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Where the Rockies need trade deadline upgrades

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Everywhere, but first and foremost the starting rotation

After 84 games played in 2019 the Rockies are well positioned to earn a third consecutive postseason berth. Based on Fangraphs’ playoff odds that use season-to-date stats as opposed to pre-season projections, the Rockies have a 32.4% chance to make the postseason. Among Wild Card contenders, they form a cluster around the Phillies (33.8%) and Brewers (33.5%), which makes intuitive sense, but trail the Nationals (37.2%) and Reds (34.3%), which makes less sense. I believe the Rockies are well matched to the former two teams but better than the latter two, and that two of the Rockies, Phillies, and whoever finishes in second place in the NL Central (the Brewers or Cubs) will win the two Wild Card Spots.

And that means the Rockies need to start thinking about trade deadline upgrades. As opposed to previous years, there’s just one trade deadline in 2019. There’s no more waiver/non-waiver deadlines, so the Rockies need to make those decisions over the next month.

This isn’t about what the Rockies should do. Instead, it’s a look at the Rockies’ areas of need, as well as potential trade targets.

The rotation

Nine different pitchers have started at least two games for the Rockies in 2019. In 2018, just six pitchers started at least two games. Tyler Anderson looks to be out for the season, and at this point it doesn’t feel like the Rockies can rely on Kyle Freeland, who’s given up 30 runs in 22 23 innings Triple-A innings, to return and contribute.

German Márquez and Jon Gray are the only two reliable starters. Behind them, the Rockies have Antonio Senzatela, Peter Lambert, and Chi Chi González starting games, with Jeff Hoffman and Chad Bettis as next best options and Rico Garcia and Ryan Castellani the next prospects in line. They’re mostly capable starters, but if the Rockies want to hold their Wild Card edge and run deep into the postseason, they need to add another frontline to middle of the rotation starter.

MLB Trade Rumors lists 12 starting pitchers on their Top 50 Trade Candidates list. Two of those pitchers play for the Giants and don’t seem like likely targets, Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija. Here are the other nine:

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays
Matthew Boyd, LHP, Tigers
Tanner Roark, RHP, Reds
Jordan Lyles, RHP, Pirates
Andrew Cashner, RHP, Orioles
Mike Leake, RHP, Mariners
Danny Duffy, LHP, Royals
Mike Minor, LHP, Rangers
Zack Wheeler, RHP, Mets
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians

The options here aren’t as vast as they seem at first — the presence of Jordan Lyles is the here is a dead giveaway of that. Stroman and Boyd are the “all in” options because they’re clearly the top tier and because they’d cost the most in prospects. Neither would be rentals. Stroman’s final arbitration year is 2020, and Boyd is under team control through 2022. I think Stroman’s a perfect fit for the Rockies. Boyd is under team control longer, but he’s just as old as Stroman and is less of a good bet. Failing that, or in addition to that, I’d love the Rockies go get Mike Minor to add the all-of-the-sudden missing left-handedness from the rotation.

Besides that, the other pitchers may not be much of an upgrade over Senzatela, Lambert, and whoever occupies the final spot in the Rockies’ rotation.

The bullpen

This is the eternal area of need for a team in contention. Scott Oberg has been excellent for most the season, despite having some trouble with walks. That trouble has been nowhere near as bad as Wade Davis’s though. Bryan Shaw was good for a while but hasn’t been lately. Seunghwan Oh has been bad, and Mike Dunn is finally off the team. It’s been a little bit of a bumpy ride for the Rockies’ bullpen.

While relief pitchers are the eternal need, they’re luckily also the most abundantly available players at the trade deadline. MLB Trade Rumors lists 18 relievers on their trade candidates list. This time, there are four Giants players that the Rockies probably wouldn’t try to make a deal to acquire, Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, and Tony Watson, as well as two member of the Padres, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen. Not all of these guys would require a prospect haul though, which prevents intradivision trades more than the major leaguer in question. I can see the Rockies and Giants making a deal for Tony Watson, but not for Will Smith. Here are the other 12:

Jake Diekman, LHP, Royals
Shane Greene, RHP, Tigers
Alex Colomé, RHP, White Sox
Mychal Givens, RHP, Orioles
Ian Kennedy, RHP, Royals
Felipe Vázquez, LHP, Pirates
Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Reds
Brad Hand, LHP, Indians
Craig Stammen, RHP, Padres
Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates
David Hernández, RHP, Reds
Jared Hughes, RHP, Reds

As opposed to the starters, it’s probably best to avoid the guys under contract for several more years, even if they’d be big upgrades. That includes guys like Raisel Iglesias and Brad Hand. The Rockies need bullpen upgrades because all the guys they gave three year contracts to aren’t working out so well. I’m fairly agnostic about which of these guys I’d like to see the Rockies get. I do know that it’s the most likely area in which they’ll actually upgrade, as they picked up relievers near the deadline over the past two seasons.

Offense

The offense has been overall good for the Rockies in 2019, but there are still potential areas to upgrade. The positions have been a net negative for the Rockies so far in 2019: First base and second base. It doesn’t seem likely or needed for the Rockies to tinker much with first base. Daniel Murphy hasn’t hit that great this season, but he’s been fine overall, and he still has the potential to explode. The other is more worrying though, and there are potential upgrades available.

Rockies’ second baseman — Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, Garrett Hampson, and Pat Valaika — have combined to hit .221/.287/.328 in 2019. There are two guys capable of providing a needed and targeted upgrade: Cincinatti’s Derek Dietrich and Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield.

Through Saturday, Dietrich is hitting .222/.353/.567 with 18 home runs, and Merrifield is hitting .299/.347/.497 with 12 homers. Dietrich is only making $2 million this season and is set to be a free agent this offseason, so he’d be a pure rental. Merrifield is under contract through 2022, and his contract has a 2023 team option.

Ideally, adding a bat like one of these two could also help the other problem area, which is the bench. Mark Reynolds, if you haven’t noticed, has been an empty roster spot for most of the season.

Suggesting that the Rockies trade for a second baseman seems odd, since things have more or less shaken out like I wanted them to: Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson getting playing time, with Brendan Rodgers getting a chance. But it’s pretty clear that second base has been an overall weakness for the team.

The best case scenario is that either McMahon or Rodgers takes off and becomes a major contributor in short order, but that doesn’t feel likely right now. Doing nothing here probably won’t cost the Rockies a postseason spot either, but if the Rockies want to give themselves an offensive boost this season, this is the place to do it. And, like in the rotation and the bullpen, the players mentioned fit the bill for what the Rockies need to make the most of their favorable position.