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Finding a replacement Rockies closer

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Sunday, October 17, 2021

Last week, I spent some time looking at replacement options in the event that Trevor Story chooses to leave Colorado. It’s one of the decisions the Rockies will be addressing this offseason in an attempt to right the ship and get the team back in contention. Another aspect of that the team that needs to be addressed is the bullpen, and more specifically the role of the closer. Once again, we’ll look at some of the in-house and free-agent options for the Rockies to deploy late in games and help solidify one of the worst bullpens in baseball.

In-house options

Carlos Estévez is currently the incumbent closer for the Rockies. At the end of August, Estévez took over for a struggling Daniel Bard and assumed the responsibility of handling the ninth inning for the month of September. In 16 games as the closer that month, Estévez converted eight saves while pitching to a 5.28 ERA. Prior to his new role, he struggled with pitching late in games, tallying four blown saves while converting just three.

He has shown stretches of strong ninth inning performances and bad stretches. In the ninth inning alone this past season, Estévez had a 4.84 ERA with 10 walks and 22 strikeouts. He has struggled with walks and giving up multiple hits in the ninth, but if he can clean things up and become the power arm he has the potential to be, then the Rockies could have a lockdown closer for 2022.

Daniel Bard was the feel-good story of 2020. However, the old man found himself in a bit of funk as the 2021 season went on, resulting in his status with the Rockies remaining up in the air. Prior to his role reversal with Estévez, Bard tallied over 20 saves on the year but blew eight saves. His dominance at home and against right-handed batters led to his success early, but the negative splits against lefties and on the road began to converge and Bard lost his ability to overpower batters and keep the ball in the yard.

For an in-depth look into Bard’s 2021 season be sure to check out Justin Wick’s article as it explains why he lost the closer role. Bard may find himself on the chopping block this offseason, but if the team keeps him around he will need to rediscover the movement and control of his pitches to prove he could win back the job when Spring Training rolls around.

Finally, Justin Lawrence and Julian Fernández could be outside candidates to get some action in the closer role. Both are high-octane flamethrowers capable of hitting over 100 mph on their fastballs. The problem for both is that they are both still inexperienced at the big league level and need to get their pitches under control. The two young pitchers combined for a 9.26 ERA in 23 13 innings of work where they issued 23 walks. They both showed an ability to wrack up strikeouts, but inconsistent control in the zone led to rough outings for both pitchers. However, if they clean that up they could lock down the closer role at some point in their careers.

Honorable Mentions: Lucas Gilbreath, Jordan Sheffield

Free agent options

There is the constant angle of perception that a free agent is likely to consider playing for a team from where they grew up. Luckily for the Rockies, we are using that angle here with Colorado native Mark Melancon. Spending all of 2021 with the San Diego Padres, Melancon had a fantastic year out of the bullpen at the age of 36, tallying a league-leading 39 saves. He also pitched himself to a 2.23 ERA in 64 23 innings of work.

He also sported a quality 1.22 WHIP, despite the fact that his walks were up and his strikeouts were down this year. However, if the Padres decide that $5 million is too much to pay as part of his option then the veteran reliever could be a helpful addition to his hometown Rockies.

The Rockies are a team that could benefit from a couple more lefties in the bullpen. Lucas Gilbreath had a good rookie season but the same couldn’t be said for Ben Bowden, so perhaps bringing in reinforcement in the form of left-hander Andrew Chafin could benefit the closer role if not just the bullpen. The mustachioed pitcher split time with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s this season and saw success on both teams.

In 68 23 innings of work, Chafin posted a 1.83 ERA with 64 strikeouts and just 19 walks. He has worked primarily as a set-up man, but perhaps his skills could translate to a full-time closer role or even just a lefty specialist closer. Either way, he would provide some stability at the backend of the bullpen.

Honorable Mentions: Brad Hand, Adam Ottavino

The door is wide open

The Rockies bullpen is ever fluctuating as they try to establish a core of solid relievers to help the team get back into contention. Having solid, reliable options at the end of a game to consistently secure the close games the Rockies need to win is a critical piece they will have to figure out in 2022. Perhaps they could even get creative by having a closer by committee approach. Regardless of what they do, in order to right the ship, they need to find a quality anchor in the bullpen.

Who else would you like to see be consider for the closer role? Sound off in the comments below!

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Three young Rockies who may not be on the team in 2022 | Rox Pile

We spend a lot of time talking about who could earn a spot on the roster, but it’s equally important to pick out players who could be left off of the roster this offseason. Noah Yingling identifies three players that could potentially see their time in Colorado come to an end for the coming season. Ryan Castellani and Joshua Fuentes are notable names that have struggled to be productive contributors at the big league level, but it is Dom Nuñez that has the most intriguing case. His lack of offensive production coupled with the emergence of Elias Díaz as the primary catcher could see the Rockies looking elsewhere for a backup catcher.

On the Farm: Arizona Fall League Edition

Salt River Rafters 15, Mesa Solar Sox 7

Michael Toglia homered for the second straight night as part of the Rafters' third win of the season. His two-run blast off of Cubs prospect Caleb Kilian was part of an eight-run inning for the Rafters, and he would end the night with two hits and a walk. Ezequiel Tovar also started the game at short, contributing a pair of hits at the bottom of the order. Reagan Todd made a quick appearance with two outs in the top of the sixth when he hit the first batter he faced to load the bases but then induced a line drive out to end the inning. Ryan Vilade rounded out the Rockies' prospects by contributing a pinch-hit single in place of Toglia and eventually came around to score.

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