be key. Jeff Bridich and Bud Black have made clear that they value veteran leadership and experience, and Reynolds has that (just as Matt Holliday did in 2018). While Daniel Murphy certainly has experience, he will be new to the Rockies. That’s not the case with Reynolds.
Reynolds makes sense as a first base platoon with Daniel Murphy. As Nick Groke tweeted today,
And FYI...— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) January 30, 2019
Career OPS+ vs RHP/LHP:
Daniel Murphy 107/79
Mark Reynolds 99/103
Moreover, neither Reynolds nor Murphy are young players. Reynolds is an inexpensive signing, and neither he nor Murphy will block prospect Tyler Nevin, who isn’t quite ready yet.
Based on this signing and comments Bridich and Black made at the Hot Stove 2019 meeting for season ticket holders, the Rockies’ 2019 strategy is coming into focus.
- Murphy will play first base and hit between 2-5 in the lineup.
- Black said that they will not platoon second base, which means that either McMahon or Hampson will play second with the other becoming a utility infielder.
- Changes are coming to the outfield. On Saturday, Blackmon said, “I think you will see a little bit of mix and match until we figure out exactly what we like, and then you may continue to see versatility from players as the year goes on.” Black said, too, that they expect Hampson to play some center field during spring training. I had assumed Desmond would be a true utility player, but the signing of Reynolds suggests that Desmond returning to first base is unlikely.
So here’s — perhaps — the 2019 Rockies:
- Infield: Murphy, McMahon, Story, Arenado
- Outfield: Blackmon, Desmond, Dahl
- Catcher: Iannetta
- Bench: Hampson, Reynolds, Tapia, Wolters
- Starting pitchers: Freeland, Márquez, Anderson, Gray, Senzatela
- Bullpen: Rusin, Bettis, Oh, Oberg, Estévez, Shaw, McGee, Davis
You know what? That’s not bad. It’s a team with proven veterans and exciting new players.
Thoughts on the (Not) Hot Stove and Spring Training
Questions about free-agency in 2019 are serious and merit discussion. But given that this is how teams are approaching rosters now, Bridich’s decisions make sense. He’s being fiscally conservative (while spending more than the Rockies have traditionally), which is consistent with everything he’s said about “responsible growth.” Plus, I’m willing to cut him some slack because I want Bridich to have the flexibility to extend Arenado, Story, and some young pitchers.
I suspect with this group, Bridich and Black have crafted their initial roster for 2019. Now they see what happens, and if this team shows itself to be a contender, then they will fill various spots as the trade deadline approaches. In terms of signing other former Rockies, I do not see that happening in the near term. Bridich said in his conversation with Tracy Ringolsby that he did not see a place for Matt Holliday early in the season, which makes sense given his defensive challenges, but did not rule him out later in the season. And if choosing between Carlos González and Gerardo Parra, Parra is the better signing based both on his fielding and his ability to be an effective bench bat.
There has long been frustration at Bridich and Black’s unwillingness to play less-experienced players. I think that changes this year. These four players — five including Tom Murphy — are clearly in the mix for regular playing time. I think the Rockies are going to give these players their chance, and some will not continue with the Rockies. I’m okay with that because if a player doesn’t fit with the Rockies, I hope he has an opportunity to play elsewhere.
Initially, this doesn’t seem like a loaded lineup. But Arenado, Story, and Blackmon are proven. Murphy and Reynolds bring more offense than the Rockies have had. Dahl is great if he can stay healthy. Now it’s time to see what Cuevas, Hampson, McMahon, and Tapia can do. The Rockies have laid their bets.
I’m ready. And I wasn’t until Mark Reynolds came back.