DENVER -- For three decades, when the question has been of whom will play shortstop for the Rockies, the answer has been someone really good.
Vinny Castilla and Walt Weiss, who facilitated Castilla’s move to third base, were stars of the franchise's early days. Neifi Perez won a Gold Glove with the Rockies. Juan Uribe and Clint Barmes broke in with the Rockies and were valuable players at other stops in their careers. Troy Tulowitzki and Trevor Story combined for seven All-Star appearances from 2010-19.
Now the Rockies must find a shortstop to keep the tradition going -- or at least find an experienced, quality bridge, like Royce Clayton (2004) was between Uribe and Barmes. Growing sentiment around the sport is the Rockies have the shortstop of the future in Ezequiel Tovar, who put together a strong Class A season and work in the Arizona Fall League and is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club's No. 11 prospect.
The Rockies have well-documented offensive needs. But defense is not to be underrated. A well-regarded rotation produced two of the top seven starters in ground-ball rate and three of the top 14 in producing double-play grounders.
“I’ve made the statement that we’ve had productive offensive shortstops, and Tovar has a chance to be that,” Rockies first-year general manager Bill Schmidt said Tuesday from the MLB General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. “And are you going to catch the ball on a consistent basis? That’s important, because how do you win the game? Pitching and defense.”
Schmidt didn’t totally rule out Brendan Rodgers, after his strong rookie season at second base, moving to the position where he was drafted, although that’s not the preferred tack.
“Does he have the ability to play over there? Sure,” Schmidt said. “But at the end of the day what’s probably best for him is to play second, but I’m not saying he can’t play short.”
So how do the Rockies address shortstop?
Schmidt did not address the other free agents or confirm possible targets at short (or any other position), but said he’s not given up on Story.
But any chance of reuniting with Story would require the Rockies dramatically improving their offensive lineup while Story is still on the market. They’ve held serve at first base by retaining C.J. Cron, who led the team last season in home runs and OPS, on a two-year, $14.5 million deal. The other bats likely will have to come in the outfield, where the Rockies appear to be willing to be a player for the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Nick Castellanos and Michael Conforto.
“Hopefully, he’s considering us -- hopefully some of the qualities he’s looking for in a club, he sees that in ours,” Schmidt said of Story.
Telling is the fact the Rockies are potentially in play for players who turn down qualifying offers from their 2021 clubs. Such a move would cost the Rockies, who unabashedly value Draft choices, their third-highest pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. Should Story sign elsewhere and the Rockies not sign a player who costs them a pick, Colorado would have four picks in the first two rounds.
One available outfielder who did not receive a qualifying offer and therefore won't cost a pick is Avisaíl García, who declined a mutual option after a strong year with the Brewers.
Shortstop is more like 1-A on the Rockies’ needs list. The main concern of boosting offense drives Schmidt to consider giving up a Draft choice.
“All I’ve got to tell you is our lineup needs to get more offensive,” Schmidt said. “Is that something that gets done this winter, or does it get done over the course of time?”
An option beyond Story or one of the other shortstops looking for long-term deals is to find more offense in the outfield, and look at a couple standout defenders, such as Jose Iglesias and Andrelton Simmons, to bridge the shortstop position until Tovar is ready.
They can even address shortstop and outfield in one swoop by pursuing Chris Taylor, who spent his time with the Dodgers giving the Rockies headaches.
The other possibility, which Schmidt will have the opportunity to explore during the GM Meetings, is filling the position or other needs through trades.
With the need for power in the outfield, left fielder Raimel Tapia -- at his best a hitter for high average with game-affecting speed, becomes a possible trade chip. Also, with Cron signed and the club high on No. 6 prospect Michael Toglia, who also is having a strong Arizona Fall League, first base is a position of depth. No 4 prospect Elehuris Montero, No. 19 prospect Grant Lavigne and No. 20 prospect Colton Welker (who debuted in ’21) could attract interest.