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Finding a match for the “Big Three” relievers

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Could another team be a fit for one of the Rockies expensive relievers?

The Colorado Rockies have had a rather quiet offseason to date. They join the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates as the only four teams not to sign a free agent to a major league deal. The biggest splash thus far has been the signing of Drew Butera to a minor league contract.

Rumors are swirling about the possibilities of Nolan Arenado and Jon Gray trades, but there’s no reason to expect anything imminent here—rather the club just doing its due diligence by listening to offers.

If the Rockies are to trade away a player, it’s more likely to be a member of their expensive bullpen. Thomas Harding, Rockies beat reporter for MLB.com, reported earlier this offseason that industry sources expected the team to shop players like Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. Unlike the Arenado and Gray rumors, this is being reported from someone close to the team. General Manager Jeff Bridich has mentioned Wade Davis as a candidate for a rebound year, so he seems like the least likely of the “Big Three” bullpen arms to be traded.

Here’s a reminder of where things stand in terms of recent performance and upcoming salary commitments—

  • Davis pitched to a career-high 8.65 ERA in 2019, with a 130 DRA-. He set career worsts in walks per nine innings (6.1), home runs per nine innings (1.5) and WHIP (1.88). Davis made $18 million in 2019 and is owed $17 million in 2020. He has a $15 million option for 2021 that vests if he finishes 30 games next season. Otherwise, this will become a mutual option.
  • McGee had a 4.35 ERA in 2019, but negative peripherals suggest he was also worth a 130 DRA-. McGee allowed a career-worst 2.4 home runs per nine innings. McGee’s salary in 2019 was $8.5 million and it will be $9.5 million in 2020. He has a $9 million club option for 2021 that could vest into a guaranteed year.
  • Shaw pitched to a 5.38 ERA in 2019, with a 104 DRA-. His 1.5 home runs per nine innings marked a career worst. Shaw made $8.5 million in 2019 and will take home $9 million in 2020. He also has a $9 million club option for 2021 that could vest into a guaranteed year.

These are obviously not pristine numbers for teams looking for sure bets to have success in 2020—especially when you consider Shaw at 32 is the youngest of the trio. After plugging names into Baseball Trade Values, it was virtually impossible to offload any of the three relievers and getting even to surplus value in return without attaching prospects or accepting other bad contracts, which the Rockies cannot afford to do. Nevertheless, here are some teams who might be interested in taking on these contracts in their search for finding unlikely value:

Miami Marlins

The Marlins aren’t going to be a contender in 2020 but they have made moves to suggest they aren’t interested in all-out tanking. This offseason, they’ve brought in Jesús Aguilar, Francisco Cervelli and Jonathan Villiar. They also added Matt Kemp on a minor league deal.

They also have a player who might profile well in the Rockies’ bullpen in Ryne Stanek. Stanek is only 28 and is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.97 ERA in 77 innings. He also throws a splitter, which Jeremy Muesing’s Fixing the Rockies FanPost mentioned as a potential X-Factor for pitching in Coors Field.

I think it would be reasonable for the Marlins to take on McGee and for the Rockies to get Stanek back in return, but it would also require other players changing hands from Colorado to Miami. Yonathan Daza and Antonio Senzatela are a couple players the Rockies could attach to seal the deal, though the Marlins might want another prospect included as well, which the Rockies might not be comfortable with. They might not even be comfortable including both Daza and Senzatela, but it is the price that might need to be paid to offload a player whose age, contract and recent performance result in the negative trade value of McGee.

The Marlins seem like the best fit among rebuilding teams, but the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals might also be possibilities. Remember—this is more about finding a taker than the return for the Rockies.

Seattle Mariners

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has been ominously quiet this offseason. I count only two trades for the Mariners this offseason. Through December 27 of the 2018-19 offseason, Dipoto had made seven trades. In the 2017-18 offseason, it was five and in the 2016-17 offseason, it was again seven. So, he’s due!

T-Mobile Park has consistently rated among the top 10 most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, which would be a good fit for Shaw or McGee.

In terms of a return for the Rockies, a trade would have been more desirable at the beginning of the month when the Mariners still had Omar Narváez on their roster. Mariners catchers produced a 121 wRC+ in 2019, which was the best in baseball. This was largely led by a platoon of Narváez and old friend Tom Murphy. Narváez was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on December 5 and the M’s currently seem set to go with utility player Austin Nola as their backup to Murphy, so they are not in the market to lose any more catching depth.

Mitch Haniger would look good on the Rockies, but he is far beyond the scope of what we’re trying to achieve in this exercise of offloading reliever contracts. Still, when there’s a will with Dipoto, there’s a way. And I have to think he’s itching to make a trade soon.

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland is a bit of a wild card in terms of just how interested they seem in fielding a competitive team. They have plenty of talent on their roster in position players Francisco Lindor, José Ramírez and Carlos Santana and starting pitchers Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco. At the same time, trading away Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer make for head-scratching decisions, but these are the moves made by a front office hell-bent on reducing spending.

Shaw had a great deal of success pitching for Cleveland from 2013-2017. During that time, he led all relievers with 358 2/3 innings pitched over 378 games. He pitched to a 3.11 ERA over that time period, which may come as a shock to Rockies fans who have gotten accustomed to him over the past two seasons. Perhaps a return to Cleveland would be the cure for what ails Shaw.

Conclusion

Reports from earlier this offseason suggested the Rockies would look to move Shaw and McGee. It has not happened yet, but these still seem to be the more likely names that could be on the move—not Arenado.