DENVER -- After enduring two seasons of a stunning lack of power from their outfielders, the Rockies have plenty of choices on the free-agent market to restore the production that should be a given for a team that calls Coors Field home.
According to FanGraphs, Rockies outfielders were 25th in 2020 and 23rd among 30 Major League teams in 2021 in isolated power (average number of extra bases per at-bat). Rox outfielders were 26th in the Majors in home runs during the shortened 2020 with 22, and tied for 27th in 2021 with 55. In 2019, Charlie Blackmon (32) and Ian Desmond (20) combined for almost as many homers as the whole team in ’21.
But don’t frown at the problem. Smile at the hope that the planned payroll increase, and new general manager Bill Schmidt’s vow to improve the offense will yield results.
There are targets aplenty, with the possible adoption of the designated hitter in the National League enhancing all their possibilities. The Rockies want to sign two if they can be fit into a payroll that also must include shortstop and late relief. But they have studied and made calls on many outfielders on the market.
Here is a list of prime targets, with the order loosely based on conversations with Major League sources:
Kyle Schwarber, age 29 season
That out-of-town scoreboard in right seems to be calling his name. Could he provide a flashback to a younger Blackmon in terms of top-of-the-order power? In just 27 regular-season games as a leadoff hitter for the Nationals and Red Sox in ’21, Schwarber hit 17 home runs -- tied for eighth in the Majors. Adding first base to his profile could make him an option when C.J. Cron rests or serves as DH.
Michael Conforto, age 29 season
Penciled in for around 30 homers a year, Conforto hit just 14 for the Mets last season after dealing with COVID-19 illness. But reports suggest the downturn isn't dampening interest. The Rockies believe his swing fits the park, and his defensive abilities in right mean Blackmon could spend more time as a DH. He turned down a Mets qualifying offer, but if the Rockies can work a palatable contract with him they will gladly forfeit the Draft pick for signing him.
Kris Bryant, age 30 season
Some on the Rockies’ baseball side champion signing him, and there is a history with Schmidt, who formerly ran the Draft. Drafting third overall in 2013 and not knowing if the Cubs would take Gray second, the Rockies studied Bryant extensively. The Rockies also spent some brainpower figuring if they could acquire Bryant for third base when they were trying to trade Nolan Arenado. Bryant is athletic enough for all three outfield spots, although big for center at Coors, and can play infield corners. He willingly played some first base for the Giants after last season’s trade and in the postseason.
Nick Castellanos, age 30 season
Scouting roots are deep here, also. The Rockies studied him extensively but the Tigers took him three spots ahead of them in 2014. A studious, grinder-like approach -- similar to how Blackmon rose to All-Star status -- led to leaps in power and batting average in recent years with the Reds.
Chris Taylor, 31
Taylor, who also can shift to the middle infield, has a well-documented history of bringing the Rockies pain. Even battling neck pain last season, Taylor hit 20 homers and managed a .344 OBP. Like Conforto and Castellanos, he would cost the Rockies a pick.
Starling Marte, 33
Marte’s power profile is not as high as others on the list. But the Rockies like his ability to cover center field and leg out extra-base hits (27 doubles with the Marlins and Athletics in ’21). He does have a home run history -- 20 in 2018 and 23 in 2019 for the Pirates.
Mark Canha, age 33 season
Canha can play all three outfield positions, and runs well. He spiked to 26 homers for the Athletics in 2019 and could benefit from Coors Field. Canha’s hitting approach resulted in 77 walks last year, 11th in the American League. Patience could help a Rockies team that struggles traveling in and out of altitude.
Jorge Soler, age 30 season
It’s more than just his fresh World Series MVP performance. A 48-homer man with the Royals in 2019, Soler languished at .192 with a .288 on-base percentage before being traded. The Braves struck gold with an interesting idea: batting him in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, where he posted a .358 OBP and .524 slugging percentage in 55 regular-season games, and showed up big in the Fall Classic.
Avisaíl García, age 31 season
Once an All-Star with the White Sox, García is back on the market after 29 homers with the Brewers last season. His power seems to be increasing with age. A corner outfield-DH combination would suit.