Kyle Freeland’s 2018 campaign was arguably the best single-season pitching performance in Colorado Rockies’ franchise history. Already renowned as a local hero, the Coloradan posted spectacular surface stats with 17 wins and a 2.85 ERA across 202 ⅓ regular season innings while also throwing 6 ⅔ shutout innings in the Rockies lone postseason victory of the 2010’s.
Those results were supported by his 166 ERA+ and his overall production translated into an 8.3 fWAR. His magical season produced the best fWAR, ERA and ERA+ by a Rockies’ starter in a single season and his wins total tied the second highest mark by a Colorado hurler.
He accomplished all this while playing for a league-minimum salary of $550,000.
His production fell off a cliff in 2019, forcing the team to demote Freeland to the minor league ranks for a large portion of the season. He was able to return to the majors before the year ended and has since righted the ship in the last two seasons, hovering around 2 fWAR each year.
While his 2018 performance was memorable, it is apparent that the Freeland we have seen in 2020 and 2021 is the Freeland we can expect heading into 2022. Those previous seasons were his first arbitration-eligible seasons and - as a qualified Super-2 player - Freeland and the Rockies are staring down the final two team-controlled seasons before he is eligible for free agency.
After earning $5.02M in 2021, Freeland’s due for a raise in arbitration and his salary next season is projected to be in the $7M range. This salary is above-average for an arbitration-eligible starter due in large part to his 2018 season, but also held afloat by his consistency in the past two seasons.
If he is able to produce another campaign similar to (or better than) his last two, Freeland will likely be in-line to maintain the rise in his salary. That trajectory will ease the pressure of a contract-season for Freeland in 2023, allowing a fallback of his past three seasons as a selling point for his services.
From the Rockies’ perspective, a steady or improved Freeland in 2022 will make retaining his services past 2023 harder. A crop of farm hand pitchers like Chris McMahon, Karl Kauffman and Helcris Olivarez may be ready for a shot to take his spot in the rotation at that time, but their development remains to be seen and losing a productive Freeland would certainly be a hit to the team both on the field and in the public relations department.
So what could it take to sign him to an extension before then?
Well, Freeland’s standout 2018 season makes it tough to gage. You basically have 1992 Cy Young winner Tom Glavine and 2003 middle-of-the-rotation Tom Glavine in the same five-year package with a meteor impact crater season wedged in the middle. However, there is one fan-favorite stalwart pitcher that was signed to an extension during his final run in arbitration that could provide a baseline for a deal between Freeland and the Rockies: Danny Duffy.
Kyle Freeland vs. Danny Duffy
A member of Kansas City’s 2014 AL champion and 2015 World Series champion teams, Duffy emerged as a front-line starter for the Royals in 2016 and became a pillar of the organization. After settling on a $5M salary for the 2017 season, the two sides agreed to a five year, $65M extension in January of 2017. The extension would incorporate his existing 2017 arbitration salary and essentially add a four-year, $60M pact as the real extension.
Duffy was motivated to stay in K.C. If Freeland’s desire to continue calling Colorado home is the same, then a similar contract could be a realistic landing spot for he and the Rockies in extension negotiations. While Freeland’s 2018 does give him an edge over Duffy in many statistical measures, Duffy’s production in fWAR, ERA+ and win-probability added over the three seasons leading up to his extension actually eclipsed Freeland’s same totals the past three seasons.
At this point, it is expected that Freeland and the team let 2022 play out and use those numbers to set the market for a possible extension. But if Freeland produces another 2 fWAR season, the story will largely remain the same to what it already is: a beloved second or third starter nearing the end of arbitration that is well-removed from his standout peak season.
After the 2023 season, Charlie Blackmon’s salary will be off the books and the largest payouts of Nolan Arenado’s retained salary will be in the rear-view mirror. If the Rockies and Freeland want to continue their relationship past that season, the precedent for a five-year pact that incorporates his arbitration salary with a back-loaded AAV around $14M - $15M during the player’s free agent seasons already exists and could be a good deal for both sides.
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The DH may come for Coors Field. How might it change the most abundantly offensive park in MLB? | The Athletic ($)
Nick Groke weighs the pros and cons of the designated hitter coming to Coors Field. The Rockies average roughly one more run per-game with a position player in the lineup instead of a pitcher since 2016 while allowing about the same on the mound, however the issue is not as black-and-white as that.
Groke points out two key reasons on why the DH could benefit the Rockies. First, removing the need for a pinch-hitter could help Rockies starting pitchers last longer in a game that they would otherwise be removed from due to their spot in the lineup. This will subsequently lighten the load on the bullpen, allowing them appear without the issue being forced. Second, the designated hitter role can allow position players a reprieve from their defensive obligations, lessening the toll on their bodies over the course of a season in Colorado’s spacious park.
By all measures, Zac Veen’s debut season in 2021 was a success and Thomas Harding highlights some of the strides Veen’s mentally made in that time and how it may foreshadow future success. Harding calls back to Veen’s upbringing at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Florida, to show the dedication Veen has always had in achieving success. While Veen’s first month in Low-A Fresno started slow, it was the same work-ethic and mental fortitude Veen showed in Port Orange that helped him adjust to pro ball and could be an indication of things to come for the 20 year-old.
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