One month ago, the Rockies could have expected a serious prospect haul for starting pitcher Chad Kuhl, one of the club’s top trade candidates.
In July alone, Kuhl has seen his season ERA jump from a 3.49 to a 4.48. His last start was a season-worst 2 1⁄3 innings in Milwaukee. With the Dodgers lining up to be Kuhl’s final opponent until the August 2 trade deadline, his trade candidacy could remain bleak until it’s too late to send him elsewhere.
The 44-53 Colorado Rockies have a run differential of -67, the fourth-worst figure in the National League. There is currently a seven-game deficit standing between the Rockies and the NL’s third and final wildcard spot, and the chances of receiving one of those berths is approximately 0.0%, says the harsh projections of FanGraphs.
Many will view those chances as an indicator to sell at the trade deadline, but it will likely take the departure of the Rockies’ only All-Star (C.J. Cron) or an almost-All-Star (Daniel Bard) to generate a substantial return.
Of the Rockies’ trade candidates, Kuhl has seen perhaps the biggest change in recent performance. It leaves us to wonder what his role could be for a contender, and if his services have retained value despite his recent cold streak.
Three Seasons of Colorado Trade Deadlines: How Is 2022 Different?
In 2020, the Rockies were slight buyers at the trade deadline. They brought in reliever Mychal Givens in hopes to bolster the bullpen and squeak into a 16-team postseason, along with Kevin Pillar, a true outfielder that could boost some offense.
In 2021, Colorado held on to their assets at the trade deadline. They had the fourth-worst record in baseball on July 31 of last year, but their primary targets for trades — Trevor Story, Jon Gray, Daniel Bard and C.J. Cron — finished the season in the Mile High City.
In 2022, the Rockies have a near-identical winning percentage to where they were a year ago, but their trade targets are far from equal. Cron remains a target, as does Daniel Bard, but recent extensions for veterans have pushed other Rockies players away from the trading block.
A prospect haul for 28-year-old Trevor Story reasons a little different than one for 32-year-old José Iglesias, for example. The loss of standout reliever Tyler Kinley has also limited the potential of a deadline-driven prospect haul this year, leaving just a few trade candidates like Kuhl in mind.
What Role Can Kuhl Fill?
With just months remaining on his current contract, any team looking to invest developmental time into Kuhl would likely hold out until he hits the open market this winter (like Yency Almonte, Los Angeles Dodgers). For Kuhl’s immediate use, this would suggest that only a postseason contender with a struggling rotation would negotiate for help out of an emergency starter and/or long reliever.
The St. Louis Cardinals, for example, have a 4.07 ERA among their starters (ranking 18 of 30) and are holding ground in the final NL wildcard spot by a half-game. Should the Cardinals lose a starter for even the shortest stint on the injured list, or from a spell of poor performance, they will be forced to either 1. trust a young prospect in the heat of a postseason race, or 2. pursue a cost-effective option with 500 innings of MLB service to his name.
The Rockies currently use Ty Blach as an emergency starter and long reliever. Kuhl’s acquisition by an outside team could be along those same lines.
It is far from the projections that some may have expected when Kuhl held a 3.49 ERA entering July, but not all is lost from a player that simply lost his momentum at a challenging time. Any team with a setback to their rotation between now and August 2 could enter the running; this alone could up Kuhl’s trade value, independent of his own July.
Can the Rockies Navigate the Void?
Here we have the big premise: If the Rockies front office felt the 2021 season couldn’t be finished adequately without Jon Gray, is a similar rationale in play for a 2022 finish without Kuhl?
The surprisingly-strong performance from José Ureña has filled out the rotation enough for Colorado to consider taking chances. Ty Blach remains a starter candidate, and Ryan Feltner (3.83 ERA in Triple-A) also waits in the wings. A Kuhl-less rotation would be managed easier with a healthy Ryan Rolison or Peter Lambert, but the Rockies’ starting pitcher depth in 2022 still appears deeper than that of 2021.
Perhaps Jon Gray would have departed last year with the (still limited, but slightly less limited) MLB-ready starter reserve the Rockies now showcase.
If a motive remains to finish the season as strong as possible, one can expect Kuhl will stay in a Rockies uniform. The void can be navigated far better than before, however, and perhaps the only limiting factor is the willingness of other teams to put a package together.
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Kris Bryant was held out of Monday’s lineup in Milwaukee with an injury described as a “gradual thing” by manager Bud Black. The Rockies return home to face the White Sox this evening and Bryant’s status for the upcoming two-game set could indicate the severity of his foot discomfort. He hit a two-run home run on Sunday while battling through it.
José Iglesias is also mentioned in this feature: he fouled a ball off his foot in the second inning on Monday and while he did finish the at-bat, he was removed from the game shortly after.
For the first time since 2017, the Chicago White Sox will make their way to Denver to take on the Rockies. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Sun Times forecasts the two-game set through opposing eyes, detailing the hot starting rotation of the White Sox, the freshness of outfielders Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jiménez, and the unfamiliar transition of an American League squad to Colorado elevation.
Old friend alert. (Remember when Colorado’s Jake McGee suited up for the 2017 WBC?)
(Is Kris Bryant the next Rockie to don the red, white and blue, and/or has Daniel Bard proven himself to be a candidate alongside relievers like Josh Hader?)
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On the Farm
Monday, July 27: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates
New series starting today:
Triple-A: Las Vegas Aviators (OAK) vs. Albuquerque Isotopes (COL)
Double-A: Portland Sea Dogs (BOS) at Hartford Yard Goats (COL)
High-A: Spokane Indians (COL) at Tri-City Dust Devils (LAA)
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) at Modesto Nuts (SEA)
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