This week Major League Baseball held their first in-person Winter Meetings since before the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2019. Executives and baseball personnel flocked to sunny San Diego, California to mingle, hob-nob, and rub shoulders with their counterparts from the 29 other organizations while working to sign players, cut deals, and attend to other league business. It was a busy four days in what some call “America’s Finest City.” Jacob deGrom was handed a massive five year, $185 million deal with the Texas Rangers while Justin Verlander put ink to paper with the New York Mets. Aaron Judge and his agent masterfully played the New York Yankees for a colossal nine year, $360 million contract and Trea Turner is now signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for the next 11 years. Fans of the Colorado Rockies might be disappointed with their quite quiet Winter Meetings in comparison.
While other big league clubs added talent during free agency negotiations, the Rockies unfortunately lost it. Right-handed reliever Carlos Estévez—the longest tenured member of the Rockies pitching staff—signed a two year contract with the Los Angeles Angels on Monday. Estévez will be paid $13.3 million with the Angels and have the opportunity to become their closer. With Daniel Bard extended at the trade deadline, Estévez was unlikely to get a closing opportunity with the Rockies. General manager BIll Schmidt and manager Bud Black both said the Rockies were negotiating with Estévez’ camp, but ultimately the hard-throwing late innings man chose to take his talents elsewhere.
“We’ve expressed to Carlos our interest in him returning,” Schmidt said prior to the Winter Meetings. “But needless to say, his agent is going to do what’s right for them.”
The Rockies’ lone signing at the Winter Meetings came on Wednesday afternoon, when they signed utility infielder Cole Tucker to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to spring training. Tucker—a former top prospect of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization—has a career line of .211/.259/.314 through parts of four seasons at the big league level. He battled injuries in 2022 with multiple stints on the IL, and was designated for assignment by the Pirates at the end of May. He was claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and spent the rest of the season with the Triple-A Reno Aces where he had an OPS of .622 in 128 plate appearances. Tucker is just 26 years old and could be a potential depth piece for the Rockies if he can make the cut this spring.
The Rule 5 Draft
The highlight of the final day was the Rule 5 draft, in which the Rockies selected three players away from other organizations.
RHP Kevin Kelly - Cleveland Guardians
A former 19th round pick out of James Madison, Kevin Kelly is a right-handed reliever who spent the 2022 with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks and Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He posted an ERA of just 2.04 across both levels and could be considered close to big league ready. However, the Rockies quickly dealt him to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations.
The Rockies have selected RHP Kevin Kelly from Cleveland in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft and have traded him to Tampa Bay in exchange for cash considerations.— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) December 7, 2022
LHP Eli Lingos - Cleveland Guardians
In the minor league phase the Rockies took another Cleveland pitcher in the left-handed Eli Lingos. Drafted by Cleveland in the 22nd round of the 2018 draft, Lingos has been praised for his leadership abilities and can serve as a much needed lefty out of the bullpen. In his age 26 season Lingos pitched with an ERA of 3.13 across Double-A and Triple-A. He was mostly a starter in college with Arizona State but has largely been converted to relief. In addition to his four seam fastball Lingos commands a changeup and curveball effectively.
RHP Nick Kuzia - Detroit Tigers
This is the second time right-handed reliever Nick Kuzia has been selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The Detroit Tigers took him from the San Diego Padres in 2021. Kuzia is on the older side and will be 27 going into the 2023 season. He relies on a sinker-slider mix and also throws a four seam fastball. His sinker sits in the low-to-mid 90s while his slider—the primary strikeout pitch—sits in the low 80s. In 35 appearances with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves Kuzia had an ERA of 5.18 over 48 2⁄3 innings while tallying 49 strikeouts. He pitched 7 1⁄3 innings with the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens with a 3.68 ERA
Taken from the Rockies
The Rockies lost two players to other organizations in the Rule 5 Draft. Mateo Gil—part of the return the Rockies got from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Nolan Arenado—was selected by the New York Mets. Gil hit .247/.305./408 in 2022 with the High-A Spokane Indians. OF/IF Isaac Collins—drafted by the Rockies in the 9th round of the 2018 draft from Creighton—was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers. Collins hit .221/.337/.347 with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats in 2022.
In the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the Rockies selected LHP Eli Lingos (Cleveland) and RHP Nick Kuzia (Detroit).— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) December 7, 2022
INF/OF Isaac Collins (Milwaukee) and INF Mateo Gil (New York-NL) were each selected from the Rockies in the Minor League phase.
In addition to trading Rule 5 selection Kevin Kelly to the Rays, the Rockies swapped relievers with the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. RHP Chad Smith was sent to Oakland in exchange for right-handed starter Jeff Criswell. Criswell’s key pitch is his slider, a strong whiff pitch with vertical break that works well against right-handed hitters. He also has a fastball with sinking action that sits in the mid 90s but can top out at 97 MPH. Skyler Timmins covered the trade in more depth yesterday.
While the Rockies had a quiet week in San Diego, there is still work to be done. Their 40-man roster has two open spaces and they are in need of bullpen help. As we go into the long dark of winter, Rockies fans must hope for their team to make additional moves before the world awakens in the spring.
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Rockies beat writer for MLB.com Thomas Harding discusses the takeaways of the Rockies Winter Meetings and what the Rockies need to do in order to continue shaping the team over the winter.
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