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Who should the Rockies be attempting to extend?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Monday, January 29, 2024

The major headlines around baseball of late has been regarding the Hall of Fame class of 2024 – including “Mr. Rockies” 1B Todd Helton finally getting enshrined. Outside of that news last week, it’s been a cold stove in Major League Baseball since the turn of the new year. The Colorado Rockies have never indicated much eagerness to make any major transactions this off-season, so it’s no surprise the club’s rumor mill is largely empty.

But, while the team may not be looking to land any big fish before camp breaks in February, there is still time for them to sure-up their existing talent pool. A larger trend this off-season has been clubs extending their pre-arb potential stars. The Milwaukee Brewers made the biggest investment, locking-up OF Jackson Chourio to an eight-year, $82MM deal in December – the largest contract to be signed before a player’s MLB debut.

The Detroit Tigers recently followed suit, signing 3B Colt Keith to a six-year contract worth a guaranteed $28.6425MM but with the potential to earn $82MM overall. This deal also comes before the former fifth-round selection from the 2020 draft has appeared in a big league game.

For a Rockies franchise dedicated towards a youth movement in an unofficial rebuild, the pre-arb extension route would seem like the best area to focus their attention on. This was an idea that we’ve already kicked-around last off-season with SS Ezequiel Tovar before he took over the starting SS position full-time.

The idea for Tovar remains valid after he put together a healthy and productive 2023 campaign. An unexpected name that forced his way into the conversation with Tovar last year is OF Nolan Jones, who made serious noise as a rookie with a historic 20/20 season in just 106 games – the fewest numbers of games for a player to post such numbers.

Both Tovar and Jones will not be eligible for arbitration until 2026, so the team still has cost-control on their young cornerstones. But the price will presumably rise the closer they get to that off-season, which is what is making these extensions more and more appealing to other clubs around the league.

As pointed-out in the Tovar column in November of 2022, the overwhelming majority of these deals are favorable for franchises – securing young talent at a lower rate than what they would earn through arbitration while often buying out at least some of their initial free agent eligible seasons.

Keeping Jones and Tovar in Colorado would likely please many Rockies fans while also representing a commitment by the organization to their new core. However, they are not the only players in the system that are worth consideration.

The farm system has been growing in recent seasons and still boasts a robust group of position players with high ceilings. The newest crown jewel is Adael Amador – widely-regarded as a top-25 prospect by the scouting community. With his rise to Double-A in 2022, Amador has made a strong case to be considered a “sure-thing” in Colorado’s future MLB roster.

While there is never such a guarantee, making the financial commitment before they prove themselves at the highest-level is the leverage clubs can use to save money in the long run.

Amador is the biggest name in the system currently, but the Rockies also have OFs Yanquiel Fernandez and Jordan Beck to consider after their large strides in 2023. That sentiment also applies to Sterlin Thompson after his strong showing in the Arizona Fall League while other former top draft selections Benny Montgomery, Drew Romo and Zac Veen also still largely figure in the club’s future.

The further down the prospect list you go, the bigger the risks become on any potential extension. No team locks up their whole farm system and generally lets the process play itself out naturally. But for a select few, the savvy move is to get ahead of the process and secure a cornerstone piece early – a strategy best displayed by the Atlanta Braves in recent years.

For the Rockies, the names at the top of the list for any such extension should be Jones and Tovar. However, it could be most beneficial for Adael Amador if he continues to ride the fast lane to Coors Field. Whether the franchise chooses to be aggressive in this manner is anyone’s guess. But, considering the current state of the franchise, it certainly would make a lot of sense.

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