Unlike last offseason when they went on a $100-million-plus bullpen spending spree, the Rockies did not add a single reliever this offseason, instead deciding to rely on internal options to improve and make up for a big loss.
A big hole was opened in the Rockies bullpen when Adam Ottavino signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Yankees in January. Ottavino was the Rockies’ primary setup man in 2018, posting a 2.43 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 112 strikeouts in 77 2⁄3 innings. He will be missed, but the Rockies do have plenty of late-inning options, especially right-handed ones.
For the second straight season the Rockies closer will be veteran Wade Davis. After signing a three-year, $52 million contract prior to the 2018 season, Davis went out and led the NL in saves with 43, also a Rockies record for a single season. He posted a 4.13 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 651⁄3 innings with 78 strikeouts. Also, he was nails when the Rockies needed him most, posting a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings in September. Needless to say, the Rockies are in good hands in the ninth inning in 2019.
The most likely candidate to replace Ottavino in the eighth inning role is fellow right-hander, and also probably their best reliever, Scott Oberg. Oberg was absolutely electric after returning from a stint with Triple-A Albuquerque, posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 47 2⁄3 innings after his minors trip. He also struck out 47, walked just seven and allowed opposing hitters a paltry .196/.233/.301 line with only nine extra-base hits allowed to the 176 batters he faced.
The other righty in the late-inning mix is veteran Seunghwan Oh. Acquired from Toronto in July, Oh pitched 25 games for the Rockies after the trade with a 2.53 ERA. He also handled Coors Field well, allowing five earned runs in 11 2⁄3 innings at altitude, holding opposing hitters to a .209 average in his new home,
If the Rockies need a late-inning lefty, the task will likely fall to Jake McGee. McGee’s three years with the Rockies have been up-and-down, with 2018 featuring more of the down to the tune of a 6.49 ERA. If McGee can regain his 2017 form, however, he looks like a solid late-inning option.
Three veterans who had rough years in 2018 are currently slated for bullpen roles on Opening Day, though they will likely feature in lower-leverage situations. After a great run in Cleveland from 2014-17, righty Bryan Shaw struggled in his first season with the Rockies last year, with a 5.93 ERA and several prominent meltdowns. Lefty Chris Rusin had been solid throughout his Rockies career, but had issues with his command in 2018 with an ERA north of six. Fellow lefty Mike Dunn will look to rebound from an injury-plagued 2018 season that saw him pitch just 17 innings with an ERA of 9.00.
Other less veteran-y depth options include a pair of homegrown righties who dealt with injuries in 2018 in Carlos Estevez and Rayan Gonzalez.
One of the losers from the battle for the Rockies fifth starting rotation spot will likely fill a long relief role in 2018. Perhaps best-suited as a long reliever is 24-year-old Antonio Senzatela. In 41 innings of relief in his career, Senzatela has posted a 4.39 ERA and a 3.09 FIP, as opposed to a 4.60 ERA and 4.66 FIP as a starter. Chad Bettis and Jeff Hoffman could also find themselves in long relief, though they do not have the track records out of the bullpen that Senzatela does.
On the farm
If a young reliever is going to make an Oberg-like leap in 2019, the most likely candidate is 24-year-old Yency Almonte. Almonte made his big league debut in 2018 with a splash, striking out 15 and recording a 1.82 ERA in 14 2⁄3 innings. Also on the radar is flamethrowing righty Justin Lawrence, who jumped onto the scene with 75 strikeouts in 65 innings between High-A Lancaster and the Arizona Fall League last season while regularly pinging triple digits on the radar gun.
Other longer-term options include 2016 second-round pick Ben Bowden, noted piece in the Troy Tulowitzki trade Jesus Tinoco and 2017 draftee Tommy Doyle.
Despite the departure of Ottavino, the Rockies’ bullpen looks to be in good shape, with a mix of consistent, veterans, bounce back candidates, and young arms.