Rockies have a full to-do list heading into '22
DENVER -- After days of wild free agency activity across the sport, the Rockies still have a full to-do list.
The Rockies, whose weeks-long interest in former National League Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant became Twitter candy on Tuesday, are looking to add to their lineup. They also must replace right-handed starting pitcher Jon Gray , whom the team had hoped to re-sign before the Rangers swooped in with a successful four-year, $56 million offer, according to sources.
Here is a look at Colorado’s various pursuits:
According to MLB sources, it turns out the Rockies worked on Plan B during their unsuccessful attempt to retain Gray. They pursued left-hander Steven Matz, who signed a four-year deal with the Cardinals for a reported $44 million; and left-hander Alex Wood, who is reported to have agreed on a two-year deal worth upwards of $20 million to return to the Giants.
It is not clear how close the Rockies came to swaying Matz or Wood. Their signings fell roughly within the annual range of the deal the Rockies reportedly offered Gray -- three to four years years at $35 million to $40 million, according to The Athletic. The swings and misses, though, could underline the difficulty the Rockies have in convincing pitchers to agree to pitch at altitude in the middle of their careers.
The Rockies are still shopping the free-agent market, with Dylan Bundy, Mike Foltynewicz and Carlos Martínez, the latter of whom is trying to regain form after injuries the last three years, among the possibilities.
Colorado also is a player in the trade market, with the Athletics (Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas) and the Reds (Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo) reportedly making pitchers available. Of the aforementioned pitchers, Castillo would profile best for the Rockies but also would have the highest acquisition cost -- given that his contract is under club control through 2023.
Going into the winter, other clubs desired the players the Rockies simply don’t want to trade -- namely, starting pitchers Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela; third baseman Ryan McMahon; and second baseman Brendan Rodgers. All are under economical contracts and/or club control. For teams not wanting to restock their Major League rosters, the Rockies have starting pitching in numbers at the lower Minor League levels. Outfielder Raimel Tapia could attract a team seeking speed at the top of the order, as well.
The Rockies believe Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto profile well in their lineup, in their park, on the field and, well, everywhere. All three play the outfield, where the Rockies have lacked power the last two seasons. Schwarber took up first base in the ’21 postseason, and Bryant also plays the infield corners. The expected advent of the designated hitter in the National League opens lineup flexibility.
Nick Castellanos would fit that list, as well. But reports suggest that Castellanos' expected high asking price and reported desire for a seven- to eight-year deal could make it tough on one of his suitors, the Marlins. A contract the length Castellanos is reportedly seeking would likely take the Rockies out of the running, as well.
What will the Rockies pay? Club president Greg Feasel said at season’s end that he expected the payroll to rise in ’22 and ’23. In theory, the club has already created some room after entering 2021 with an Opening Day payroll of $105,575,629, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Next year’s contribution to third baseman Nolan Arenado's salary with the Cardinals drops from $14,429,500 to $5,570,400 (the bill climbs to $16 million in’23). Their spending for another starting pitcher figures to be a few million less than Gray’s average annual value with the Rangers. Márquez and Senzatela are under contracts that are less expensive than they would have been had the Rockies needed to bid against other teams, and catcher Elias Díaz's three-year, $14.5 million deal could be a bargain if he performs as he did most of 2021.
So could there be room in the budget for two big bats? Or will the Rockies go all-in for one, then grant a homegrown product like Sam Hilliard a clear chance to reach his power potential? If the Rockies go with the latter, they could pursue another hitter at the ’22 Trade Deadline if they are postseason-relevant.
If the Rockies had any intention to play at the top of the shortstop market, they’d be burning their minutes on retaining Trevor Story. That’s not happening. The Rockies weren’t players for Corey Seager, Javier Báez or Marcus Semien, either. The run on shortstops is centered at the top of the market, which means there is time for the Rockies to pursue José Iglesias, Andrelton Simmons or solid defensive shortstops who may be non-tendered.
The Rockies are trying to hit a bargain sweet spot. They would like a late-innings reliever, preferably a closer, at a low cost. For example Daniel Hudson's reported one-year, roughly $7 million agreement to be a setup man with the Dodgers was well out of the Rockies’ range. After finishing last season with Carlos Estévez serving as closer, the club is known to have approached Mark Melancon and Corey Knebel to increase the experience level in the late innings.