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Should Rockies non-tender Hampson and Lambert to go for Hudson?

Rockies news and links for Friday, November 18, 2022

Today might be the last day Garrett Hampson is a Rockie. The same could be true for Peter Lambert.

At the same time, the Rockies also like to hang on to players, especially ones they’ve drafted, and maybe the organization will extend contract offers to them before MLB’s non-tender deadline expires today.

Back in 2019, both Hampson, the speedy utility player, and Lambert, who rose through the farm system with a solid fastball, changeup, and curveball that makes for “a package of pitches that’s going to play in the big leagues,” according to Bud Black, were promising prospects.

Hampson, the Rockies third-round draft pick in 2016, played in 26 games in 2018, including pinch running and scoring the tying run to send the Rockies and Brewers to extra innings in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. He finished that regular season hitting .275 with a .396 on-base percentage.

In the four seasons since, Hampson has maintained his ability for exciting plays at the plate and in the field. He hit 16 triples and stole 50 bases. At the same time, his batting average and on-base percentage have steadily decreased or stagnated. In 199 at-bats in 2022, Hampson hit .211 with a .287 OBP. After 1,158 at-bats in the big leagues, Hampson’s career batting average is .235 and his OBP is .296.

Speed isn’t really helpful if the speedy player can’t get on base. Hampson, like Raimel Tapia, has thrilling potential to make things happen. He’s had several opportunities to improve and claim a place on the Rockies roster, but couldn’t capitalize. In his first year of being arbitration eligible, he signed a one-year deal for $1,862,500 for 2022. For 2023, when he’ll be 28, Sportrac puts his estimated salary at $2,034,237.

It’s too much when the Rockies could save that money for an RHP with a high ground-ball rate. We’ll circle back to this.

Lambert, on the other hand, has had his potential stomped out by injuries. The Rockies 2015 second-round pick, Lambert arrived on the scene in record-breaking fashion, notching nine strikeouts in his MLB debut on June 6, 2019. On a sunny day at Wrigley Field, the 22-year-old righty gave up four hits, one run, and one walk in seven beautiful innings. He gave up his lone run in the sixth inning and closed out his appearance with four straight strikeouts. Oh, and he singled in his first MLB at-bat.

While he had a few more impressive outings, he mostly struggled, ending the season with a 7.25 ERA, a .321 average against, and a 1.74 WHIP. Then came the injury bug. He hurt his elbow and decided to have Tommy John surgery in July of 2020. He worked his way back to action by August of 2021, amassing seven rehab starts before returning to the Rockies on Sept. 24— 737 days since his last start in 2019.

It didn’t go so great, as he gave up two homers against the Giants in his first 3 2/3 innings and then another five runs in two innings against the Nationals. The results didn’t matter as much as being back, laying the groundwork to compete for a job in the starting rotation in 2022.

Instead, he started feeling pain in his elbow during the lockout and was then placed on the 10-day IL with forearm soreness in mid-April. From mid-May to June 1, Lambert made four appearances, giving up six runs on 11 hits with 11 strikeouts and six walks in 8 2/3 innings. Elbow trouble landed him back on the IL for the rest of the season, but he was able to make three appearances in the Arizona Fall League where he gave up seven runs on 12 hits with nine strikeouts and one walk over seven innings.

He’s been hit hard by injuries and since just been hit hard by batters, despite maintaining his ability to strike batters out at a high rate. Lambert, who will be 26 in 2023, signed a $762,500 deal for 2022. His ceiling remains high, but do the Rockies re-sign him or let him walk?

If they let him walk, the Rockies could roll the dice and try to bring in a pitcher like Dakota Hudson, who could become a free agent today if the Cardinals don’t tender him a contract. He had the worst season of his five-year career in 2022 when he posted a 4.45 ERA in 27 appearances and also was sent down to Triple-A several times. Hudson still had a 54.2% ground-ball rate in 2022 and it was 65.4 in 2021. The highest ground-ball rate in the Rockies starting rotation in 2022 was Antonio Senzatela at 50.8%, followed by José Ureña at 50.5% and Germán Márquez at 48.6%.

Hudson’s salary could come in at $2.7 million, close to Hampson’s and Lambert’s combined. The Rockies were interested in Hudson in the past when negotiating the return for Nolan Arenado. Now, it could be a great deal and a chance to improve the roster, which figures to change at least somewhat today.

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