Shortly after having the “interim” tag removed from his job title, Rockies GM Bill Schmidt summed up his organizational philosophy. “We’re not the Dodgers”, Schmidt said. “We’re the Colorado Rockies. We scout, draft and develop.” Ignoring the fact that the Dodgers have been recently regarded to have one of the stronger farm systems in the league, ranked 16th in a recent list even after unloading the talent necessary to land Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, what does the Rockies (with a farm system ranked 26th in that same list) roster construction actually look like?
Of the 38 players on the Rockies current 40-man roster, the breakdown is as follows.
- Draft: 17 players
- Free agents: 5 players
- Amateur free agents: 7 players
- Trade: 6 players
- Waivers: 2 players
- Rule 5 draft: 1 player
So, yes, the Rockies are by-and-large made up of players they have drafted and/or developed themselves, between the 24 players that were either selected by the team in the first-year player draft or were an amateur free agent signing who then came up through the Rockies system. A minority of players have been acquired by trade or via free agency, simply because the finances of the Rockies do not (or don’t want to) compete with those of larger markets.
So the majority of the quantity of the roster has been home-grown, but how about the quality? The breakdown of 2021 wins above replacement is as follows:
- Draft: 8 bWAR
- Free agents: 7.6 bWAR
- Amateur free agent: 2.9 bWAR
- Trade: 4.8 bWAR
- Waivers: 0.9 bWAR
- Rule 5 draft: 0.6 bWAR
A slightly different picture is painted in terms of production. Drafted players still lead the way, but players that were not developed with the Rockies top those who were overall (counting in broad strokes with free agents, trades, waivers, and the Rule 5 draft being considered as players not developed with the Rockies).
That said - these sums do not include the recently departed Jon Gray nor the likely soon-to-be departed Trevor Story, who would have contributed 1.3 and 4.2 bWAR, respectively, to the drafted group of players. Their contributions would be enough to push the home-grown players over the others for 2021, but obviously they are gone now. It remains to be seen who will replace them in the Rockies lineup, but adding some free agents seems like a likely strategy.
For comparison’s sake, consider the aforementioned Dodgers. Of their top seven performers by bWAR in 2021, four were homegrown. Walker Buehler (6.7 bWAR), Corey Seager (3.7 bWAR), and Will Smith (3.5 bWAR) were all drafted by the Dodgers, giving them more 2021 production from those three than the entirety of the Rockies drafted players. For good measure, Julio Urias (4.7 bWAR) was an amateur free agent that came up through the Dodgers system. Obviously, the Dodgers are able to sign world class talent à la Mookie Betts and pull off blockbuster trades for Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, but to compete in today’s MLB there is no replacement for drafting and developing your own players.
GM Bill Schmidt has emphasized that he wants this to be a strength for his new Rockies, going as far to say this is his preferred way to build the team. Drafting and developing well is a hallmark of today’s successful teams across the MLB, from the Dodgers to the Braves, even to the traditional big spender Yankees (see: Judge, Aaron). And since the Rockies do not typically supplement their home-grown players with All Star caliber free agents, then they will need to develop players well if they want to have any success.
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The hot stove was hot, but now it is not. Plenty of moves were made in anticipation of the lockout, but, as you know, no new signings were made by the Rockies. The contract extensions to CJ Cron, Elias Díaz, and Antonio Senzatela were enough to keep the Rockies from a failing grade in CBS’s scale, but that just leads us to wonder what kind of lopsided bell curve they were using, given the flurry of activity from other teams and the lack of a clear plan from the Rockies, not to mention the Jon Gray situation.
Congrats to all the traditionalists out there - it seems that no significant rule changes are coming to baseball in the near future. Everyone will be able to enjoy yelling at human umpires for at least a little longer. Negotiations over rule changes have historically never been a part of larger lockout negotiations, but as Jayson Stark points out, the conversations are connected - robo umps affect catcher’s stats, a lack of shifts would affect defensive metrics, etc, etc. So even though they’re not a part of this round of negotiations and they haven’t been in the past, they’re something the players (or owners) could use to get more of what they want.
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