Will Rockies make Gray available this winter?

November 15th, 2019

DENVER -- The Rockies’ options with righty starter are: 1) enjoy the next two years of club control, plus projected front-of-the-rotation production; 2) extend him with a multi-year deal; or, 3) deal him for immediate help and prospect depth.

General manager Jeff Bridich said Thursday night, “There are a number of teams asking about him.” However, Bridich, who had conversations with teams at the MLB General Managers Meetings this week, would not discuss the Rockies’ plans.

In a tweet Thursday night, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi identified the Padres, who have a well-regarded group of prospects as being interested, although trades within a division are difficult. Multiple MLB sources confirmed that there is buzz about Gray's availability from teams that feel they are a potential match.

Gray, 28, went 11-8 with a 3.84 ERA and 150 strikeouts in as many innings over 26 games (25 starts) before a broken foot cost him the final month-and-a-half of the 2019 season. The Rockies’ Opening Day starter in '16 and '17, Gray is 43-33 with a 4.46 ERA and 670 strikeouts in 641 1/3 innings since breaking in with the club in '15.

After earning $2.935 million in 2019, Gray has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, with projections for his arbitration-induced salary ranging from $5.6 million to $6 million.

This is not the first time teams have come calling for Gray. At the 2018 Trade Deadline -- when he struggled to a 5.12 ERA in 31 starts and wasn't included on the postseason roster -- and during the Winter Meetings following the season, multiple teams approached the Rockies about him.

The decision involving Gray comes against a backdrop of a club that went to the postseason in 2017 and '18, sank to 71-91 in '19 because of injuries and slumps, but still expects to contend in '20. The Rockies have said they don’t intend to put their fans through a rebuild, and neither option appears to represent such a direction.

After his solid 2019, Gray is seen as a rock in a rotation that had more pitchers than not struggle. If dealt, the Rockies would have to figure out how to replace his potential production immediately. They’d need multiple players, since another goal would be to bolster a farm system that is seen in the industry as depleted after having graduated multiple players to the Majors over the last four years.

Back to the days of Dan O’Dowd as general manager, the Rockies twice dealt a key player and parlayed the deal into an immediate postseason appearance:

• After the 2006 season, the Rockies dealt highly regarded right-hander Jason Jennings to the Astros. Willy Taveras was the regular center fielder and righty Jason Hirsh was part of the rotation, until a second-hand injury, on a team that went to the World Series.

• Believing they would eventually lose outfielder Matt Holliday to free agency, the Rockies sent him to the Athletics after the 2008 season and received closer Huston Street and outfielder Carlos González. Both helped key a run to the postseason in '09.

Under Bridich, who replaced O’Dowd after the 2014 season, the strategy has been to seek multi-year contracts with core players -- outfielder (six years, $108 million in '18), third baseman (eight years, $260 million in '19) and right-handed pitcher (five years, $43 million in '19).

The 2019 payroll was a club-record $148.3 million (ninth highest in the Majors, per Spotrac), and there is question in the industry if the Rockies can increase the payroll much. The Rockies have $170 million committed in salary and buyouts to eight players, and there are eight arbitration-eligible players -- including Gray and two-time All-Star shortstop , who is projected to make $11-$11.5 million in his next-to-last year of arbitration eligibility.