Despite losing 13 of their final 18 first-half games, the 52-39 Rockies still have a commanding 7 1/2-game lead over the Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot, and they're only two games behind the D-backs for the first spot. As such, they're squarely in the position of
Despite losing 13 of their final 18 first-half games, the 52-39 Rockies still have a commanding 7 1/2-game lead over the Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot, and they're only two games behind the D-backs for the first spot. As such, they're squarely in the position of being buyers as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline nears. It's a new position for a young team that hasn't had even a .500 season since 2010, and the assumption is that they'll need the same thing a team in Denver always needs: pitching.
Sure, the Rockies could use a pitcher, especially a reliever. Everyone could use a pitcher. But what if the thing Colorado really needs more than anything is a bat?
If that sounds counterintuitive, it's probably because it's simply assumed that any team that calls Coors Field home can automatically hit, and the Rockies have indeed scored the fifth-most runs in baseball. Of course, part of that is that they do call Coors home -- they score 5.8 runs per game at home against 4.4 runs per game on the road -- and a closer look reveals that Colorado's offense has been almost entirely fueled by just three players: Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Mark Reynolds.
The Big Three: .302/.367/.552 .384 wOBA 120 wRC+
The Other 13: .265/.322/.392 .307 wOBA 69 wRC+
For some context, a .307 wOBA is the equivalent of what the Phillies' Freddy Galvis (.251/.301/.423) is hitting this year, while a 69 wRC+ is what his teammate Maikel Franco (.217/.274/.384) has put up. Surely, other teams would suffer as well if you take away their three best hitters, but few contenders have a difference to this extent. For example, if you take away Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager from the Dodgers, they still have Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, John Forsythe, Chris Taylor and so on.
(Stat notes: wOBA is very much like on-base percentage, except more credit is given for extra base hits, rather than treating every time on base equally. It is not park-adjusted, so Rockies hitters ought to outperform other teams. The 2017 MLB average wOBA is .326. wRC+ is an advanced hitting stat that allows for easy comparison by setting 100 as league-average for that season. It is park-adjusted, accounting for different stadium effects.)
Beyond that, Reynolds, an 11-year veteran who hasn't performed at this level over a full season since 2005, has expectedly begun to cool, hitting just .209/.346/.326 (.306 wOBA, 69 wRC+, exactly like the "other" group) over the last 30 days.
In other words, this is a team that's really been led more by its extremely impressive young pitching -- you saw Kyle Freelandnearly throw a no-hitter at home on Sunday, right? -- than the offense.
Basically, the issue comes down to the fact that Trevor Story, Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Desmond are not hitting, and in how much confidence you have that this will change. Additionally, talented young outfielder David Dahl has missed the entire year due to injury and still has no solid return date. Story entered 2016 battling Cristhian Adames for the shortstop job and was impressive before getting hurt, but he has hit only .224/.303/.396 (.302 wOBA / 66 wRC+) this year with a massive 35 percent whiff rate.
While Desmond has missed time with a broken hand and a calf strain, his current .283/.321/.388 (.305 wOBA / 68 wRC+) looks a lot like his last calendar year (.276/.323/.408) and his past four years (.261/.314/.417), suggesting there may not be much more to come. Gonzalez is certainly better than his current .221/.299/.338 (.276 wOBA / 49 wRC+), but this isn't just bad luck, either. His hard-hit percentage has declined from 41 percent to 39 percent to 31 percent over the past three years. His "Expected Batting Average," derived from what usually happens on balls with similar exit velocity and launch angle, is .225, meaning he's "earned" all of that .221. Battling shoulder issues, can he rebound?
So what can the Rockies do? They're in a bit of a tricky spot in that, with the Dodgers running away with the NL West, it doesn't make sense to sell the future to upgrade for an NL Wild Card Game, but they're also too good to not try to make noise this year. They won't be looking to make upgrades at third, first or center, and even though DJ LeMahieu isn't repeating his 2016, he still brings enough value that there's no reason to go crazy for a second baseman, and it leaves no room for prospect slugger Ryan McMahon. While Raimel Tapia has impressed in limited time, and Gerardo Parra has bounced back from a poor Colorado debut, neither should be a full-time starter for a playoff team right now.
That still leaves some holes, though. We have ideas.
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Marlins
If you're going to do it, why not do it big? Ozuna, who started for the NL All-Star team on Tuesday, is seemingly forever on the trade block, and he's no rental, since he won't reach free agency until 2020. Hitting .316/.374/.566 (.393 wOBA / 144 wRC+), he's finally having the breakout season we've been expecting for years, and while he wouldn't come cheaply, adding one of this year's 10 best NL hitters would be a huge boon for the Rockies, this year and for the next two.
Slotting Ozuna in left next to Blackmon wouldn't just solidify the outfield, it would allow Desmond more freedom to support Reynolds at first base, should Reynolds' slump continue.
J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers
Unlike Ozuna, Martinez is a rental, but despite playing in Detroit's cavernous Comerica Park, he's done nothing but mash, hitting .299/.360/.548 in four years with the Tigers. The idea of adding a power bat like that to Coors Field is nothing short of jaw-dropping, though he's not strong defensively. Colorado could even attempt to make this a package deal, trying to add the underrated lefty Justin Wilson (49 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings, under team control through 2018) to make a formidable setup man in front of Greg Holland.
Zack Cozart, SS, Reds
Yes, this would require Story spending the next few months in Triple-A; no, that's not a bad thing, since he could use the break, and because Cozart will be a free agent. While he's not going to sustain his career-best .316/.394/.547 -- and indeed, the return to earth has already begun -- he was a league-average hitter in 2015-16 (.254./308/.435) and would likely be an upgrade to Story on both sides of the ball.
Now, it's too much to trade Story for Cozart, and the Rockies wouldn't do it. But knowing that prospect Brendan Rodgers isn't that far away, let's get wild and imagine a larger deal that also included reliever Raisel Iglesias (1.69 ERA, 52 whiffs in 42 2/3 innings), who won't be a free agent until 2022.
Alex Avila, C, Tigers
Very quietly, and in fewer plate appearances, Avila (.299/.423/.535) has been hitting the ball almost as well as Aaron Judge this year. (Seriously.) While he likely can't maintain that pace, he would add some pop to a position that needs it; Colorado catchers, led by Tony Wolters, have been baseball's third-least productive.
Bonus: while it may seem odd to add a lefty given that Wolters is also lefty, Avila's first-base experience would allow him to give Reynolds a day off against tough righties.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.