DENVER -- While some in the baseball world look at the Rockies with increased hope, general manager Jeff Bridich prefers to see his club through clear eyes.
The Rockies faded in August and September and finished with a sixth straight losing season, but the future looks bright, with a rotation full of young talent and the usual high-scoring offense. The postseason was full of teams that entered the season with similar profiles. And if Bridich can bolster the team's key holes, some could be ready to call the Rockies a contender.
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Just don't depend on Bridich to lead the hype.
"I really don't care about that stuff," said Bridich, heading into his third season as GM. "All that stuff now is all just hearsay. Certainly contending and getting back into the postseason, that's been a goal from the get-go two years ago. So that's not changing. I hope and I do believe we are closer to that than we were two years ago."
Bridich will seek a productive first baseman and proven bullpen help, and has a vow from club owner, president and CEO Dick Monfort to increase payroll. The big event for making those decisions could be the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 7 a.m. MT.
Bullpen: Last winter's acquisitions all suffered through injuries and slumps, and the Rockies' relievers posted a Majors-worst 5.13 ERA in '16. While the Rockies expect bounceback seasons from lefty Jake McGee and righties Jason Motte and Chad Qualls, this is an area where some money will likely be spent. Bridich has acknowledged free-agent talks with veteran closer Mark Melancon and lefty reliever Mike Dunn, and he is open to trading to bolster the 'pen.
While landing a proven closer such as Melancon would be a coup, Bridich acknowledged that there are in-house options. Those include Adam Ottavino, who had the role at the end of last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery; McGee, who was solid before suffering a knee injury in June and struggling upon his return; and Carlos Estévez, forced into the ninth inning in midseason as a rookie. Realizing that there are many ways to find a closer, Bridich has focused on quality rather than filling specific roles.
First base: Rockies first basemen had a 2.9 WAR (wins above replacement) last season, according to Fangraphs, which ranked them 12th in the National League. The overall numbers were reduced because Mark Reynolds, who had a solid season in terms of average and on-base percentage, missed chunks of action twice with left hand injuries.
Early feelers into the trade market revealed that to make a deal for an established player the club will have to part with some of its young talent -- a difficult decision for a team that tends to build from within.
An intriguing possibility is free-agent Matt Holliday, who played some first base in '16 in his final year with the Cardinals and is open to returning to Colorado, where he broke into the Majors. For now, Brewers first baseman Chris Carter, who tied the Rockies' Nolan Arenado for the NL lead in homers with 41, is in limbo after having been designated for assignment by Milwaukee.
And there's always free agent Mark Trumbo, who hit 47 homers for the Orioles in 2016 -- after the Rockies had unsuccessful trade talks with the Mariners for him. However, changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement don't go into effect until next offseason, so the Rockies would lose their 2017 first-round pick in the MLB Draft (11th overall) if they were to sign Trumbo.
Bench: The last couple of years have seen the Rockies go with veterans Daniel Descalso and Ryan Raburn in bench roles. But they see possibilities in switch-hitting infielder Cristhian Adames, who hit .218 overall but .275 as a pinch-hitter, and Pat Valaika, whom the Rockies groomed for utility work in the Minors and the Arizona Fall League. Any pursuit of veterans is on the back burner.
Who they can trade if necessary
The Rockies are almost certain to be approached about lefty-hitting corner-infield prospect Ryan McMahon, a second-round Draft pick in '13 who is a third baseman by trade but is learning first base because of the presence of Arenado. Teams will likely make calls on lefty-hitting outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, and there is a cadre of good hitters throughout the system. Even though the Rockies are reluctant to move anyone from their system, the best bet for a deal is to give up a prospect or several.
As for more realistic options, there has been scouting activity around righty Eddie Butler, who has struggled after arriving amid great promise in '13. Teams could inquire about center fielder Charlie Blackmon, and there have been rumors about the Rockies moving right fielder Carlos González for several years, but the club isn't motivated to deal either player.
Of the Rockies' Top 10 prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com, seven are in the Rockies' plans for '17. They include righty Jeff Hoffman, Tapia, righty German Márquez, McMahon, lefty Kyle Freeland, righty Antonio Senzatela and catcher Tom Murphy. Some will be counted on from the beginning.
Rule 5 Draft
With a solid roster and a group of talented, if unproven, bullpen arms, it's hard to imagine the Rockies snapping up a player. And the Rockies are in win-now mode.
Big contracts they might unload
Gonzalez is due $20 million this season, but it's more likely he and the Rockies reach a contract extension than the club deal him before the season. With the affinity between Gonzalez and the club, it's doubtful the club would seriously consider moving him. That could change if the team is languishing at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
The highest-paid player for '17 is Mets shortstop José Reyes, whom the Rockies released last season. While it's doubtful the Rockies would make a commitment for more money for '17, they're fine with spending on their needs. They finished last year with a payroll of about $120.5 million, and intend to go higher. So far, they've spent $69.25 million on eight players, including Reyes. Arenado, Blackmon, McGee and righty starter Tyler Chatwood all are expected to have big pay bumps because of arbitration.