Last Sunday, the Colorado Rockies pulled another head-scratcher by electing to not offer starter Jon Gray a qualifying offer. Whether or not Gray is worth the $18.4 million price tag that would come due if he accepted the offer is certainly debatable, but the way in which the Rockies have handled the situation is what is most baffling.
At the same time, Trevor Story - Colorado’s other homegrown talent reaching the free agent market this off-season - was issued a qualifying offer by the franchise to the surprise of no one. This was a foregone conclusion given Story’s career numbers and a formal decline by Story’s camp seems imminent before the November 17th decision deadline. This is the least the organization could do considering the bridge between them and the player is laying in cinders at this point, so it is some protection of letting him go for nothing.
Leaving for nothing is the game they are choosing to play with Jon Gray, instead. As the trade deadline approached during the season, the Rockies made it clear that Gray was unavailable because they believed they could work out an extension with their former top pick instead. Gray stated he wanted to stay with the Rockies, so there was good reason to believe that a deal could materialize between the two sides. That belief turned out to be one under-valued offer right before the end of the regular season, which Gray declined.
Despite a full season of exclusive bargaining, the Rockies waited until their final homestand to offer Gray a contract extension, a three-year deal in the range of $35 million to $40 million, a source said. A contract with an average annual value of about $12.5 million would put him on the lower end of similar recent free-agent pitchers
There have been no indications of an increased offer being made by the Rockies since then. The lack of compensation attached to Gray will only make him more appealing to other teams and he is already drawing interest from suitors outside of Colorado. The QO was the safety net for the Rockies to not only not leave empty handed if Gray was determined to depart, but also a leverage tactic the organization could use in negotiations on a multi-year deal. Instead, the near-term perspective won out in management’s eyes. That perspective was that they didn’t want to run the risk of paying Jon Gray $18.4 million in 2022.
So why not? The team was willing to pay Gray approximately two-thirds of that next season based on their initial offer, essentially doubling his 2021 salary. They have Trevor Story’s $17.5 million salary coming off the books and are escaping $13 million of the final chapter in the Ian Desmond saga by executing his $2 million buyout. There is clearly a sizable amount of cap space available heading into this off-season so the Rockies must have ambitions on how to use it, right? After all, team president Greg Feasel implied that was plan in October:
“We’re going to gain ground in 2022,” Feasel said of the Rockies’ expected payroll next season. “And we think we’ll be back to ’18 and ’19 levels in 2023. That’s what the plan is.”
Putting aside the fact that the Rockies owe Nolan Arenado $21 million in 2023 - which is probably where that “back to ‘18 and ‘19 levels” mentality comes from - what is the plan to gain ground in 2022 and how does saving money on Jon Gray help that? Indications are the team will be looking to add an impact player or two, so maybe that money could go towards just that.
Nicholas Castellanos may be the bed that’s just right. But he’ll likely make an annual salary rivaling Trevor Story’s and has draft-pick compensation attached. Maybe a lower priced option like Michael Conforto instead? Well, he’s lower priced because of his higher risk of not performing at an impact level and also comes with draft-pick compensation attached. Chris Taylor’s versatility and playoff resume may land him a contract richer than Gray’s and he, too, comes with compensation attached. This is assuming these players hit the market at all, since they still have the chance to accept their QO.
Management made it painfully clear the value they placed on draft pick compensation they were set to receive by not moving at least Trevor Story during the trade deadline. So, it would stand to reason that they would put a high value on not losing their own picks to the compensation system as well.
Other names like Starling Marte and Kyle Schwarber are not attached to a qualifying offer and could make sense, but should expect numerous bidders and will likely sign three or four year deals at a rate around - or above - what the team would pay Gray for one season if he accepted the qualifying offer. Maybe spreading the money out to a few more modestly priced options - like Mark Cahna - will be their preferred route instead? This could allow them to add to their outfield while also addressing the bullpen, middle infield and what pitching depth they can pull from if Peter Lambert, Ryan Feltner or Ryan Rolison can’t fill Gray’s spot in the rotation. But that will require them to recruit multiple players to sign up with Colorado over other teams at salaries that fall in line with the team’s budgetary expectations.
This brings us to the same burning question as always; what is the plan? More importantly, is there a backup plan? If talks with Jon Gray are further along than anyone realizes and the team is closing in on an agreement - making the qualifying offer irrelevant - then great. But there is no evidence to suggest that is the case. So, there must be a plan for how the money can be better utilized to improve the team instead.
We are now at 1,058 days - almost three years - since the Rockies last signed a major league free agent, so are we to believe the Rockies will have the courage to dive head-first back into that pool? No, the only message we’ve received so far from the Rockies is what they don’t want to do. How the Jon Gray situation played out is a perfect example of that.
★ ★ ★
Before free agency, MLB proposes paying players based on FanGraphs’ calculation of WAR | The Athletic
In an unexpected development to the CBA negotiations, MLB presented a proposal to the player’s union that would do away with salary arbitration and instead create a compensation structure for players not eligible for free agency to be based off an algorithm using FanGraph’s calculation of WAR. In the proposal, a player’s amount of service time would create a base salary that would then be multiplied by their career fWAR to determine their salary for the upcoming season. This proposal would essential remove the player’s ability to negotiate their own salary until reaching free agency and has not been well received by their side.
One player agent said the proposal has “zero chance.”
“Albert Pujols has a better chance of leading the majors in stolen bases,” the agent said.
On the Farm: Arizona Fall League Edition
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!