37 games. That is all that remains of the 2021 season for the Colorado Rockies. There will be plenty to say about one of the strangest seasons in club history as we approach it’s conclusion, but instead of summarizing the turbulent year I’d like to lay out the foundation for the upcoming off-season instead. There are numerous questions to be answered, both on and off the field, but let’s focus primarily on the on-field product today.
As it currently stands, the Rockies have only three major league players under contract for next season; Charlie Blackmon ($21.33M), Germán Márquez ($11.3M) and Scott Oberg ($7M). Blackmon’s salary is a player option that seems certain to be exercised, while Márquez and Oberg are guaranteed salaries. Also factoring into the equation is Ian Desmond, who’s free agent contract is set to mercifully come to an end in the form of a $2M buyout on his $15M club option. The Rockies also have a financial commitment of $5.75M to Nolan Arenado next season, part of the $51M they agreed to send in the trade of the superstar third baseman last off-season.
All told, this comes to a bill of $47.2M of committed dollars to the payroll next season. That figure is constituted by only three players currently on the club’s 40-man and one of those players, Scott Oberg, is unlikely to be physically able to play due to recurring blood clot issues.
So Blackmon and Márquez will be around, but they won’t be alone, obviously. On the active major league roster, Trevor Story, Jon Gray, C.J. Cron and Jhoulys Chacín are eligible for free agency in the upcoming off-season. While any — or all — of those four could return to Colorado, their contract status is undetermined and they will at least be able to test the open market after the 2021 season concludes.
So, that leaves us with a remaining roster of players that are still under team control through at least next season. Service time comes into the discussion at this point as the remaining list of players have either accrued three or more years of service time and are eligible for arbitration, or are under that threshold and are not yet eligible for arbitration. Let’s start with the latter group.
Rockies 2022 Pre-Arb List
This group will remain pre-arbitration eligible and, if retained this off-season, will remain eligible to have their contract renewed by the Rockies at a price around $570K - $580k. This class accounted for just under $6.9M of the 2021 payroll and it is likely that total dollar figure will not deviate too much next season. When a player such as Ryan Vilade or Colton Welker is added to the Rockies’ 40-man roster this off-season, he will fall into this salary bucket and will likely be earning the minimum major-league salary. That minimum salary was $570,500 in 2021 and, depending on the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations, may increase next season.
Regardless, this at least gives a baseline for the pre-arbitration group, so let’s move on to the arbitration-eligible class:
Rockies 2022 Arb-Eligible List
|Chi Chi Gonzalez||$1,100,000|
This grouping of players, while still under team control for the upcoming season, is where the largest financial commitment could come from the organization. The twelve players eligible for arbitration next season accounted for just over $21.5M of the payroll in 2021 and are all seeking to improve their earnings next season, so that figure is almost certain to rise.
The arbitration process is individualized, so there is a discussion to be had on the merits of a raise for each player based on their performance and years of service time. Without going too into the weeds, it is safe to say that the club will likely tender a contract to players like Kyle Freeland and Ryan McMahon, who will certainly be aiming for a significant salary increase next season. The club may also choose not-tender some under-performers or higher priced options on the list, thus releasing them from team control and forgoing the arbitration process (which is what happened to David Dahl last off-season).
For argument’s sake, however, let’s say the Rockies do tender the whole group and every player doubles their salary from 2021. This is a generous over-simplification that would come to a commitment of just over $43M for the group. When combined with the guaranteed $47.2M already on the books and the pre-arbitration group which we’ll round up to $7M, that gives the Rockies a payroll roughly estimated at $97M heading into next season.
The opening day payroll in 2021 was about $105M, but with a total cost of around $130M. 2020 was a mess of a year financially, but the Rockies entered it with a payroll commitment of just over $170M. In 2019, the bill was around $180M. In fact, the Colorado Rockies haven’t had an all-encompassing payroll under $115M since 2015.
All of this is to say that, given how the franchise has operated in the past, there is some financial flexibility for the organization heading into 2022. How —or if — ownership and the front office decides to utilize it will be very telling on how long the path back to contention is for the Colorado Rockies franchise.
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How much will the Rockies spend this winter? Is a shakeup coming? It’s time for a mailbag | The Athletic ($)
Nick Groke answers some of the most pressing questions from the Rockies’ fan base. First, Groke touches on the possibility of the Rockies spending this off-season. Discussing the same payroll commitments described in this article, as well as the team’s history of spending to contend, Groke is not overly optimistic. He also touches on the chances of an external candidates being hired as the next GM and how likely a restructuring of the front office is to occur. While he does cite the so-called “Selig Rule” that pushes the Rockies to conduct a search for a new GM, Groke once again point to the Rockies history as a reason not to get your hopes up.
Groke also digs to show the discrepancy between the Rockies home and road records is the most extreme since the 1945 Philadelphia Athletics. He also sees the thought of C.J. Cron returning next season making more sense by the day. Lastly, the chances to re-sign Trevor Story are still remote in his opinion, however the last few weeks of the season will likely make a major impact on Story’s market this off-season.
Patrick Saunders caught up with Dante Bichette, who understands the dichotomy of playing in purple pinstripes and had some thoughts on how the Rockies can right the ship based off his time playing in Colorado.
“I understand the problem of trying to win here because I lived it. I get it,” said Bichette, who returned to Denver to participate in Sunday’s FanDuel FanFest activities at Empower Field at Mile High. “The baseball doesn’t break at home, so you get used to a certain style of pitching.
“But then you go on the road and the same guy who wouldn’t dare throw you a curveball at Coors Field last week, all of a sudden is throwing curveballs that are falling off the table. So you struggle and it takes you a while to make that adjustment. By the time you make it, it’s time to go back home. It’s a vicious cycle.”
The key, in Bichette’s mind, is to lean in to the home-field advantage Coors Field provides while maintaining respectability on the road. The latter is where the club has fallen short this season, and Bichette believes one of the biggest reasons why is the bullpen. The powerful relief groups of the 1995, 2007 and 2009 were all staples of playoff squads and that is one ingredient that Bichette believes is crucial to for the Rockies to be contenders.
On the farm
- League-wide off day for Low-A, High-A, Double-A
Despite holding the lead for at least part of all nine innings, the Isotopes suffered a heart-breaker on Monday, losing on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ryan Vilade had four hits in five at-bats and scored the first run for Albuquerque in a two-run top of the first. Brian Serven’s eleventh homer of the season was part of a two more tallies in the second, giving the Isotopes an early 4-2 lead. Vilade struck again with an RBI double in a two run fourth inning, giving the visitors a 6-2 lead. Las Vegas chipped away but entering the ninth inning, the Isotopes still held a 6-5 advantage.
Unfortunately, Justin Lawrence wasn’t able to close it out. In the ninth, Lawrence allowed one walk, two hits and committed a throwing error on a pick-off throw to second base, setting the table for a walk-off win by the Aviators.
The Isotopes will travel back home tomorrow before starting a six game series at Rio Grande Credit Union Field against the Round Rock Express (TEX) on Wednesday.
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