Rox bring contention mindset to Winter Meetings

December 6th, 2019

DENVER -- The Rockies enter the Winter Meetings considering themselves a contender, even though the industry may disagree after a 71-91 finish in 2019. It makes for an interesting conflict of ideas.

Other clubs entered the offseason believing a couple of valuable players coming off good years -- right-hander and right fielder -- would be available in trades that would allow the club to see what it has in the outfield and try to retool its young pitching. But the Rockies expect to return to their postseason form of 2017-18 with Gray and Blackmon, not without them.

Yet, the payroll is expected to be tight and roster holes are difficult to fill. Can general manager Jeff Bridich keep a roster he likes mostly together and come away with what the Rockies need?

Club needs: A must-get is an experienced catcher to split time with left-handed-hitting . They expect rebounds from a couple key pitchers in lefty starter and righty reliever , but may seek a pitching bargain.

Whom might they trade? Early indications are that the Rockies would love to deal righty reliever or lefty reliever , even if they eat a chunk of salary, for payroll relief and to fill needs. Both drew some interest at the Trade Deadline, even though they’d had mixed results in Colorado. Could the Rockies really hit it big and trade outfielder , who has two years at a $25 million commitment? As the offseason began, word circulated that the Rockies were willing to include talented but as-yet underperforming righty as a deal sweetener, but nothing materialized.

Then there's Blackmon, who is due $78 million over the next four years, and there are incentives. Given the Rockies’ preference for keeping him, a trade would have to be really good.

According to recent reports, teams have contacted the Rockies about star third baseman , who began a six-year, $260 million contract last year, and shortstop , who is in his second year of arbitration and is a candidate for a large multi-year deal. That is an example of the conflict -- the Rockies believe they are going places, while others see them as stuck in the mire of 2019.

Prospects to know: Infielder , the Rockies' top prospect going into last year, dealt with a shoulder injury in his debut season but still draws interest from other teams. No. 2 prospect , a left-handed pitcher, and No. 3 prospect , a corner infielder, are coveted for talent, and the fact that they don’t have to be protected on the 40-man roster.

Rule 5 Draft: Power-hitting first baseman Roberto Ramos, who hit 30 homers at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2019, is not on the Rockies' 40-man roster and is vulnerable to the Rule 5 Draft. Will the raising of the roster limit by one, to 26, lead a team to pluck him away from Colorado?

Payroll summary: Last year’s final payroll was a club-record $157,162,629, 12th highest in MLB, according to Spotrac. And 2020 commitments and projected arbitration salaries, according to Spotrac, already have the Rockies at $148.3 million. It’s a high figure for a small-to-mid-market team whose new television contract doesn’t begin for another year. Unlike some other teams who are concerned about rising payrolls, the Rockies are refusing to engage in a teardown.

One question: Will the Rockies bring in a proven Major League starter?

The answer last year would have been a solid no, based on the performance of a homegrown rotation for two years. The answer now? Well, it’s still probably a no, and that’s more based on the mostly solid performances of their top three starters (, Gray and Freeland) over the last three years, even though Gray struggled in ’18 and Freeland was worse in ’19. Is it a gamble to expect quality work from up-and-down pitchers Hoffman, , , and , and some prospects who could be ready?