Though you probably need no reminding, Dick Monfort, the Rockies owner, famously predicted the 2020 Rockies would win 94 games, a season after winning just 71 and effectively making zero upgrades to the roster. The club didn’t come anywhere near that level of success and it wasn’t because of the shortened season. Their .433 winning percentage over 60 games would have netted them 70 wins over the course of a full 162-game schedule.
This offseason, it appears the team will be relatively quiet once again, as the financial hardships caused by the coronavirus continue to handcuff clubs, especially those with lower financial flexibility. Our Joelle Milholm took a look last week at what would happen if the Rockies did nothing this offseason, and whether or not they could compete with what they currently have in-house.
Almost on cue, the Rockies turned around and handed out two new contracts this week on consecutive days, signing Dereck Rodríguez on Tuesday and Brian Gonzalez yesterday. While neither player represents a huge free agent splash, perhaps these signings could shine a light on the Rockies’ offseason strategy. With the core of Arenado, Story, Blackmon, Márquez, Freeland, and potentially a couple others depending on who you ask, still intact, it looks like the Rockies may be focused on capitalizing on low-risk contracts to go with their solid foundation.
In Dereck Rodríguez, the Rockies secured a pitcher who brings a lot of upside. After moving from the outfield, to the mound in 2014 and making his MLB debut in 2018 (at Coors Field no less), Rodríguez started 19 games posting a 6-4 record, a 2.81 ERA, and 87 strikeouts in 118.1 innings. While he couldn’t follow up that success in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Rockies are hoping he can build off his strong rookie season, as well as his affinity for Coors Field. Although the sample size is small (just 14 1/3 innings) Rodríguez’s 1.88 ERA and 16 strikeouts at the ballpark are impressive for the hitter-friendly locale. He is also the son of the catching legend Ivan Rodríguez, so baseball is in his DNA—always a good sign.
The Rockies followed up their Tuesday expenditure with a repeat act on Wednesday when they signed lefty reliever Brian Gonzalez. Gonzalez has yet to play a game at the major league level but did get called to the Orioles’ alternate training site this past season, and serves as a welcome site to a Rockies bullpen where lefty relievers have gone missing.
While both relievers are penned to minor league deals, they will get the chance to prove themselves come February as both contracts include provisions for spring training invitations. They are both low-cost options for the Rockies and could bring some much needed depth to the rotation and/or bullpen that lacked just that during the 2020 season.
As we get further and further away from the Dodgers’ World Series victory and closer to the perennial blind optimism that comes with a new season, the Rockies may have signaled this week that creativity and squeezing what they can out of small contracts will be their new m.o. The Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays are the poster children for doing more with less in the baseball world, and based on Colorado’s recent track record with high-priced free agent busts, it appears as if the Rockies will have to follow the paths of their coastal competitors. With Billy Beane seemingly on his way out of Oakland, there is a void to fill as the analytics guru in MLB and I suggest Jeff Bridich step up. The signings of Gonzalez and Rodríguez won’t make waves across the baseball world, but they could serve as a harbinger of what’s to come this offseason. For a Rockies team in desperate need of a new approach; one routed in, smart, low-risk moves that have the potential to yield high returns, this appears to be the best way forward. We’ll call it “Moneyball 2.0: If it Works at High Altitude, It’ll Work Anywhere.”
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There was some speculation that the Rockies would go after Kevin Gausman, a free agent pitcher who would have made a nice addition to the team’s rotation. That rumor can be put to rest as the right-hander accepted a qualifying offer worth $18.9 million to stay out west with the San Francisco Giants.
The fourth overall pick in 2012, Gausman spent his first five seasons with the Orioles, followed by stints with the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds before landing in San Francisco prior to the 2020 season. He pitched to the tune of a 3.62 ERA and a 3-3 record during the 60-game season in 2020.
If the Rockies do intend to keep up their work in the free agent pitching department, Blue Jays veteran Aaron Sanchez could be worth a look. He missed all of 2020 with a shoulder injury, but he’s been throwing again and the results thus far have been encouraging. His fastball spin rate is currently right around that of Trevor Bauer’s 2020 numbers and his curveball spin rate is falling in the 91st percentile of MLB pitchers. (I’ll let you decide how much merit that statistic deserves.)
Either the way, the Rockies have shown a willingness to experiment with players in a down place in their careers (see: Daniel Bard) and Aaron Sanchez certainly fits that bill. Perhaps they’ll go 3-for-3 on pitching signings this week and look to slot Sanchez into the back end of the rotation.
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