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How the Rockies could modestly upgrade at the trade deadline

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The Rockies are below .500 but are in line to make the postseason! How can they get better without selling the farm?

After an 11-3 start, the Colorado Rockies have been on quite the losing skid. Despite this, they remain in line to make the postseason, given 2020’s special criteria to make the playoffs. The first and second-place teams in each division will earn a postseason berth, while the next two teams with the league’s best records will make it as well. The Rockies are below the .500 mark, but they do have the second-best record among teams not in either first or second place in their divisions. So, the Rockies find themselves in an interesting position.

I would say this is a position to be “soft buyers.” There is far from a guarantee that the Rockies will make the postseason—and even farther from a guarantee of postseason success if they do make it. The Rockies should not be selling the farm to make a run at 2020 success, but I also think it would be a grave mistake to go as far as to sell and trade away a star like Nolan Arenado. There are modest moves out there for the Rockies to make to put them in position to have success if they reach the postseason.

Where do the Rockies need the most help?

Bullpen

Overall, the Rockies’ pitching staff ranks sixth in the National League in ERA and third in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). They have the best walk rate and lowest home run rate (!) in the NL as well. Despite some recent shaky outings, the starting rotation has led the way. In the NL, Rockies’ starters rank sixth in ERA. The bullpen, meanwhile, ranks eighth in the NL in ERA and eighth in WHIP. These are not awful collective numbers by any stretch, but a handful of relievers have been bad when they’ve been called upon. Wade Davis, Phillip Diehl, Ashton Goudeau and James Pazos, in particular, have all produced numbers that have collectively dragged down the bullpen’s overall standing. The rest of the ‘pen has only allowed three home runs in 74 innings as of Sunday (0.4 HR/9), while the four players mentioned have allowed five long balls in 12 1/3 innings (3.7 HR/9). Granted, there are less than 15 appearances on the season between the four of them, but if there was ever a season to make a change early, it would be this one—and you can always stand to add a bullpen arm. Goudeau and Pazos have already been optioned once this year, while Davis is currently on the 10-day Injured List.

The loss of Scott Oberg really hurts and I’m not sure there’s a true closer-type reliever to be had. Jim Bowden of The Athletic suggested this weekend that the Rox should look to acquire Trevor Rosenthal from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Sam Hilliard. Rosenthal has indeed looked good. As of Sunday, he had an 0.87 ERA, with six saves. Rosenthal was a lights-out closer for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2014-15, before succumbing to injuries and an unsightly loss of command. After missing all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, Rosenthal pitched 15 1/3 innings between the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers in 2019, walking 26 batters, hitting four more and uncorking nine wild pitches. He’s below 3.5 walks per nine innings in 2020. Rosenthal seems to have found a spot where he is comfortable and I would argue now is not the time to try something different. If Rosenthal is finding success in Kansas City, I don’t think this is a good time to trade him to Coors Field.

The Royals do have another reliever by the name of Scott Barlow who is having a great year and a better recent track record. From 2019-20, Barlow has a 3.80 ERA and 3.29 FIP. He has struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings in that time. The walk rate is over four per nine, but he’s looking better this year. So far in 2020, the 27-year-old has a 1.80 ERA, with 19 strikeouts and five walks in 15 innings. Barlow might be the best piece for the Rockies on the relief market.

Catcher

Tony Wolters and Drew Butera have combined to produce a slash line of .195/.222/.247 in 2020. Neither represents the strong side of a platoon. Wolters works well with the pitching staff and his defense is impressive, but it’s still hard to view him as better than a backup option. Unfortunately, there are not many upgrades available on the market.

Royals catcher Salvador Pérez was off to a good start to the season before being placed on the Injured List with “left eye central serous chorioretinopathy” causing blurred vision.

Tyler Flowers of the Atlanta Braves is a right-handed catcher who is hitting well to start 2020 and also rates as one of the best pitch framers in the game. He is in a backup role to Travis d’Arnaud, who is off to a scalding start to his Braves tenure. I consulted with our friends at Talking Chop and they do not believe he will be dealt. Even in a backup capacity, the Braves seem to really value Flowers. He initially signed a two-year deal with the Braves for 2016-17, they picked up his option for 2018, extended him for the 2019 season and then worked out a new deal with him for 2020. Clearly, this organization wants him around.

Rather than looking to acquire from outside the organization, the best bet for the Rockies in terms of backstop help may simply be to give more playing time to Elias Díaz. Díaz has the highest offensive ceiling of any of the Rockies’ current three catchers and the strongest track record of hitting (at least vs. left-handed pitching). However, Díaz is also getting the smallest share of playing time of the three. Perhaps the best upgrade for the Rockies is already on the roster here.

Offense

With the exceptions of Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, the Rockies have been struggling to get it together as an offense consistently. Again, we don’t want to sell the farm. We don’t want to give up Brendan Rodgers, Ryan Rolison or Colton Welker. That does make it difficult to find an appreciable upgrade.

I don’t think the Rockies need to look for a platoon bat or a utility player. There’s enough talent on the current roster that someone is bound to click in that role. They need to find some serious thump that they don’t need to give up much for.

While we’re on the theme of the Royals, let’s look at a guy I have wanted to see mashing dingers at Coors Field since 2014—Jorge Soler. Soler is best suited in a DH role. Then again, so is Blackmon. And so is Daniel Murphy. And so is Matt Kemp. Soler can play some corner outfield and is a Blackmon-level defender, which isn’t saying much.

But over his past 162 games, Soler has produced a batting line of .268/.361/.570, with 48 home runs. He would make the lineup better wherever you put him.

What moves can the Rockies make?

There are various possible courses of action. The first would be a very modest approach to upgrade the bullpen. As noted above, I think Barlow is the way to go. He is a pre-arbitration player, so the Rockies would have team control over him for a while (i.e. this isn’t a quick rental of the rest of the year). Using the Baseball Trade Values simulator, one of Ryan Vilade or Michael Toglia would make this an “even” trade.

If the Rox want to splurge a little more, they could try to add Soler as well. Soler is controllable through 2021, his final year of arbitration. The Baseball Trade Values simulator suggests Vilade, Toglia, Terrin Vavra and Ben Bowden would all be necessary to complete this trade. We said we didn’t want to sell the farm. Especially given the state of the Rockies’ system, this could well qualify as giving up too much for comfort.

It should be noted that due to the track record of the front offices of both the Rockies and the Royals, making a big splash like this would be very uncharacteristic. Ultimately, these are the possible courses of action the Rockies could take:

A. Acquire a solid, controllable reliever for your No. 4 or No. 6 prospect.

B. Acquire a solid, controllable reliever and one of the game’s best power bats over the last two seasons for your No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 11 prospects.

Oh, yeah. Or C. Stand pat. Maybe this is the route to go. The Rockies do have a path to upgrading the roster, though, if they deem it the correct course of action in this unpredictable 2020 campaign.