Earlier this week it was announced that Major League Baseball and the player’s union reached an agreement to move the tender deadline up from December 2nd to November 30th. This decision relates to the upcoming CBA deadline of December 1st, meaning that players can know their status for the 2022 season prior to the expiration of the current CBA.
This agreement will allow teams to make decisions on whether they wish to tender contracts to players who are eligible for arbitration or on renewable contracts, or allow them to enter the open market. For those players let go, it will also offer a small window to negotiate a deal with a new club before the stroke of midnight on December 1st if they do not want to wait to find a job until after a new CBA is ratified.
That means the Colorado Rockies have to make decisions on 11 pre-arbitration players and eight arbitration-eligible players in the upcoming days. The truth is most - if not all- of these players will be back, but let’s look over the group and see whose cases to be retained are best (with estimated arbitration salaries by Sportrac listed).
Kyle Freeland ($7.0MM), Lucas Gilbreath, Austin Gomber, Connor Joe, Peter Lambert, Ryan McMahon ($5.0MM), Brendan Rodgers, Robert Stephenson ($1.0MM)
The truth is, there feels like far more than seven locks on the roster. But, for purposes of distinction, I’m giving the most obvious candidates their due.
Kyle Freeland is a stalwart in the rotation and one of the faces of the franchise. If anything, he is an extension candidate.
Austin Gomber is also a fixture in the 2022 rotation plans and produced a strong showing in his first season after coming over from St. Louis. Meanwhile, Peter Lambert’s rehab from Tommy John surgery advanced far enough to allow him to make two starts at the end of the season and he figures to compete for a rotation spot next year.
To round out the pitchers, Lucas Gilbreath and Robert Stephenson each put together quality seasons out of the bullpen in 2021 and figure to be predominant set-up relievers next season.
Offensively, Ryan McMahon has become a pillar of the Colorado organization and even earned recognition for his spectacular defense in 2021 with a Gold Glove nomination, he will return in his second year of arbitration. Also, the wait for Brendan Rodgers to finally become a fixture ended last season and his name is already etched in the starting lineup for 2022.
Lastly, Connor Joe’s 117 wRC+ was second to only C.J. Cron. He’s had a hard time staying healthy, but as a right-handed hitting outfielder that is still one year away from arbitration, he is a very safe bet.
Likely to be retained
Carlos Estévez ($2.9MM), Sam Hilliard, Dom Nuñez, Jordan Sheffield, Alan Trejo
Sam Hilliard has been a project for the Rockies and the organization has shown no intentions of giving up on his potential yet, so he seems to be in the plans for the 2022 outfield.
Meanwhile, the Rockies have some thin areas on the roster and Dom Nuñez and Alan Trejo seem meant to fill them. Now that Trevor Story is gone, the Rockies’ middle-infield depth is shallow, so Trejo seems likely to be retained. Additionally, Colorado only has two catchers on the 40-man roster, so Nuñez’s spot as backup to Elias Diaz seems secure.
On the bump, Carlos Estévez finished the season as the Rockies’ closer and could likely start the next with the same title. He was shaky at times closing out games, but Estévez has been a fixture in the organization that made strides last season after a disastrous 2020 campaign.
Jordan Sheffield was limited to less than 30 innings in his debut season for the Rockies, but he was productive when active and seems to have a spot in the bullpen in 2022.
On the fence
Daniel Bard ($4.8MM), Ben Bowden, Yonathan Daza, Garrett Hampson ($1.75MM), Tyler Kinley ($1.0MM), Raimel Tapia ($3.8MM)
Estévez finished as the closer because Daniel Bard’s struggles ultimately lead to change being needed. Bard was mostly effective in non-save situations in the final month, but his higher price tag and troubles during the season do at least raise the question if Bard will be back next season.
Speaking of troubles, Ben Bowden’s 2021 was tough. Although he is still pre-arb, Bowden’s low strikeout-rate and propensity for giving up fly-balls is a tough pill to swallow for 81 games at Coors Field. Tyler Kinley was in a similar boat for much of the season, but had a strong finish to change the narrative. That fact - along with his durability - make him less questionable than some others.
Garrett Hampson, on the other hand, never seemed to come back to life offensively last season. He did hit a career-high 11 homers, but his walk-rate, slugging percentage and wOBA have all declined each of the last three seasons. He played strong defensively in center field, though, and that may be enough for him to stay around.
Another center fielder with offensive question marks is Yonthan Daza. After a .321/.364/.414 first half, Daza fell off the cliff with a .186/.255/.209 line over the final three months of the season. His strong start may be enough for another run with Daza on the roster, but he is out of options and has a wRC+ of just 62 in his big league career.
Last is Raimel Tapia, who nobody knows what to do with at this point. He was a ground-ball machine last season but has elite contact skills, mashes when his quality of contact is a line-drive and is at least fine defensively in left field. If the Rockies let him walk and he figures out his swing elsewhere, they could regret it. If they keep him then there’s the risk nothing changes and we’re in for more of the same next season.
★ ★ ★
It’s the off-season, which means it’s Todd Helton Hall of Fame season. Kevin Larson breaks down Helton’s credentials while also pinpointing some other nominees who could pose as roadblocks for Helton. Larson looks at David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira as players that could take votes away from Helton. He also points out that this being the final year for Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds may be another factor that could swing votes away from Helton.
Speaking of Todd Helton and the Hall of Fame, Jayson Stark weighs in on the ballot. First, Stark wonders if the committee could actually have a second straight season with no player elected. Next, Stark wonders if the additions of Rodriguez and Ortiz to the ballot could actually help the cases of Bonds and Clemens in their final year, if the 2008 Phillies will be a championship team with no representatives in the hall and what will happen to all the former CY Young and MVP winners on the ballot who seem unlikely for enshrinement.
Stark also touches on the cases for Scott Rolen and Helton. Rolen has the edge so far, but Helton is not far behind and both - historically speaking - are on track to be elected.
In Rolen’s fourth year on the ballot, he cleared the 50-percent bar. In Helton’s third year, he catapulted to almost 45 percent, by scooping up an eye-opening 64 more votes than in 2020. And over the last half-century, literally everybody who has reached those thresholds at this stage has gone on to get elected. The last player in both those groupings who didn’t? Gil Hodges, more than 50 years ago.
★ ★ ★
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