DENVER -- The question is simple to ask, potentially painful to answer, but maybe scarier to not answer: Do the Rockies have the players and the gumption to try to acquire either the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman or the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner.
Ten MLB teams are in playoff position now and nine others are three or fewer games from a second Wild Card, including the Rockies at 2 1/2 games back. With the Dodgers 14 1/2 games ahead of the Rockies in the National League West (plus 13 1/2 clear of the D-backs and 14 ahead of the Padres), a division title is unlikely. But that’s not the necessary question for any of those teams or the other Wild Card contenders.
It’s about fielding a team that is capable of beating the Dodgers, the two-time defending NL champs, in a five- or seven-game series. Stroman or Bumgarner would be a formidable boulder for the Rockies to throw at the LA Goliaths.
The Rockies’ own slumps at the beginning (3-12) and end (4-11, with an active six-game losing streak) of their pre-break schedule -- and an otherworldly start by the Dodgers -- have pushed Colorado to this point. But that’s in the past.
Events of this season have left the Rockies needing to move beyond depending strictly on homegrown pitching.
Three of the of the five Opening Day starters weren’t in the rotation by the break. Lefty No. 1 Kyle Freeland pitched himself to Triple-A Albuquerque (but he is expected back to begin the second half), lefty Tyler Anderson is likely gone for the season after left knee surgery, and righty Chad Bettis is in the bullpen. As for reinforcements, righty Jeff Hoffman hasn’t grabbed a Major League job, and righty Chi Chi Gonzalez is back in Albuquerque working to improve.
Current status: buyer
The Rockies have made moves the last two years en route to Wild Card berths. In 2017, the club dealt younger prospects for two rental players -- catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Pat Neshek. Last year, Colorado acquired a season and a half of control of righty reliever Seunghwan Oh for players higher on the experience scale.
The question the Rockies face is, if the starting pitching they need costs more, what’s the cost for not paying it? The offense, which let them down at the end of last season, is strong enough for a deep playoff run. At one point this season, the Rockies went 15-9 and actually lost a half-game in the standings; after such a wearing experience, imagine the stimulation adding a proven pitcher could bring.
What they are seeking
Bumgarner (at the end of his contract, with a limited no-trade clause) has pitched well at Coors Field, and his ongoing morality play with the Dodgers could play out nicely in Purple Pinstripes. Stroman’s ability to force ground balls could work at Coors, and the way he uses his fastball-cutter-curve combo to pitch to contact potentially means quick innings and more length -- which would help the bullpen. And Stroman has a year of club control beyond this season.
What they have to offer
If the subject is starting pitching, general manager Jeff Bridich must determine if the Rockies are close enough to even make that move, and what they would be willing to give up in an industry where in addition to the 10 teams that would be in if the postseason started today, nine other teams are three or fewer games from the Wild Card.
What may be intriguing is whether the Rockies will deal from higher on the prospect scale. Last year, they traded outfielder-infielder Forrest Wall, a one-time supplemental first-rounder, to the Blue Jays in the Oh deal. With shortstop Trevor Story playing well enough to justify a multi-year deal at some point, do the Rockies even consider dealing middle infielder Brendan Rodgers, ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, who is on the injured list and has struggled offensively in his first Major League action?
A Stroman deal could require someone like Rodgers, or -- in admittedly risky propositions -- a highly regarded corner infield bat like No. 2 prospect Colton Welker, No. 5 Grant Lavigne or No. 6 Tyler Nevin. Any of the four would be painful to part with, and the Rockies are looking at first baseman Daniel Murphy’s contract expiring after next season.
Players at the end of contracts, like Bumgarner, often require lower outputs in terms of prospects, but the return of Bumgarner’s command after a down 2018 season means teams may overpay to fuel their World Series dreams. So some of what it would take to get Stroman applies to Bumgarner.
Also, would the Rockies deal from middle infielders from recent Drafts -- Ryan Vilade (No. 8) and Terrin Vavra (No. 13), or outfielders Daniel Montano (No. 18), Nico Decolati (No. 22) and Vince Fernandez (No. 24)? Would the Giants (or any opposing team’s scouts) take a flyer on Triple-A players like outfielder Sam Hilliard (No. 9) or first baseman Roberto Ramos (No. 26), who have hit for power but have high strikeouts?
And don’t forget the big league roster, which is tough because the Rockies depend on younger players for depth. But infielder-outfielder Garrett Hampson, much better in his latest callup from Albuquerque, has the tools and versatility that another team could use right now.