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Inbox: Could Rox pursue veteran pitching help?

Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers questions from fans
@harding_at_mlb
October 8, 2019

DENVER -- Welcome to a Rockies offseason that … well, they’d rather things be exciting during next season than between seasons. But there’s plenty to discuss between now and then. Thanks for today’s questions. @moni_vette: Last year, I coveted Charlie Morton, a veteran pitcher, but understood why the Rockies felt

DENVER -- Welcome to a Rockies offseason that … well, they’d rather things be exciting during next season than between seasons. But there’s plenty to discuss between now and then. Thanks for today’s questions.

@moni_vette: Last year, I coveted Charlie Morton, a veteran pitcher, but understood why the Rockies felt they didn't need to add an expensive arm. This year they obviously need some help. Any chance they sign (or trade for) a veteran pitcher like Cole Hamels/ Mike Minor? Doubt they could afford Dallas Keuchel.

Going into this season, I was all for sticking with the mostly homegrown rotation that pitched the team to the National League Wild Card Game the previous two years. In both those years, the Rockies needed their depth -- because of youth and Tyler Anderson’s knee injury in 2016, and because of Chad Bettis’ finger blister and Jon Gray’s period of struggle in '17. And it was enough.

Rockies to address 'pen, prospects in offseason

But while the Rockies believe the pitchers who struggled this year can rebound, it may be time to at least add quality. I’d like to see them add someone with experience and the ability to strike out hitters. Strikeouts per nine innings dropped for every Colorado starter who also pitched for the team in '17 and '18, although German Marquez (9.05) and Jon Gray (9.02) ranked 24th and 25th in the Majors, respectively.

MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan identified Minor as a Rangers core member, so trading for him would be difficult. As for Hamels and Keuchel, they are free (contract-wise) but likely expensive. This could be an opportunity to make a shrewd trade for an experienced, dependable pitcher.

@larMe0071968: Pitching certainly was the glaring deficit this year, but it seems like the guys in the rotation towards the end of the season were starting to show some consistency. Could they be the depth everyone says the team so sorely lacks?

Great call here. I’m expecting a big bounce back from lefty Kyle Freeland, who threw well at the end of the season, so he can join Marquez and Gray. Yes, I’d love an experienced pitcher to fit into that group.

Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman and Chi Chi Gonzalez, who made forward steps in the final month, will enter next season out of Minor League options and will have to compete. Whoever doesn’t make the rotation can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, slide into the rotation if there is a need or even allow the Rockies to test an “opener” strategy. Tim Melville has options and will get to compete.

This is where it gets interesting. Hoffman was the ninth overall pick in the 2014 Draft. His strikeout performance, especially at Triple-A Albuquerque, suggests he can break through. His being out of options hurts his trade value, but I suspect some teams would be interested if he could be included to sweeten a larger deal. That would, however, require the Rockies being OK with the possibility of him breaking through elsewhere.

@TokuChirs: Rockies seem uninterested in changing the roster as they stated at the end of the season. How much of that is "we think these guys can rebound" vs. "we don't think we can unload their contract" vs. typical overvaluing the farm system?

The Rockies went through last season with the Majors’ 12th-highest payroll, and they ended up being one of the nine teams in the top 15 that didn’t make the postseason. And realistically, there are contracts that will be hard to unload. Relievers Wade Davis and Jake McGee have big one-year salaries, reliever Bryan Shaw has one guaranteed year left but with good health could easily trigger an option for another year, and Ian Desmond has two more large years left. Somewhere in there, the Rockies may be able to find a money-for-money deal.

Five questions facing Rockies this offseason

But you bring up an interesting point about the farm system. When the Rockies made the postseason in '18 and '19, it was done mostly with their system’s products -- not only among everyday players, but in bench and bullpen roles. When this season fell apart, the Rockies turned things over to prospect types. So they must ask themselves: Are the players who saw time in August and September ready to be part of the 2020 roster?

But could some of them also be used in trades? Sam Hilliard is part of a potential outfield crowd, and top prospect Brendan Rodgers, who is coming off right shoulder surgery, and Garrett Hampson, coming off a strong finish, are middle infielders by trade. Could these be areas where a trade could fill needs?

@DavidBray12: Will the Rockies bring in a veteran catcher on a one-year deal to back up Tony Wolters? Dom Nuñez showed flashes but with the low average could probably benefit from some more AAA time to start.

This is a key decision.

Wolters passed many tests in his first year as the Rockies’ regular catcher. His 102 starts and 112 games caught were the most for the club since Wilin Rosario’s 103 starts in 2013 and Yorvit Torrealba’s 112 games caught in 2007. With the Rockies believing that the Denver climate wears catchers down more than in other places, Wolters and Torrealba are tied for the second-most games caught in club history, behind Joe Girardi’s 122 in 1995.

Wolters’ .262 batting average was 92 points higher than his number in part-time work in 2018. He struggled at the end -- .140 in his final 21 games. But that might have had more to do with the road swallowing him up the way it has many other Rockies (he was 1-for-24 at the end) than durability.

Still, it’s better not to ask him to catch more. Choices here are to re-sign Drew Butera to a Major League deal or identify another experienced catcher and try to retain Butera on a Minor League deal. Either would give Nuñez more development time.

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.