When five players—Chad Kuhl, Alex Colomé, José Iglesias, José Ureña, and Carlos Estévez—elected free agency and were subsequently removed from the 40-man roster to begin the MLB offseason, one could reasonably assume the Colorado Rockies weren’t going to make any further moves. At the very least they would stand pat until or after the MLB Winter Meetings in early December.
Then the Rockies announced earlier this week that they had traded outfielder Sam Hilliard to the Atlanta Braves for minor league reliever Dylan Spain. Admittedly I was unhappy when I first heard the news. Hilliard—despite a difficult 2022 campagin—is an overall pretty fantastic human being and someone I’ve grown quite fond of within the Rockies organization. Spain is a 24-year old High-A reliever that boasts an interesting running fastball but posted a 5.30 ERA in 56 games this last season.
What I didn’t think about at the time was what the move potentially signaled as the Rockies headed towards the free agency period: a willingness to start making tough decisions in order to cut down the roster.
The Rockies have frequently had a quite crowded outfield over the last several seasons. With the emergence of Sean Bouchard in left, Michael Toglia able to play right field, the return of Kris Bryant next season, and a smattering of other outfielders that includes Yonathan Daza and Randal Grichuk, Hilliard really didn’t have much of a chance to see regular playing time even if he cracked the roster. Now 29 years old, Hilliard struggled during the big league opportunities he was given in 2022. He had an OPS of just .544 in 200 plate appearances and struck out 28.5% of the time. The Rockies got at least something in exchange for Hilliard while freeing up a 40-man roster spot, and Hilliard gets a change of scenery where a new coaching staff might be able to help him find sustained success. As much as I loved having Sam Hilliard in purple, I think this ended up being a good move for all parties involved.
My suspicions grew even stronger yesterday when the Rockies announced another set of roster moves. Catcher Dom Nuñez and outfielder Ryan Vilade were claimed on waivers while three other players were outrighted off the 40-man roster.
The Rockies announced today the following roster moves:— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) November 9, 2022
- C Dom Nuñez has been claimed off waivers by San Francisco
- OF Ryan Vilade has been claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh
- LHP Ty Blach, LHP Helcris Olivarez and OF Wynton Bernard have been outrighted off the 40-man roster.
Nuñez—claimed by the San Francisco Giants—was a sixth round pick in 2013 but has failed to find his footing within the organization. He has never hit above .190 during parts of three total seasons where he appeared on the big league roster, nor has he hit above .250 in the minors since 2015. Nuñez has shown some flashes of power, but not consistently enough to earn regular playing time. Nuñez unfortunately became expendable with the Rockies depth chart at catcher seemingly set with Elias Díaz and Brian Serven, as well as multiple catching prospects like Hunter Goodman, Braxton Fulford, and Drew Romo impressing in the farm system.
Outfielder Ryan VIlade was another difficult decision that had to be made within the organization. Despite being only 23 years old and having already made his major league debut, the former second round pick out of Matt Holliday’s Stillwater, Oklahoma was tumbled down the prospect rankings. Vilade became one of the odd men out after a difficult 2022 season where he failed to break back into the big leagues and struggled to find rhythm with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. In 99 games with the Isotopes VIlade hit .249/.345/.352 while Sean Bouchard and Michael Toglia pushed past him on the depth chart and got significant big league playing time at the end of the season. With Zac Veen likely to be major league ready much sooner than expected and other outfielders like Benny Montgomery and Yanquiel Fernandez in the wings, Vilade really doesn’t have much fit left in the organization. If the Rockies were looking to trade him, it doesn’t seem like they found a suitor, but they ended up placing him on waivers to remove him from the 40-man roster. He was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and is much more likely to get a crack at the big league roster with that organization.
The three players outrighted off of the 40-man roster—Helcris Olivarez, Wynton Bernard, and Ty Blach—all could potentially return to the organization. Both Bernard and Blach are in their 30s and don’t represent the future of the team, while Olivarez made just one minor league appearance in 2022 and spent much of the year injured. It’s unsure when or even if Olivarez will be able to return to pitching.
With the trade of Hilliard and the waiving of Nuñez and Vilade, the Rockies are looking prepared to make difficult decisions in regards to their roster and clearing space. They now have eight open spots on the 40-man with more likely to come. This will allow them to protect most of the players they want from the upcoming Rule-5 draft like Coco Montes, Warming Bernabel, or Aaron Schunk. It also enables them to more easily bring in free agents when the window opens up this afternoon, or even to make trades. I have a gut feeling utility man Garrett Hampson might be traded despite the organization being high on him—much like Hilliard. The Rockies need to be able to make tough decisions like this to clean up roster bloat and logjams and if they do the organization can move forward with future plans.
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With the MLB free agency window set to open this afternoon, Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt is attending the GM meetings with the purpose of preparing to make moves. According to Thomas Harding of MLB.com his goal focuses strongly on bringing more pitching to the Mile High City.
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Arizona Fall League
Rockies batters went a combined 1-for-11 in the win against the Scorpions, with Warming Bernabel having the only hit via a single in the ninth inning. Grant Lavigne drew a walk and scored. No Rockies pitchers appeared in this game.
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