Here's how Rockies plan to chase titles

March 28th, 2019

MIAMI -- Rockies owner Dick Monfort revealed while announcing third baseman Nolan Arenado’s eight-year, $260 million contract that he saw a deal coming together all along.

“I’m constantly writing down my next five years’ teams … and it just got really easy putting Nolan Arenado on it,” Monfort said.

But how about the rest? There is danger in paying a few high salaries but scrimping so much in other areas that winning is impossible. But the Rockies -- who had deals for outfielders Charlie Blackmon (six years, $108 million) and Ian Desmond (five years, $70 million) as well as first baseman Daniel Murphy (two years, $24 million) before Arenado’s -- made the postseason the last two seasons.

The Rockies have a plan to keep going.

It’s not cheap. Spotrac, which tracks contract information in major sports, places the Rockies’ Opening Day payroll at $146,346,833 -- 12th highest in the Majors (just ahead of the Bryce Harper-fortified Phillies), from a club that plays in MLB’s 17th-largest television market.

Monfort this winter and general manager Jeff Bridich on Wednesday -- the eve of the 2019 Opening Day game against the Marlins -- laid out the ways and means, and acknowledged the potential difficulties, of a title chase.

Stay young
Starting pitchers Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson, reliever Scott Oberg and shortstop Trevor Story all had a common trait: They helped with postseason pushes but were at 0-3 years’ Major League service time at least one of the seasons. That means their salaries had yet to be accelerated by arbitration.

Freeland, Marquez, left fielder David Dahl and second basemen Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson are pre-arbitration keys to 2019.

“We’ve been that way our whole life -- we’re going to have to be in the 8-12 range of guys that are 1-3 years,” Monfort said. “Then the rest of them are scattered throughout the process -- some in arbitration, some on long-term contracts.”

Thursday’s Opening Day roster has nine, but that likely will drop to eight once lefty reliever Chris Rusin returns from an upper back injury.

While a certain number of low-service time players is optimal, Bridich said, “If you're just looking for a very specific number and you forget about talent that's associated with those guys, then you're probably losing sight of what's most important.”

Pick where to spend
Of the starters over the last two years, only Chad Bettis spent both years at a higher salary driven by arbitration. But Monfort notes that the “very expensive bullpen” includes free-agent signees Wade Davis, Mike Dunn, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw.

“Right now, we’ve got very affordable starting pitching because they’re all young,” Monfort said. “The goal is to have them pitch at least through arbitration for us, which means they get higher-priced.”

This chart shows how relievers potentially become free agents as starters become more expensive:

The planned introduction of less-experienced relievers runs deep. Monfort offered Rockies 17th-ranked prospect lefty Ben Bowden, a former second-round Draft pick who shook off a period of injury and impressed this Spring Training.

“We could have traded him and got rid of money from another player -- this team was going to take on extra money,” Monfort said, offering no more information on the potential trade. “So it cost the team money that year, but we still have Ben Bowden."

The farm system softened the blows when reliever Adam Ottavino and second baseman DJ LeMahieu became Yankees, and outfielders Carlos Gonzalez (Indians) and Gerardo Parra (Giants) departed. McMahon, Hampson and Dahl, among others, have their big chances.

”We're always going to be leaning on the introduction of young and talented players into our process, and our hope is that that's from within,” Bridich said.

Be careful with the big decision
Only a title can prove the Rockies correct, but Monfort clearly prefers not trading prized young players for an all-in World Series title chase.

It has worked for the Royals (versatile Ben Zobrist and pitcher Johnny Cueto helped bring the 2015 title) and Astros (Justin Verlander fueled the '17 title). The Royals are trying to replenish after the trades, but the championship stands as credibility for their fans.

Monfort prefers to win while holding onto Rockies-developed players.

“I’m bad at tearing down, other than ’04 when it was ‘Todd and the Toddlers’ or whatever,” Monfort said of the period of Todd Helton surrounded by young players -- a group that eventually made it to the '07 World Series, by the way.

Can the Rockies’ methods result in something akin to the glory days of the Giants, who won three World Series and made four postseason appearances from 2010-16 by using homegrown talent instead of trading their system products?

“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Big moves are what’s necessary to win championships,’ and sometimes that’s correct -- Verlander is a great example,” Bridich said. “But there are a lot of big moves that don’t really work out.

“[Monfort] is more a believer in making sure that we are competitive at all times, as much as we can be. Sometimes that affects our thinking, but what it really does is just point us back to our farm system, how healthy it is and making sure that thought is part of our overall decision-making process in any given year.”