The Rockies are at a strange, yet familiar, place going into the offseason after the worst record in their history, 59-103. The Rockies’ frequently asked questions heading into the winter are the ones they couldn’t answer during the summer.
The organization chases starting pitching through the MLB Draft and trades, yet doesn’t have nearly enough of it. It doesn’t help that one of the team's better performers in recent years, Germán Márquez, won’t be around until the All-Star break, and another, Antonio Senzatela, likely is out until August. Both underwent Tommy John surgery.
Righty prospects Gabriel Hughes, Jackson Cox, Jordy Vargas and McCade Brown had the same surgery last season, with only Brown expected back in ‘24. Additionally, left-handed prospects Ryan Rolison, Helcris Olivarez and Sam Weatherly missed ‘23 with throwing shoulder issues but hope to come back in ‘24.
So with a projected rotation led by lefties Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber and, as of now, augmented by three righties who haven’t pitched a full season in the Majors and have had their injury issues (Peter Lambert, Ryan Feltner and Noah Davis), the biggest question is unchanged.
How are the Rockies going to find pitching?
Which players are free agents?
Righty starters Chase Anderson and Chris Flexen, and lefty reliever Brent Suter are eligible for free agency. None will receive a qualifying offer, however …
Which free agents will the Rockies attempt to retain?
Depending on how the offseason overall goes, there is a case for all three, since the Rockies need all the pitching they can get.
The toughest to keep will be Suter, who pitched under playoff pressure with the Brewers before joining the Rockies. Suter finished with a 3.38 ERA, but that figure didn’t climb into the 3s until August.
Suter, 34, expressed to the Rockies he is interested in being re-signed, but he will explore the market. Even if the Rockies are a fallback, they tend to account for themselves well in the relief market. In ‘23, Suter was a waiver claim from the Brewers, and Pierce Johnson and Brad Hand signed as free agents and pitched well enough for the Braves to acquire them at the Trade Deadline.
The Rockies need rotation help, and the free-agent market offers possibilities. There are few top pitchers in their prime years, so old strategies of trying to upgrade with experienced pitchers who aren’t thinking about the next big deal or guys looking to rebound from injuries or poor performance could be new again. But Anderson and Flexen could be fits, as well.
Anderson, 36 on Nov. 30, was claimed from the Rays, and Flexen was signed after being traded from the Mariners and released by the Mets. Both had struggles but by the end had effective outings with the Rockies. Anderson began ‘23 under a Minor League deal with the Reds, and at least that possibility exists with the Rockies. Flexen, 29, could seek a contract more reflective of his solid ‘22 performance with the Mariners.
Which players have notable arbitration situations?
The key arbitration figure, as well as the most marketable trade candidate on the roster, is 2022 Gold Glove second baseman Brendan Rodgers, who missed most of ‘23 with a left shoulder injury, but returned in August and got hot for the final 17 games -- .348/.392/.580 (24-for-69) with four doubles, four home runs and nine RBIs.
Rodgers, 27, avoided arbitration last winter with a $2.7 million agreement. However it goes with Rodgers this year, prospect depth -- especially in the middle infield and the outfield -- may be what it takes for Colorado to acquire pitching. Expect the Rockies keep that in mind as they try to find a trade partner.
The Rockies could receive trade interest in Gomber, also in his second year after agreeing at $1.65 million last year, but that would require something special since the Rockies are thin on starters as it is.
Will the Rockies be active in the trade market, and what will the strategy be?
Nearly all of general manager Bill Schmidt’s trades since last winter acquired pitching, but the most successful deal brought over outfielder and Rookie of the Year candidate Nolan Jones from the Guardians for infielder Juan Brito.
The goal this offseason is to make a Jones-esque trade, but for a pitcher rather than a position player.
The Jones deal involved a prospect, rather than an established player such as Rodgers. Whether the Rockies keep or trade Rodgers, they will likely also have to part with position-player prospects -- the brightest of whom are candidates to begin ‘24 in Double-A and appear in the Majors during the season.
Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
The roster currently sits at 34, and will be reduced to 31 when Anderson, Flexen and Suter become free agents. Infielder Adael Amador, the Rockies’ No. 1 prospect and No. 21 on the Top 100, and outfielder Yanquiel Fernandez, Rockies’ No. 2 prospect and No. 49 overall, clearly must be added. Two right-handed pitchers acquired in trades, Connor Van Scoyoc (from the Angels) and Alec Barger (who came from the Braves and has an strikeouts-per walk rate of 8.0 in the Arizona Fall League) are candidates, as is hard-throwing righty reliever Juan Mejia (19.64 strikeouts per nine in the AFL).
The Rockies also will take a long look at two players from Albuquerque last season -- infielder Aaron Schunk, who had a solid two-way season, and right-hander Jeff Criswell, who was obtained from the Athletics last winter. It’s not clear if the Rockies will protect Willie MacIver, who turned heads at Albuquerque after recovering from a right shoulder injury, but he’ll be seen as a candidate to make his debut in ‘24.
Which positions will the Rockies attempt to address via free agency, if not through a trade?
If the Rockies don’t score an experienced starting pitcher or two via trades, expect them to wait out the market and pursue pitchers before or possibly even during Spring Training. Same goes for relief pitching.
The current roster has few left-handed hitters beyond Jones, Charlie Blackmon and Ryan McMahon. But with the Rockies in a building mode, they can wait for help that’s on the way.
Amador and the No. 8 Rockies prospect, catcher Drew Romo, are switch-hitters; and Fernandez, outfielder Zac Veen (No. 5) and infielder-outfielder Sterlin Thompson (No. 6) bat lefty. Romo will likely begin ‘24 at Triple-A Albuquerque, and the rest could be part of a loaded Double-A Hartford squad to open the year.