Losing Estévez leaves Rox searching for setup man

December 6th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Rockies manager Bud Black said the Angels sought his reference in their pursuit of free-agent pitcher , but he told them, "Hey, wait a minute -- we’re still taking to Carlos, too.”

Alas, the Angels and Estévez reached a two-year, $13.5 million agreement on Monday, while the Rockies remain in need of filling one of their key holes.

The Rockies knew their chance of retaining Estévez, who made 321 appearances over six seasons with Colorado and at times held key roles, was iffy. When closer reached a two-year, $19 million extension before last year’s Trade Deadline, it meant Estévez would look elsewhere for a chance at a closer role (and the connected financials).

So, a day into the 2022 Winter Meetings, the Rockies must …

• Fill the right-handed setup role, with Estévez gone and righty out until the second half of the 2023 season as he recovers from right flexor tendon surgery.

• Improve a starting rotation that needs depth, even if it gets wire-to-wire consistency from and , as well as health and consistency from after his likely May return from left knee surgery.

• Bolster a lineup that needs a left-handed bat, power and a center fielder, preferably on a contract that doesn’t block the coming cadre of outfield prospects -- (a multi-tool corner outfielder who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Rockies' top prospect and the No. 23 prospect in baseball), (the Rockies' No. 22 prospect, but toolsy and slated for Triple-A Albuquerque) and (the Rockies' No. 6 prospect, though a year or more away from debuting in center field).

Here’s a look at where the holes are, and where the Rockies stand in filling them.

Bullpen: Righty , claimed from the Brewers after being traded by the Padres, posted a 4.05 ERA in 19 appearances (13 scoreless) for the Rockies, and Black projects him to help in the seventh and eighth innings. Lefty was claimed off waivers from the Brewers for his versatility, which means -- expected back healthy after an elbow injury shortened his season -- can pitch in a late, one-inning role. Younger relievers with late-inning potential, led by and , will be fed chances.

But general manager Bill Schmidt said, “We’re going to need to add, or try to add.”

Starting pitching: The Rockies re-signed righty José Ureña for one year. They expect development to continue for righty . They are confident lefty can regain a rotation spot and pitch the way he did in 2021, when he posted a 2.09 ERA in nine appearances at home.

But that’s a lot of hope for a rotation whose depth comes from righty and lefty , neither of whom threw a Major League pitch last season because of injury (elbow/forearm for Lambert, shoulder for Rolison). Righty received a late callup after a strong finish at Double-A Hartford, but he will need development time.

The improvement of the lower farm system – the reason for the No. 9 ranking at midseason by MLB Pipeline -- could allow the Rockies to trade to fill this need, either in the Majors or for Major League-ready talent.

“If the opportunity presented itself -- I think we have that type of talent now,” Schmidt said.

Lineup bat: is a left-handed hitter who can cover center at Coors. Because he is coming off a couple tough seasons, a short-term contract could help him rebuild his value -- and give prospects more time. The expectation that the prospects are the Rockies’ future means the club has little chance of signing , who is in line for a long and lucrative deal after his stellar performance with the Mets.

also could be a possibility, and he could put up big numbers at Coors should his broken hamate bone respond to surgery and treatment. But the Yankees, who liked Benintendi’s work in his limited time there, loom as a factor.