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Perusing the top remaining infield free agents

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, January 4, 2022

As I walk through stores, I often like to visit the clearance rack. I love myself a good bargain (mostly because I’m strapped for cash) and a clearance rack can be full of goodies and trinkets that one could buy at a reasonable price. The leftovers following a holiday present a tantalizing assortment of Christmas candy and gifts that are discounted because they just weren’t able to be sold in time (or they just aren’t good in the first place).

This got me thinking, the Colorado Rockies and I aren’t so different. They are the type of team that often prefers to pick over what’s left in the free agent market in the hopes they can find a player at a discounted price and then try to maximize that value. We are seeing that with the vast number of minor league deals being signed, including a notable one for Cole Tucker. So, today I wanted to peruse the free agent market and look at what the top available option is at each infield position according to FanGraphs’ version of WAR.

Catcher: Gary Sanchez (2.8 fWAR)

If the Rockies want to just inject pure “go big or go home” energy into their lineup, Gary Sanchez is the bat to do just that. Since his debut in 2015 with the New York Yankees, there has never been a question about his power potential. Among active catchers since 2015, only Salvador Perez has more home runs (179) than Sanchez (154). Unfortunately for Sanchez, the fact that he is striking out 26.9% of the time and has seen his batting average struggle to stay above .200 each season is a big red flag for any inquiring team.

And then there is the case of his defense. One of the sticking points during his Yankees tenure was the fact that Sanchez is somewhat of a subpar backstop. The main culprit was his lack of blocking ability as he has allowed the second-most passed balls since 2015 among catchers with at least 1000 innings played. To his credit, 2022 was one of his better years defensively, mainly because he was no longer the everyday backstop. He rotated through more often, and he actually converted more non-strike pitches (47.2%) than Elias Díaz (43.9%) and saved more runs because of it (1 vs. -7), while also having a faster pop time and throwing out more base runners.

Likelihood: Maybe. The Rockies will likely run it back with Díaz and Brian Serven, and Sanchez may cost too much for a one-year deal, plus there is already some crowding at the DH spot as well. They are likely to just build depth with minor league deals and give Serven some competition in spring training.

First Base: Brandon Belt (3.4 fWAR)

For 12 years the Rockies have been victim to the likes of Brandon Belt. At Coors Field alone, Belt has swatted 16 home runs and driven in 47 runs in 82 games with a tOPS+ of 128. For most of his career, he has been a fairly reliable bat, good for at least 15 home runs, a solid batting average, and a strong OPS. Not to mention he has also been a solid glove at first base, but therein lies the problem.

The Rockies are fairly blocked up at the corner infield positions. They have Elehuris Montero and Michael Toglia itching to get playing time, and first base is their apparent destination. That’s fine, but C.J. Cron is also still on the roster. Adding Brandon Belt to the mix just makes things more complicated because you also have Charlie Blackmon as the preferred DH in conjunction with the likes of Montero. There is also the fact that Belt is returning from knee surgery in September 2022, and he had a terrible season, posting a .676 OPS in 78 games at the age of 34.

Likelihood: Not very. Belt would be a phenomenal bat to add, a Jason Giambi type if you will, but he is more likely to find an everyday role somewhere else.

Second Base: Josh Harrison (3.7 fWAR)

In the scenario that the Rockies actually end up trading Brendan Rodgers, it would be up in the air as to who would take over the position. There are plenty of in-house options like Coco Montes, Alan Trejo, and even Ryan McMahon. However, they could also go the free agent route and bring in someone like Josh Harrison. 2022 was another solid year for Harrison as he played in 119 games for the Chicago White Sox. He batted a solid .256/.317/.370 with seven home runs and 27 RBI while displaying some versatility around the infield and outfield.

Now, he is 35 years old. So, he’s not exactly the fountain of youth you’d like to see injected into an everyday role with the Rockies at this point. However, if they’d like to add a veteran presence on the bench who can fill in as needed, then by all means take a look at him. But, given his age and the needs of the team, the Rockies shouldn’t look too closely.

Likelihood: Maybe, only if the price is right and he isn’t given a regular role in the lineup.

Third Base: Donovan Solano (1.8 fWAR)

Luckily for the Rockies, the hot corner is pretty well taken care of thanks to Ryan McMahon and their other infield prospects. Donovan Solano is not only 35, but his stats aren’t anything earth-shattering that you just need to have him on your team. He makes consistent contact as evident by his .284/.339/.385 slash line, but he falls into the same case as Josh Harrison. You can add him as a veteran bench option, but you could get the same results by taking a chance on a prospect that has his entire career in front of him still.

Defensively he won’t give the team much versatility. He mainly played the corner infield spots for the Cinncinatti Reds in 2022, and he fared better at first base, because then he didn’t have to make the same plays and throws like he would elsewhere.

Likelihood: It’s the Rockies, so you never know (looks at Chris Owings), but it it doesn’t seem likely.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus (5.1 fWAR)

After what looked like he was just treading water in his career, Elvis Andrus turned in a solid 2022 campaign and is the top shortstop free agent currently (pending Carlos Correa doesn’t jump ship to another team on a mega-deal). Batting a meager .237./301/.373 with eight home runs in 106 games with the Oakland Athletics, Andrus eventually found himself with the White Sox for the rest of the season. He became a revelation for them in their time of need and belted nine home runs while batting .271/.309/.464 in 43 games. So, he could be an attractive option to a team in need of a shortstop.

In the Rockies’ case, however, they are handing the keys of the kingdom to Ezequiel Tovar. Andrus is another player pushing 35, so it makes more sense to turn to a young prospect like Tovar, hence the reason the Rockies didn’t stick with Jose Iglesias beyond 2022. Now, if Andrus was willing to take that bench role, and basically help be a mentor to Tovar, then great. But like others on this list, these veterans want to play every day, and the Rockies really only have spots on the bench to put them.

Likelihood: Unless something catastrophic happens, Tovar is the future.

Infield Results

Like many clearance racks, the infield one was pretty sparse. The Rockies are already well taken care of at most infield positions and adding more to the mix doesn’t clear a path to their future plans. Out of the positions, the catcher is perhaps the one that needs some sort of addressing.

Either way, the infield seems set, the team mostly needs pitching and to figure out the plan for the outfield. Something I hope to address next time.

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9 players looking for fresh start after tough Year 1 of new deals | MLB.com

I’ll give you one guess as to what Rockies player is on this list.

That’s right, Kris Bryant earned a spot on this list, and for good reason. Injuries limited him to just 42 games, but he was fairly solid when he was in the lineup, but the crazy fact remains that Bryant still doesn’t have a home run at Coors Field in a Rockies uniform.

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