What will the Rockies’ Opening Day roster look like to start 2021? About the best we can say is unlike last year, when the team said it would not do much in the winter and stuck to that plan, it’s likely what you see here is not what you will
What will the Rockies’ Opening Day roster look like to start 2021? About the best we can say is unlike last year, when the team said it would not do much in the winter and stuck to that plan, it’s likely what you see here is not what you will see when baseball begins anew.
Finances will be tight, as owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort noted in a recent letter to fans. But the Rockies have significant holes in the bullpen, and they have to decide how they are going to address the prospect of losing two key performers at the end of next season -- shortstop Trevor Story, who can become a free agent, and third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has the right to opt out of the final five years of his eight-year, $260 million deal.
Those issues could mean significant changes, even if the Rockies hold the payroll steady or reduce it.
But, knowing it’s going to change, here’s what we can predict now for the 26-man Opening Day roster. As you can see, there are holes, but also some possibilities for filling them.
Catcher (2): Elias Díaz, Tony Wolters
Díaz, with some power potential, improved his production as his 2020 playing time increased. By the end he was catching No. 1 starter Germán Márquez in an audition for the No. 1 job. The shortened season muted Wolters’ potential defensive impact, but he needs more offensive consistency to earn playing time. The Rockies have high hopes for left-handed-hitting Dom Nuñez, who spent 2020 at the alternate training site. The Rockies could take a shot at Gold Glove finalist James McCann or a proven hitter at the position, but it’s likely dollars will be spent elsewhere.
First base (2): Free-agent signing/trade acquisition, Josh Fuentes
Do the Rockies try again here, only this time for a true first baseman? The signings of Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy, who had to convert, didn’t work. The right-handed-hitting Fuentes showed top-of-the-line defensive skills, but he might be better used at multiple positions. Ryan McMahon, listed here at second, could fit here or at third, depending on offseason moves.
Second base (2): Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson
Out-on-the-limb prediction: Whatever deals the Rockies make, they will have a place for McMahon and trust that he will trim his strikeouts and find his power -- the way Story did after some early-career difficulties. Not re-signing DJ LeMahieu after 2018 and turning the position over to McMahon hasn’t been seamless, but the Rockies have faith the talent is there. Hampson plays solid defense at four positions, but his playing time fluctuates depending on how he is hitting.
Third base (1): Nolan Arenado
If he’s here, Arenado, with eight Gold Glove Awards and power numbers that were consistently solid before a left shoulder injury marred his 2020 season, is all the Rockies need. If they deal him, expect them to fill at least one starting position, improve the bullpen (and possibly the rotation) and help the prospect profile. But how many teams are willing to pay $35 million and risk him opting out at season’s end? McMahon plays well at third and could make that his position if Arenado is dealt.
Shortstop (1): Trevor Story
Story’s power and defense have made him a star, which is why he is looking at big money on the free-agent market. Do the Rockies strike now or revisit the issue at the Trade Deadline? There could be competition on the trade market, since the Indians may shop Francisco Lindor, who is at the same place in his contract. If Story is dealt, expect them to receive a shortstop in the deal or grant a chance to Brendan Rodgers -- who has dealt with injury and hasn’t lived up to gaudy Minor League numbers. Hampson is a solid fielder at short.
Outfield (5): Charlie Blackmon, Raimel Tapia, David Dahl, Ian Desmond, Sam Hilliard
This is where change could occur. Expect the Rockies to bid for free agent Kevin Pillar, who finished ’20 in purple pinstripes, or make a run at other outfielders. Dahl and Tapia, both arbitration-eligible, could attract trade interest -- even though it’s hard to see the Rockies parting with Dahl, who has struggled to stay healthy but provided punch when available. Tapia showed quality as leadoff man when Dahl was out with a shoulder injury. But the original plan was to have Dahl at the top of the order. Depending on roster makeup, Hampson and Fuentes could see time in the outfield.
Starting pitchers (5): Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Jon Gray, Ryan Castellani
The top three were far and away the strength of the team, and the Rockies are counting on Gray’s healthy return from a right shoulder injury. Castellani’s raw stuff put him slightly ahead of Chi Chi González, whose control took manic swings. Lefty Ryan Rolison, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's No. 2 prospect, could get a chance to earn a job in Spring Training. The Rockies also will hope for righty Peter Lambert to contribute after returning from Tommy John surgery. The rotation is not a monster, but definitely postseason worthy. Teams could kick the tires on trades for Freeland, Gray or Senzatela, but those deals would have to be incredible for the Rockies to bite.
Relievers (8): Daniel Bard, Scott Oberg, Mychal Givens, Carlos Estévez, Jairo Díaz, Tyler Kinley, Yency Almonte, Jeff Hoffman, lefty free agent or trade acquisition
Expect much change here. The fact that the Rockies didn’t have a single lefty as they fell out of playoff contention was a glaring problem after Phillip Diehl and James Pazos struggled. Pazos was designated for assignment and chose free agency as the season ended. Left-right balance should be a priority, and a starter type (Castellani, González, Rolison, Ashton Goudeau, José Mujica, Antonio Santos) could begin the year in the 'pen, depending on roster makeup.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.