5 biggest offseason questions facing Rockies

October 12th, 2018

DENVER -- The Rockies took steps forward in 2018. Fueled by a starting rotation that led the National League in innings pitched, they advanced to the National League Division Series -- a step farther than the Wild Card Game finish of 2017.

To continue on a path they hope leads to a World Series title, however, they will need to address some situations. Here are five:

1. How do they improve the offense?

According to Baseball-Reference.com, among players who appeared in 70 or more games, the Rockies had five players with OPS-plus figures near or above 100 (considered league average) -- (133), (127), Charlie Blackmon (115), (113) and free-agent-to-be (close enough at 99). DJ LeMahieu, also headed to free agency, usually is in a decent range, but was down after an injury-filled 2018.

For comparison, the Dodgers had eight players with OPS-plus figures above 100 -- nine if you count Manny Machado, who had 66 games in blue. Even with that firepower, the Dodgers had to beat the Rockies in a tiebreaker to win the NL West.

Do the Rockies play a free-agent market that has more questions than answers? Is there enough depth from the farm system and pitching to make trades?

In any case, adding a proven bat would mean the Rockies wouldn't be dependent on young players making a quantum leap offensively. With first baseman , who struggled with injuries in 2017 and spent 2018 searching offensively, able to shift positions defensively, the Rockies have some flexibility for adding an impact offensive player.

As Dahl proved when healthy, it's possible for a system product to push his way into playing time. This is true no matter what players the Rockies bring in from the outside. Left-handed-hitting corner infielder , who proved not ready in the beginning of his rookie season, but made some contributions late, and right-handed-hitting infielder , whose tools play at the top of the lineup, could help the offense.

2. What becomes of Nolan Arenado's contract situation?

There is not an immediate deadline here, since Arenado is eligible for arbitration and doesn't become a free agent until 2019. For reference, the Rockies and Blackmon reached a one-year agreement before the arbitration filing deadline, then continued to work on a six-year deal worth at least $108 million that was completed the first week of the 2018 season.

It could be costly. Already, a report -- confirmed to MLB.com -- had Cubs third baseman , who also becomes a free agent in 2019, turning down a $200 million offer from his club (length of the alleged offer hasn't surfaced).

Should the Rockies put together an offer, it likely would have greater payouts early on as opposed to later, since the pitchers who fostered the turnaround begin hitting free agency in 2022 ( and ) and 2023 ( and ).

At any rate, Arenado doesn't expect the Rockies to trade him this winter and avoid the whole thing -- especially since his bat and glove help fuel their World Series dream.

3. What to do with this year's free agents?

The Rockies must assess whether Hampson, who could slot into the leadoff spot and drop Blackmon to a spot where he has more men on base, is ready to take over for LeMahieu. They also have to assess whether to re-sign Gonzalez, spend bigger on the free-agent market or expect homegrown players to be the answer.

For the bench, the Rockies have to decide whether to retain outfielder , whom they own a $12 million option on for 2019. They could opt not to pick that up, ensuring him a $1.5 million buyout.

4. How does Gray make 2018 go away?

After a solid 2017, Gray struggled to the point this season that he was sent down to Triple-A in late June and wasn't on the postseason roster. At times, he looked like the '17 version of himself. At other times, he looked like a stranger to that version.

Gray spent the year vacillating between fixing his mechanics and feeling hamstrung by thinking about mechanics. He also lost weight during the season, and vowed to be stronger physically next year. He'll also have to earn back faith in big situations.

The Rockies also have to decide if Gray is a tradeable asset for the offensive improvements they desire. The Rockies resisted dealing him at the deadline, and have not been inclined to deal starting pitching.

There are rotation questions beyond Gray: Will righty , shifted to the bullpen after a right middle finger blister scuttled a solid early going, return to the rotation? Can righty , obtained from the Blue Jays for shortstop in 2015 with much fanfare, crack the big league rotation?

5. How can the Rockies preserve and improve the bullpen?

It took until late in the regular season for the Rockies to find a dependable group to hold leads. However, two relievers signed to three-year, $27 million contracts (righty and lefty Jake McGee) were not pitching well enough to be part of that unit, and lefty Mike Dunn, in the middle of a three-year, $19 million deal, was out with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Righty is set to become a free agent. So, the club must decide whether to compete for him and others. The Rockies owe closer $26 million over the next two years, and are likely to pick up 's $2.5 million 2019 option, so they have to be judicious in adding payroll to that area. Righty -- who emerged this year as a key late-game option -- helps, since he is relatively inexpensive as a first-year arbitration-eligible player.