Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote an article exploring the early arbitration cases for the Colorado Rockies. The team ended up cutting ties with just two players in that initial group, outrighting Ty Blach and non-tendering Garrett Hampson (Blach was later re-signed to a minor league deal). Heading into the offseason, the Rockies once again find themselves in a position to make some and shape the roster for 2024 by how they address the seven players currently eligible for arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors has a handy article full of projections that will be a basis for this article today.
Position Players Arbitration
Once again, Brendan Rodgers is a presumed lock for reaching an agreement for the 2024 season. After earning $2.7 million in 2023, MLB Trade Rumors projects a salary of $3.3 million for Rodgers heading into 2024. Rodgers missed most of 2023 due to a shoulder injury in March and struggled once he returned in August.
He did end on a hot streak with a strong month of September in which he batted .290/.343/.460 with four home runs in 26 games. Rodgers still feels like a player that has yet to break out, but injuries have continued to plague him. The Rockies are likely to give him one more season, but perhaps a trade could manifest itself this offseason to bring in controllable pitching, especially with top prospect Adael Amador right around the corner.
For all intents and purposes, Harold Castro’s arbitration decision should be fairly clear-cut. As outlined in his review in the Ranking the Rockies, Castro provided little value to the Rockies in 2023. Castro is eligible for two years of arbitration still and is projected to be in the ballpark of a $1.8 million contract. As a veteran utility player who didn’t provide much offensive output and subpar/passable defense, the Rockies would be wise to cut him loose in favor of youth and/or other players that can be used purely as a bench piece utility player.
The Rockies loved the contributions of Austin Wynns as a mentor and player-coach for the pitching staff. In 45 games behind the dish, Wynns had a 5.23 ERA working with the pitchers, which isn’t too shabby all things considered, but it’s tough to ignore the fact that he doesn’t provide any offensive value.
Now, with that aside, the Rockies could feel like they could easily swallow the $1 million projected salary for Wynns because they value his influence as a backup catcher. With Elías Díaz entering his final season, and Drew Romo waiting in the wings, the backup catcher position is still up in the air, and having a veteran entering his age 33 season could be a necessity in their eyes. I mean, they did keep Drew Butera around for way longer than they should have. Still, from a pure player standpoint, $1 million for Wynns is way too much money.
The starting rotation was in shambles for 2023, but Austin Gomber was a stable backbone of the rotation for the majority of the year. He managed to set career-highs in starts (27) and innings pitched (139) in 2023 while also posting a 5.50 ERA. Gomber is in his second year of arbitration and is projected for a salary bump to $3.3 million, a significant raise from his $1.6 million contract from this past season.
It’s a reasonable salary for a starting pitcher under control until 2026 entering his age 30 season, but there are still concerns with Gomber. Namely, back injuries continue to linger with him as he finished the season on the injured list with lower back inflammation. Gomber has also been inconsistent and hasn’t shown much improvement in three seasons with Colorado. He’s likely to stick around out of necessity, but one still wonders if the Rockies could drop or trade him and look for a different arm.
Peter Lambert is in a weird place still with the Rockies roster. Technically speaking, this is Lambert’s first year being eligible for arbitration, but that’s because his service time is so weird due to his injuries. Still, he is slated to become a free agent following the 2026 season and MLB Trade Rumors projected him for a $1.2 million salary in 2024 after making $750,000 in 2023.
Lambert will turn 27 in April of next season and did show promise at times this season when he pitched a total of 87 1⁄3 innings over 25 games, including 11 starts. His first full season back from injury ended with a combination of him reaching his workload limit and right bicep tendinitis. Lambert is again likely slotted to begin the year in the rotation, but can the Rockies continue to afford to hold on and wait for him to put everything together while still worrying about the health of his arm? He provides depth but like any pitcher on the roster, his role shouldn’t be locked in without due diligence looking for a potential upgrade.
The hope is that Lucas Gilbreath will be ready and able to pitch at the start of spring training, or at least early in the 2024 season. Gilbreath missed all of 2023 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in early March. He has spent the entire year rehabbing and making TikTok videos chronicling his journey. Gilbreath’s value as a power lefty out of the bullpen was sorely missed in 2023, as the team relied heavily on Brent Suter. A modest $800,000 contract is projected for Gilbreath and a healthy season in 2024 is of the utmost importance for Gilbreath moving forward after two stellar seasons in 2021 and 2022. His spot on the roster is safe.
Finally, we have Ty Blach who found himself in this same type of situation last year. As mentioned, he was outrighted off the 40-man roster and chose to become a free agent before re-signing with the team. Blach began the year primarily as a reliever for the Rockies and was then designated for assignment at the end of April. He remained with the organization in Triple-A until injuries necessitated his return at the end of June.
From July 23 to the end of the season, Blach was a regular in the starting rotation and turned in solid efforts, mainly due to the fact he was giving the team at least five innings most of the time. He had a strong month in August but faltered in September where he allowed at least four runs in five of his six starts. Blach will be 33 next season and is projected for a $1.8 million salary after earning $1.1 million this season. The Rockies like him, but it would again be wise to cut him loose and let him look for opportunity elsewhere before revisiting a reunion based on depth.
Offseason of decisions
Arbitration is an important part of this offseason. Those eligible won’t cost a hefty sum, but a number of the players just weren’t valuable to the team in 2023 and the team can save and/or allocate at least $4.6 million to other areas of need. The Rockies are in a rebuild whether they like it or not, they must consider every option to try and improve the team heading into an important 2024 season.
As a supplemental piece to this article, Thomas Murray points out the three veterans mentioned in this article that should likely be non-tendered this offseason.
Shifting to the playoffs, the current debate revolves around the current playoff format that results in five days off for the teams with first-round byes. Rockies fans know all too well the detrimental effect that extended layovers can have but since it’s the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers struggling, many are grabbing their pitchforks and screaming for change. Matt Snyder offers a rebuttal to this argument in his article.
Arizona Fall League
It was a big night offensively for the Rafters, but a relatively quiet night for Rockies prospects. Sterlin Thompson started in right field and went 1-for-4 with a run scored and a walk while Drew Romo started behind the plate and went 0-for-3 with a run scored and a walk. Jaden Hill tossed an inning on the mound, allowing one run on one hit while tallying a strikeout.
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