Last season, one of the biggest names to drop as a free agent immediately following the non-tender deadline was Kevin Pillar. He was eventually signed by the Boston Red Sox to a one-year deal (and eventually traded to the Rockies). With all clubs across baseball financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the expectation is that more players will be non-tendered this offseason than usual which may produce some upgrade opportunities for the Rockies.
The front office has already been picking away with some minor league deals and a trade last week. Marc Carig and Andy McCullough of The Athletic wrote recently about some candidates they predict may be non-tendered by their respective clubs and become available as free agents for the Rockies to pursue.
As usual for the Rockies in the Bridich era, bullpen arms are the first to jump out as most likely to end up in a Rockies uniform. Although it’s a left-hander they are really looking for, right-hander Corey Knebel really fits the bill. His best days are presumably behind him but as the authors put it, “an enterprising suitor could hope that Knebel recaptures some feel and finish to his pitches.”
Another Milwaukee Brewer could draw the interest of the front office as well, and this one is a lefty: Alex Claudio. He has been a consistent reliever splitting time with the Brewers and Texas Rangers over the past five seasons with fairly low walk (2.25 BB/9) and home run (0.72 HR/9) rates. I think most Rockies fans would agree that we don’t want to see Jeff Bridich spending excess money on relievers again; these options won’t break the bank.
Catcher is one of the biggest positional needs for the Rockies. Elias Díaz just signed a one-year deal that will keep him in Colorado for the 2021 season, but with Tony Wolters’ status still up in the air, it’s possible the team looks elsewhere for more depth. Gary Sánchez has struggled to defend his position and wasn’t able to balance it out at the plate in 2020, so much so that he made Carig and McCullough’s non-tender list (albeit as an unlikely non-tender). His estimated arbitration salary is high at $5.5 million and he doesn’t come close to the defensive standard that Bud Black prefers to see from his backstops. While it’s fun to imagine Sánchez returning to form and hitting monster home runs at Coors Field, it’s not going to happen.
The Rockies, of course, have their own deadline decisions to make. With both Elias Díaz and Jairo Díaz signing earlier this week, they now have 11 arbitration-eligible players. One scenario is that they part ways with Chi Chi González and look to bring in an upgrade at the fifth spot in the starting rotation for a minimal price increase. González is estimated to receive a deal around $1.2 million. If a starting pitcher like Vince Velasquez or Carlos Rodón were to become available at a similar price point, the front office may want to take a gamble on them.
Both pitchers come with big concerns, however. Rodón, similar to Knebel, had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and was used sparingly in 2020. Velasquez has just been awful the last two seasons. Neither one would have to do much to qualify as an upgrade over González, though.
It’s anyone’s guess what players will end up free agents once today’s deadline passes. There most definitely will be some surprises.
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Thomas Harding of MLB.com shines a light on the enormous impact that Hall of Famer Larry Walker and Hall of Fame hopeful Todd Helton had on the team. Harding provides a summary of the top five seasons ever (by OPS) for a Rockies position player, all of which are owned by either Walker or Helton. All five seasons took place from 1997 through 2001.
Leading all seasons, of course, was Walker’s 1997 season when he led the National League in many offensive categories, including OPS with 1.172. What was truly incredible was that he performed better away from Coors Field during that particular season.
Today is the non-tender deadline and of the Rockies’ 11 arbitration-eligible players, Jon Gray has the highest price tag. Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post speculates whether the Rockies will non-tender Gray which would make him a free agent. It’s unlikely to happen, but this offseason is expected to look quite different from those of recent history where there have been relatively few non-tendered players across the league. Gray’s 2020 season was a disappointment and he was dealing with an injury and reduced velocity. According to the article, the Rockies are not concerned. “Gray’s arm simply needed rest and some rehabilitation.”
While yes, Gray will cost the team somewhere around $6 million, this is a franchise that cannot afford to give away pitching talent. Jon Gray should not be non-tendered.
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