Does Blackmon have long-term future with Rox?

December 5th, 2019

DENVER -- There is every reason to believe right fielder is a key part of the Rockies’ 2020 plans. A '19 season in which he was one of the most productive players in the National League -- and better than average defensively when not at spacious Coors Field -- makes him valuable.

But given the Rockies’ tight payroll that could be dealing with at least one more mega-contract in the next few years, does trading Blackmon help the team more?

Disclaimer: The Rockies have made no noise about trading Blackmon, whose deal pays $77 million over the next four seasons, with incentives that could add another $8 million. Blackmon’s production from the leadoff spot over six seasons led manager Bud Black to tinker with him in the cleanup role during the final weeks of last season.

But this is the musing season, and intriguing moves are in fact made when teams gather -- as they will next week in San Diego for the Winter Meetings. And this issue is worth mulling over.

Late in the regular season, Blackmon, who turns 34 on July 1, considered the possibility, while stating he believes in a club that went to the postseason in 2017 and '18, and hopes for more winning in Denver.

“I don’t really worry about it a whole lot, because it’s not my decision,” Blackmon said. “I am more worried about my teammates and trying to get better myself, and things that are going to help the here-and-now Rockies.

“I guess if I were to look at that situation, I would say it’s a good thing. If there is value out there to be had, that means that I’m doing my job. I think that I’m a player that can make a team good. That’s why I’m here. We want to be a good team. I hope it stays that way.”

The pros and cons of parting with Blackmon run up against one big con -- “contender.”

The Rockies believe that with a rebound from some pitchers, they are postseason-worthy with largely the same lineup. Not everyone agrees. After the 2019 collapse, teams came calling for talented starting pitcher Jon Gray, expecting the Rockies to unload his arbitration-fed salary rather than load expectations on his right arm. This week, the internet buzzed with suggestions the Rockies should deal third baseman Nolan Arenado and/or shortstop Trevor Story.

So, especially with the lack of buzz about the Rockies trading, we’ll start with the reasons to hold onto Blackmon.

He’s still productive: Over his best two seasons, 2016-17, Blackmon hit .327 with 66 home runs and a .968 OPS. While his 2018 slash line of .291/.358/.502 represented a drop-off, Blackmon rebounded in '19, hitting .314/.364/.576.

2019 finished on the upswing: Blackmon earned National League Player of the Month in June with a .412 average and 10 homers, but his numbers dipped in July, as he hit .256 with one homer. However, a .305 average and .553 slugging percentage with 11 homers in the final two months showed that he overcame the wear and tear of the season. Also, Blackmon batted .295 on the road in the second half.

Blackmons don’t grow on trees: By season’s end, the Rockies saw Blackmon as a leader as much as a key lineup piece. Granted, there are options to join David Dahl in the outfield. Raimel Tapia hit .290 during the second half and profiles in a platoon with Ian Desmond. Late-August callup Sam Hilliard hit seven homers in 27 games. Garrett Hampson, an infielder by trade, shows traits of above-average play in all three outfield positions, and he had an encouraging offensive finish to '19. Still, the Rockies believe leadership is an important trait, and they're looking to Blackmon for it.

That said, the Rockies are believed to be looking to unload high-priced relievers Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee for financial relief that could help with a tight 2020 payroll. But let’s say the Rockies don’t hang onto Blackmon. How could that potentially help?

A big spending cut: Arenado has become a $35 million-a-year player, Story could be in for a large multi-year deal, and several who participated in postseason runs will soon be making bigger money. The Rockies already parted ways with outfielder Carlos González and second baseman DJ LeMahieu and replaced them with Dahl and Ryan McMahon. And should a deal not only provide financial relief but bring a much-needed catcher, possibly a true center fielder or the Rockies’ favorite holiday item -- young, controllable pitching -- it is worth exploring.

Is it better for Blackmon? There is a notion that Blackmon would be better off in the American League, where he can be a designated hitter on occasion. The Rockies moved him out of center field, and it seemed playing him in 140 games (as opposed to 150-plus, like many past seasons) paid dividends. But his strong finish suggests Blackmon isn’t set for a steep decline. And a new team might not worry so much about Blackmon’s defense in right field. Per Statcast, Blackmon had minus-9 Outs Above Average this past season.

Maybe the trees the Rox have are fruitful enough: Not only did Tapia overcome early inconsistency and finish positively, but Hilliard carries the size and speed that could be of impact and his versatility is a weapon. Additionally, Yonathan Daza could have a chance to transfer his Minor League offense to the Majors, and prospects Ryan Vilade and Tyler Nevin are infielders who are being taught to play the outfield because of their increasing size and strength. And whether it’s in a Blackmon trade or with the salary that is saved in such a deal, the Rockies could land an experienced outfielder.