The Colorado Rockies are in a precarious position moving forward. There are some remnants of the success in 2017 and 2018 hanging around, but time continues to erode that core and heading into the 2021-2022 off-season, Trevor Story and Jon Gray appear next to depart the organization. Prospects who were expected to carry the torch have either faced significant setbacks along the way or flamed out entirely and there is little on this roster - especially offensively - that appears able to turn this franchise back into a contender quickly.
Those are the difficult circumstances the current front office is staring down, and resources to address these issues are limited. But the annual SB Nation MLB GM off-season simulation gave us a chance to try and solve the Rubik’s Cube the Colorado Rockies franchise has managed to trap itself within.
Some of the ground rules influenced our decisions. First, there is no regard for the 40-man roster. This is a relief as the Rockies face decisions on numerous players eligible for the Rule 5 draft and a roster crunch is imminent this off-season. Second, any upcoming CBA negotiations are not factored. This means there is no delay in business or deals made with any expected service-time adjustments in mind. Upcoming rule changes - specifically the adoption of the DH in the National League - are worth keeping in mind, but are unconfirmed.
So, now that Jeff Bridich and Bill Schmidt have both resigned within the past year - leaving nothing but hurt feelings and a disjointed roster in their wake - we were tasked with the responsibility of a lot of house cleaning with the current roster and repairs to the structure of the franchise. Owner Dick Monfort is perplexed why his GM’s refuse to stick around and has been coerced into letting his new front office have autonomy with its decisions, but with stipulations:
- A luxury tax payroll of $125M
- We must be able to draw fans and keep attendance figures from a steep decline
- The major league team must remain respectable. No tear-downs and no tanking allowed.
With an increase of approximately $10M from 2021 to work with - $5.75M of which already stamped for St. Louis for Nolan Arenado and $1.3M still owed to Todd Helton - options were limited. Before the free agency gates opened, we addressed our in-house options first.
- Charlie Blackmon exercised $21M player option
- Rockies decline team option on Ian Desmond. Execute $2M buyout payment
No surprises here. So long, Ian Desmond.
- Yency Almonte ($700k in arbitration)
- Rio Ruiz ($1.1M in arbitration)
There are a few expendable pieces on the Rockies roster, and Almonte and Ruiz were the easiest to let go of current candidates. Daniel Bard ($4.8M) was not in our future plans, however a trade was worked out with Boston to take him off our hands, which was the preferable route.
Raimel Tapia ($3.9M) was a case we debated on, but ultimately elected to keep around. There is a high contact rate and decent on-base skills at his worst, but if he can keep the ball off the ground there is still potential for so much more. That potential felt worth a roster spot while entertaining the chance we could move him as well.
- Trevor Story (declined)
- Jon Gray (declined)
Trevor Story was determined to hit the open market, however Jon Gray was approached and receptive to a contract extension after we upped the previous offer. Before the deadline, Jon Gray was offered a 4 year, $60M extension that included a fifth year vesting option for $15M if he met 180 IP. Gray ultimately chose to decline the offer but remained receptive to signing with Colorado later.
- RP Daniel Bard to Boston for RP Durbin Feltman
As mentioned earlier, Daniel Bard’s days were numbered in Colorado. Projected at $4.8M for the 2022 season, Bard’s performance last season inspired little confidence and made the expense tough to justify. Not a ton of interest was generated in Bard, but Boston felt good about a reunion with their former flamethrower.
The asking price was low, but reliever Durbin Feltman felt like a solid addition. A third-round pick out of TCU in 2018, Feltman has a low-effort delivery with his mid-90s fastball and polished slider. 2019 was a rough season but he bounced back with a strong 2021 campaign between the upper-levels of Boston’s system and is a good candidate for Colorado’s bullpen auditions.
- OF Connor Joe and 3B Aaron Schunk to Atlanta for SP Kyle Wright
Connor Joe was one of the few bright spots of the 2021 season and is someone we’d love to have around again in 2022. That said, he is an older prospect that was acquired as a minor league free agent, so his value has also never been higher. Aaron Schunk had a rough 2021 campaign but is still a well-regarded prospect with plenty of time to bounce back. Atlanta was justifiable high on both players and - after watching an unhealthy amount of Chi Chi Gonzalez starts over the past two years - the Rockies were motivated to add pitching depth with more upside.
While he had a strong showing in the World Series, it is no secret that Kyle Wright has struggled at the major league level so far in his career. But he is also a pitcher that has advanced beyond the minor leagues, as evident by his near-full season in Triple-A in 2021. His average fastball velocity is in the upper-third in baseball but he is not a high spin-rate arm, which has shown to be a benefit in Colorado. Add in a breaking-pitches that put up elite CSW% and it’s easy to see why he’s a pitcher that we were high on. If Wright holds his own at the end of Colorado’s rotation it will be a win, but the team is in a spot to give him every chance to be much more than that.
- SP Germán Márquez to Los Angeles Angels for OF Brandon Marsh, OF Taylor Ward, SP Chris Rodriguez, and 2B Adrian Placencia
This was the big one. Aside from maybe Brendan Rodgers, Germán Márquez is easily Colorado’s biggest commodity. After Jon Gray hit the market it would be easy to sit back and lean harder on Márquez to keep the team respectable, but that would just be another season of avoiding our problems. Instead, we chose to cash in our biggest chip to help create balance and depth in the roster.
There were a handful of clubs on Márquez, and a trade to Seattle started to materialize after the first day (more on that later), but Los Angeles always made the most sense. The Rockies have solid starting pitching but a woeful outfield. The Angels have brutal pitching not named Ohtani but a few hot-shot outfield prospects. It was pretty straight-forward.
Jo Adell was always the preferred target. Unfortunately, LA was adamant they wouldn’t drop Adell in a package for Márquez. Not ideal, but also not a deal-breaker. Brandon Marsh is the other big-ticket in the Halo’s outfield pool. Marsh’s big league debut in 2021 was not spectacular, but he was pushed hard to fill in the major league roster last season after losing all of 2020 to the pandemic. Plenty of players have tough first stints in majors and his minor league track record and insane physical tools (95th percentile sprint speed) make him a center fielder of the future to feel good about. The dude looks like Charlie Blackmon, but he also could become/exceed peak Blackmon. Sign us up.
But Marsh alone wasn’t enough. Our outfield is extremely left-handed and that problem only got worse with the departure of Joe. To counteract that trend, Taylor Ward was also brought on board. A converted catcher, Ward is never going to be a strong fielder but he has made some swing adjustments that have produced more lift in the last two seasons, hits lefties well, and won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2023.
Chris Rodriguez was another addition meant to bolster the team’s depth on the mound without settling for a “low ceiling” arm. Another hard-throwing, low spin-rate righty, Rodriguez has immense talent but his development has been hindered due to a stress fracture in his that required surgery in 2018. He was back in 2021 and showed the potential is still there, making him someone worth betting on. Kyren Paris was originally the fourth piece in this package, but we lost out on him to St. Louis while working on another possible deal involving Márquez. It’s a tough pill to swallow as Paris is a promising player, but life goes on and Adrian Placencia makes for a fine substitute. Slated for Fresno next year, Placencia has two sweet swings - right-handed and left - but comes with some defensive question marks. He adds to the strength of lower-level infielders in the system but could prove to be one of the better bats from the group in the long run.
- José Iglesias: 1 year / $3.5M
It took 1,049 days, but the Rockies finally signed a major league free agent when José Iglesias agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.5M. He was always the preference for strong fielding stop-gap player so - rather than shop around between him, Andrelton Simmons, and Freddy Galvis - we kept it simple and locked him up to a modest figure.
- Kevin Gausman: 5 years / $90M
- Incentives ranging from $500k - $3M for top 4 CY Young voting. $2.5M bonus if traded.
Kevin Gausman is where things started to get interesting. After trading for Wright and staying in the hunt for Gray, we present Gausman (who was not presented a QO from San Francisco) with a deal slightly increased to the one we showed to Gray. At a $16.25M AAV for four years, our initial offer sat at the top of Gausman’s list before a few more suitors came into play. We were maintaining contact with Jon Gray and willing to pay him the money, but if Gausman was available for only slightly more than what we were willing to pay Gray, then that was where our preference lay.
After throwing in a fifth year and sprinkling in some incentive bonuses for CY Young voting, we landed what we believe to be an upgrade in Kevin Gausman for an extra year and $3M more per season than Jon Gray. Top-end starters aren’t easy to come by, especially for the Rockies, but Gausman showed what his ceiling looks like last year and fills the “ace” role left behind by Márquez nicely. On top of his performance, he adds a sentimental angle for the marketing department, joining Kyle Freeland as another Colorado-born pitcher in the rotation.
- Mark Melancon: 2 years / $8M
Speaking of Colorado-born pitchers, welcome home Mark Melancon. Scars from the “super bullpen” fiasco are still fresh, but that doesn’t mean this bullpen doesn’t need help and the market has some affordable options with Melancon high on that list. An unconventional closer, Melancon is still a ground-ball machine and is a veteran presence with an accomplished career in a bullpen filled with inexperienced arms looking to find their stride. He’s not lights out, but he’s dependable and someone we’ll lean on to help change the culture in the “arm barn”, especially after leading the National League with 39 saves in 2021.
OF Dexter Fowler, OF Gerardo Parra, OF Stephen Souza Jr., IF Matt Duffy, IF Joe Panik, IF Charlie Culberson, IF Chris Owings, LHP Adam Conley, LHP Grant Dayton, C Dustin Garneau
Someone in this group surely has a Taylor Motter season in them for Albuquerque in 2022. And we wouldn’t be doing our job in keeping a fairly realistic approach if we didn’t bring Chris Owings back. Seriously though, there is a wide gap between the majority of the impact talent in this Rockies system and the actual MLB roster. Injuries and underperformance will happen and someone needs to be there when this occurs.
Ryan Vilade and Alan Trejo will get the first shot offensively to fill in the roster and Ben Bowden is running out of chances to be a lefty out of the bullpen, so “Plan B” is increasing the field of other possible candidates. This includes many former Rockies, as we are aiming to improve the relationship with alumni by giving them another chance to stick in the league, hopefully creating a better reputation for the organization.
- Ryan McMahon
A few teams came knocking for McMahon. Houston was one of the earliest conversations, with Forrest Whitely being the main point of discussion. The Rockies looked for more in return but Houston only wanted to go 1-for-1 in the deal.
Seattle was hardest on McMahon, with Logan Gilbert and Zach DeLoach being the names we coveted the most. Discussions first revolved around just RyMac but, as the Los Angeles trade started coming together, the two sides shifted their brainstorming towards a mega-deal that would have sent Germán Márquez and McMahon to Seattle with Jarred Kelenic and a few pieces coming back the other way. You don’t say no to Jarred Kelenic when you have the chance, so we pursued that to the end. However, Seattle ultimately decided to go with a package from Cincinnati headlined by Tyler Mahle and Jonathan India for Kelenic.
Talks for McMahon to Seattle picked up again late and were still close, but ultimately Seattle felt it had shifted too many pieces around already and wanted to keep some of their prospect pool intact.
- Anthony Santander
The Orioles were willing to sell on some of its bigger names and Anthony Santander was our favorite of the group as he would make a strong upgrade to our outfield. For Santander, Baltimore was insistent on Brent Doyle headlining a return. Reluctantly, we included Doyle in a package with A-Ball IF Mateo Gil but Baltimore chose to accept Detroit’s offer of SP Ty Madden and SS Christian Santana.
- Raimel Tapia
Some discussions were held late regarding Tapia. We were looking for an upper-level middle infield piece for Tapia while other teams approached Tapia with an attitude of “we’ll take him off your hands, if you want”. At the end of the day, Raimel gets one more year to try to keep the ball off the ground and become the hitter we’ve seen glimpses of.
Here are players we approached but did not sign. Some - like Trevor Story and Javier Báez - were players we bowed out earlier on. Others - like Nicholas Castellanos, Mark Cahna and Jorge Soler - were players we were in talks with throughout but ultimately decided not to match high offers for. The last group were players who received major league deals when we offered minor league contracts instead.
Trevor Story: Mariners - 7 years, $194 million
Nicholas Castellanos: Giants - 5 years, $90 million
Javier Báez: Mets - 7 years, $126 million
Aaron Sanchez: Twins - 1 year, $4.5 million
Mark Cahna: Mets - 3 years, $30 million
Yasiel Puig: Nationals - 1 year $9 million
Clint Frazier: Orioles - 1 year, $3 million
Jorge Soler: Guardians - 3 years, $30 million
Seiya Suzuki: Mariners - 6 years, $120 million
Jon Gray: Mets - 4 years, $64 million
Luxury Tax Payroll:
C- Elias Díaz
1B- C.J. Cron
2B- Brendan Rodgers
3B- Ryan McMahon
SS- José Iglesias
LF- Raimel Tapia
CF- Brandon Marsh
RF- Charlie Blackmon
CIF- Colton Welker
OF- Taylor Ward
OF- Sam Hilliard
UTL/MIF- Garrett Hampson
Depth: Ryan Vilade, Alan Trejo, Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra, Matt Duffy, Joe Panik, Charlie Culberson, Chris Owings, Stephen Souza, Jr., Dustin Garneau.
1- Kevin Gausman
2- Kyle Freeland
3- Antonio Senzatela
4- Austin Gomber
5- Kyle Wright
Depth: Chris Rodriguez, Ryan Feltner, Ryan Rolison, Peter Lambert
CP- Mark Melancon
SU- Carlos Estevez
RP- Robert Stephenson
RP- Jordan Sheffield
RP- Tyler Kinley
RP- Lucas Gilbreath
RP- Justin Lawrence
Depth: Ben Bowden, Durbin Feltman, Julian Fernandez, Adam Conely, Grant Dayton
At the end of the day, our goal was to rejuvenate the offensive core with young talent under team control and maintain pitching strength, turning this into a franchise that you don’t need to squint too hard at to see being 2-to-3 years away from making real noise for a respectable period of time.
Could we have just kept Germán Márquez, allocated the money for Gausman to Nicholas Castellanos instead and called it a day? Sure. But we had no illusions of making this team into a playoff squad in 2022 and the issues of depth and overall talent would have persisted, leaving a mediocre team that would stay that way for the foreseeable future.
Instead, we acquired two Type-A compensatory picks for our departing homegrown players and laid out the blueprint to watch Brendan Rodgers and Brandon Marsh blossom into core pieces. A few young arms now have the opportunity to find solid footing in the majors with Colorado that they might not have had elsewhere and some impact veterans returned to their birth-land, adding some appeal to the narrative. All of this was done while moving only one prospect in the process, changing the future outlook of the franchise to be viewed through a more optimistic lens without much sacrifice.
Starting pitching has changed, but remains a relative strength with more depth and upside than in years past. The bullpen has new leadership but many young arms still trying to find their way, so volatility is a risk. When is that not the case to some degree with a big-league ‘pen, though? The lineup is mixed with a few faces of the future, some guys getting their last chance to become legitimate regulars and a few still-productive veterans holding down the fort for another year or two before the reinforcements arrive.
Risks were taken to start developing a younger core with more potential and a coherent plan for the future. After years of baffling decisions and stagnation from the front office, we suspect these are risks most followers of the franchise are willing to make.
Overall, how would you grade this Rockies off-season?
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