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Rockies face critical free agent decisions

Second base, OF and 'pen moves to determine Colorado's offseason
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Long after the Rockies' season-ending 6-0 loss to the Brewers in the National League Division Series, rookie infielder Garrett Hampson sought out veteran second baseman DJ LeMahieu for a hug.

Was it goodbye, as in a changing of the guard, with LeMahieu headed to free agency? Was it a, 'See-ya-next-spring' thing? All Hampson knows is that it was a heartfelt embrace.

DENVER -- Long after the Rockies' season-ending 6-0 loss to the Brewers in the National League Division Series, rookie infielder Garrett Hampson sought out veteran second baseman DJ LeMahieu for a hug.

Was it goodbye, as in a changing of the guard, with LeMahieu headed to free agency? Was it a, 'See-ya-next-spring' thing? All Hampson knows is that it was a heartfelt embrace.

Video: COL@ARI: Hampson, LeMahieu combine for a slick DP

"It started in Spring Training," Hampson said. "He was always willing to answer any of my questions or thoughts about hitting or defense. He's the type of teammate that cares about other people -- if he sees something, he'll talk to you about it. He's a very good leader by example who doesn't really say much, but people gravitate toward his work ethic and preparation."

LeMahieu, 30, knocked a career-high 15 homers during the regular season despite playing in 128 games. Hampson, who celebrated his 24th birthday Wednesday, debuted with 24 regular season games across three Major League stints. Hampson's respectable .275 big league batting average came in a year that included standout numbers at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque -- a combined .311/.382/.462 slash line, plus 36 stolen bases in 41 attempts in 110 games.

Video: COL@ARI: Hampson rips an RBI double for his first hit

In this case, and several around the diamond, the Rockies -- still in a winning window after making the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in their history -- face some decisions. Here is a look:

Second base: LeMahieu is a former batting champ with a mantle full of defensive awards. His .276/.321/.428 offensive season represented his worst year at the plate since 2014, but three trips to the 10-day disabled list (hamstring, fractured thumb, oblique) were a factor.

So how will LeMahieu's new-found power, past offensive work when healthy and enduring defense play on a free-agent market that also could include Josh Harrison and Eduardo Nunez (pending option decisions), plus Brian Dozier and Daniel Murphy? All are a little older than LeMahieu.

Perception has been that the Rockies value LeMahieu more than other teams because of Coors Field's offensive friendliness. However, when the Rockies were seemingly headed to also-ran status, scouts from teams higher in the standings valued LeMahieu enough to follow him intently.

Video: ARI@COL: LeMahieu cranks a walk-off HR to win it

Will the Rockies compete for LeMahieu? Or will they turn the job over to Hampson, a third-round pick out of Long Beach State in 2016? Additionally, Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies' No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, could be knocking at the door once he corrects recurring hamstring issues.

Outfield: The free agents to-be are Carlos Gonzalez, who turns 33 next Wednesday, the starter most of the year in right field during a topsy-turvy offensive season; most likely Gerardo Parra, 31, who began the year as the starter in left field, but excelled in a part-time role at the end (there is a $1.5 million buyout on a $12 million club option for next year); and Matt Holliday, who will turn 39 in January, and who joined the team in August as a part-time right-handed bat.

Gonzalez, a left-handed hitter, became a free agent last winter, but interesting circumstances brought him back. Lefty-hitting David Dahl was coming off a 2017 rib injury and would not be ready for the start of the regular season, and lefty hitting Raimel Tapia didn't prove ready in Spring Training to become the leadoff hitter. So, Gonzalez signed a one-year deal during the spring.

But Dahl came up during the season and forced his way into regular duty (.273/.325/.534 with 16 homers in 77 games). Heading into his age-25 season, he potentially could take over center and allow the Rockies to move Charlie Blackmon, 32, to one of the corner spots to save some wear and tear.

With Dahl and Blackmon likely set, do the Rockies turn back to Gonzalez for the third spot? Do they re-sign Parra? If they re-sign Parra, do they go back to the 2017 plan of having first baseman Ian Desmond play some left field -- a plan that would allow them to increase playing time at first base for Ryan McMahon, 23, who struggled with high fastballs early but had some big hits late? Is there opportunity for Holliday, should he continue his career, or Tapia, who turns 25 next season, or right-handed-hitting Noel Cuevas, 27?

Or do the Rockies try to obtain another big bat at first base or in left field and work holdovers around that acquisition to shake up the lineup?

Bullpen: Free-agent-to-be righty Adam Ottavino was shaky in two of his three postseason outings, but that doesn't erase his 112 strikeouts in 77 2/3 regular season innings over 75 outings. The Rockies also hold a reasonable club option on righty setup man Seunghwan Oh ($250,000 buyout or $2.5 million in 2019).

Video: COL@ATL: Ottavino K's Swanson to end the 9th

The Rockies spent big last winter on closer Wade Davis (three years, $52 million), lefty Jake McGee and righty Bryan Shaw (three years, $27 million apiece); however, only Davis -- who overcame a second-half slump -- was on the postseason roster.

Some factors argue for at least picking up Oh's option, and possibly being competitive for Ottavino.

While righty Scott Oberg emerged as a late-inning force, righty Carlos Estevez dealt with oblique and right elbow issues and didn't pitch in the Majors; and righties Yency Almonte and DJ Johnson, and lefty Harrison Musgrave had their moments as rookies, but pitching late in games might be a tall order at their experience levels. 

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, DJ LeMahieu