Offseason In Review: Colorado Rockies

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Despite three straight losing seasons, the Rockies believe in their core and backed it up with a series of extensions, along with one huge free agent strike.

Major League Signings

Options Exercised

  • Charlie Blackmon, OF: exercised $21MM player option. (Blackmon also has a $10MM player option for 2023 and has already said he will exercise that option as well.)

Trades and Claims

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

Notable Losses

The Rockies have long had a reputation for loyalty, often filling their front office vacancies from within. The most recent evidence of this was last year’s hiring of Bill Schmidt to replace departing general manager Jeff Bridich. Schmidt has been with the Rockies since 1999 and became interim GM in May of last year. The “interim” tag was dropped from his title just as the regular season was winding down in early October, allowing Schmidt to head into his first offseason as the one making the baseball decisions.

Schmidt decided to pay that loyalty forward to the players, as he handed out extensions to four members of the roster. Just a few days after officially becoming GM, even before the playoffs were done and the offseason began in earnest, C.J. Cron and Antonio Senzatela were signed to stick around. In Cron’s case, he was a few weeks away from hitting free agency. Senzatela was still two years away from the open market, but the club also announced his extension on the same day as Cron’s, keeping him in the mountains through at least 2026, with a club option for 2027.

A few weeks later, it was Elias Diaz’s turn. The catcher had one year of team control remaining, but the club gave him a three-year deal, allowing them to hold on to him for an extra two seasons. After the lockout, the Rockies managed to get one more player to put pen to paper, signing Ryan McMahon to a five-year extension that bought out his final two years of arbitration eligibility and his first three free agent years. (However, McMahon can earn the right to opt out of the deal if he becomes an MVP contender.)

The club’s apparent faith in their guys is admirable, though it often clashes with the way they are viewed from the outside. In February of 2020, owner Dick Monfort predicted a 94-win season for the club, despite the fact that they were coming off a 71-91 finish in 2019 and hadn’t made any significant outside additions. After the pandemic reduced the season to just 60 games, Colorado ended up going 26-34. Given the unprecedented nature of that bizarre year, it would have been understandable if they didn’t want to drastically alter their view of their own organization. However, they did trade away Nolan Arenado after a public spat between the star and the team. Despite that, the faith remained, as Monfort had this to say in the wake of the Arenado deal in February of 2021: “I truly in my heart believe that this is a very talented team that underperformed the last couple of years. I’m not even going to count last year because it was a difficult year, but I think we underperformed.” Despite that belief in the core, it was another disappointing season in 2021, as the club went 74-87, staring way up at the Giants and Dodgers, who topped the division with 107 and 106 wins, respectively.

There won’t be 100% continuity, though, as there will be a couple of significant players absent. As last year’s trade deadline neared, the Rockies were sitting on a record of 46-59, 13 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. They had a couple of quality regulars in Jon Gray and Trevor Story who made for logical trade chips as they were both heading into free agency at season’s end. However, both players stayed in Colorado beyond the deadline, something that left Story feeling confused. In Gray’s case, the club made an attempt to extend him with an offer in the $35-40MM range, an offer he wisely turned down, eventually securing a $56MM guarantee from the Rangers. The Rockies curiously declined to make him a qualifying offer, meaning they received no compensation for his departure, making the lack of deadline deal all the more confounding. In Story’s case, though he hung around free agency past the lockout, it never seemed like there were much interest in bringing him back to Colorado. He eventually signed with the Red Sox, with the Rockies at least receiving a draft pick due to his rejection of the qualifying offer.

The period between the end of the season and the lockout was fairly quiet for the Rockies, at least in terms of new additions. In addition to the aforementioned extensions, they also re-signed Jhoulys Chacin in November. At the end of November, just before the lockout, their interest in Kris Bryant was first reported. But at the time, that seemed to be something of a pipe dream, as he was predicted to sign a contract in the range of $160MM, while the Rockies had never given a free agent more than the $70MM they gave to Ian Desmond. The lockout came with Bryant still unsigned and the Rockies still without the power bat they desired.

During the lockout, with transactions frozen, the club focused on in-house matters, extending manager Bud Black’s contract by another year. He was set to enter a lame-duck season in 2022 but now has a bit of extra security. As for other internal matters, the club fired director of research and development Scott Van Lenten, whom they had just hired months earlier in an attempt to pay catch-up in the analytics game. Though we don’t know exactly what the “major disagreements” were that led to the firing, it’s fair to wonder if this is another example of the club’s commitment to certain approaches actually becoming an alienating stubbornness.

Although teams were forbidden from contacting players and agents during the lockout, word trickled out that the Rockies had some interest in Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto as alternate routes to adding some power to their outfield mix. However, once the lockout ended and communications re-opened, it became clear that Colorado’s interest in Conforto was mild, and Schwarber quickly signed with the Phillies.

The Rockies’ first significant addition in the post-lockout period was adding Jose Iglesias, a low-cost move designed to fill the shortstop vacancy left by Story. That was followed by yet another low-cost move, adding Chad Kuhl to take Gray’s rotation spot. Alex Colome was then added to the bullpen mix. Those three additions combined for just a $12.1MM increase to the club’s payroll.

The big move was still to come, as reports started emerging that the club was aggressively pursuing Bryant. Although they reportedly considered other options like Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler and Corey Dickerson, their desire for Bryant never wavered and they eventually landed him on a seven-year, $182MM contract, more than doubling their Desmond deal. The Rockies finally had the big slugger and face-of-the-franchise superstar they desired, taking the mantle previously held by Arenado and Story.

That would certainly be the biggest move of their offseason, though they managed to add a bit more pop to the outfield by acquiring Randal Grichuk from the Blue Jays, sacrificing the speed and contact profile of Raimel Tapia, who went to Toronto. The club’s payroll is currently projected at $134MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, just a bit shy of their franchise record of $145MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

In the end, a lot of the core is being carried over. Gray, Story and Tapia are out. Bryant, Grichuk, Iglesias, Kuhl and Colome are in. Whether that latter group marks a significant improvement over the former is a matter of debate. (For what it’s worth, Gray, Story and Tapia produced 6.2 fWAR last year, while the latter group was worth 5.0.) As much as Bryant makes sense for the team, he alone can’t turn a 74-win team into a 94-win one. There isn’t likely to be much help coming from the farm either, as each of FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus have just one Colorado farmhand on their top prospect lists: 20-year-old Zac Veen, who has only played A-ball in his lone season in the professional ranks.

In order for the Rockies to perform better than they have in the past three years and get back to postseason contention, they will need that core to step forward. Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, Garrett Hampson, Connor Joe, Sam Hilliard, Kyle Freeland, and Austin Gomber are the players who will have to justify the team’s faith and prove they’re capable of either greater production or consistency than they’ve shown so far.

While it may be hard to see the club’s plan at times, it’s at least admirable that they believe they can win and are acting like it. Though that may seem more like a baseline expectation than something to boast about, it’s certainly not something that can be said of every team these days.

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