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There’s still time for the Rockies to get creative—until there isn’t

If the Rockies want to contend in 2020, it’s going to take something different than the status quo.

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On Friday, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reported the Colorado Rockies are headed to the Winter Meetings in San Diego, which begin today, viewing themselves as a contending team in 2020.

If that’s the case, they will need to make some unconventional moves. If the Rockies keep what is essentially the same team from last year on the field in 2020, there’s little reason to expect a 20-win improvement, especially with Wade Davis and Daniel Murphy both being relied upon to lead the charge. Both will turn 35 years old during the season, which isn’t exactly a prime age to expect vast improvements.

Kyle Freeland is also being counted on to be much better and any semblance of universal balance can tell you he won’t be that bad again.

It stands to reason, however, that it would be rather futile to expect to put virtually the same team on the field a year later and expect a 20-win improvement—even if these three players have above-average seasons.

If you’re of a mind that the Rockies should explore trades for Davis and/or Murphy, that is likely not going to happen as the team views each as integral to their ability to contend in 2020.

As Saunders reports, the Rockies have, however, shown a willingness to explore trading relievers Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. It’s hard to imagine offloading either of these two relievers will fetch much of a return, but they will bring salary relief to what is expected to be the team’s highest payroll ever.

Of course, this payroll relief should be invested in improving the roster—or I’m not sure why this is being done at all.

The Rockies aren’t going to spend this offseason, which takes them out of the bidding for top free agents. But there are still more affordable options, including a whole slew of non-tenders that joined the market on Monday.

On the free agent market, the most obvious candidate to improve the Rockies’ chances appears to be catcher Robinson Chirinos. A right-handed batter who has produced a batting line of .277/.401/.494 in his last 162 games against left-handed pitchers would be an ideal complement to lefty batter Tony Wolters and his defensive prowess. Chirinos also had a 100 wRC+ against righties in 2019, and could very well make a case for seeing two-thirds of the playing time behind the plate, rather than being used in a traditional platoon role.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockies have already been outbid for Chirinos’ services, however.

In an article projecting the 2020 roster, Nick Groke of The Athletic already has Drew Butera penciled in as being part of the team. The Rockies have not signed Butera but following the tendencies of the Rockies over the past few seasons frankly makes this signing already seem like a foregone conclusion.

As for the non-tender candidates, catchers Elias Díaz and Kevan Smith certainly do not have the track record of Chirinos but appear to be more productive players than Butera. Kevin Plawecki represents another option that would be against the grain for the Rockies but taking a risk may pay off for them.

Non-tenders usually don’t break the bank for teams, but a player like Blake Treinen is probably going to get a contract greater than what the Rockies are comfortable with. There aren’t a lot of “sure things” among non-tendered pitchers, but there are plenty of low-risk, high-reward possibilities if the Rockies are able to find some players interested in taking minor league deals.

Starter Gio González is still a free agent and is a more proven option than either Antonio Senzatela or Jeff Hoffman, who currently project to be members of the Rockies’ rotation. Both are out of options, so adding a new starter would require either one being transitioned to the bullpen or being designated for assignment.

On offense, outfielder C.J. Cron would be a boon to the Rockies’ offense (particularly against left-handed pitching), but the roster as currently constructed can’t seem to fit in another position player (aside from a catcher). Domingo Santana and Travis Shaw could also improve the offense, but the problem of an already-crunched roster is still there. Yasiel Puig and Eric Thames could also be improvements, but the roster as currently constructed is again an issue (and Puig will likely cost too much for the Rockies).

If the Rockies want to contend in 2020, it’s going to take something different than the status quo. If it’s not bringing in top names, there will need to be a willingness to get creative.

There’s still time for the Rockies to do this—until there isn’t.