DENVER -- This winter begins the Rockies’ process of figuring out where shortstop Trevor Story fits in their long-term plan.
The sides aren’t facing a meaningful deadline. Story is arbitration-eligible this year and next. He was one of seven Rockies tendered contracts on Monday ahead of the league's non-tender deadline.
The Rockies have made no rumblings of trading Story, 27, who is in his prime years and at the top of his value because of his ability and two years of club control. Despite a 71-91 finish last season, the Rockies are confident they can contend in 2020. They’ve proven they can make the postseason with Story. They’ve done it in two of Story’s four seasons -- in his rookie year of '16, they called off making acquisitions for a surprise run when Story sustained a thumb injury just before the Trade Deadline.
Blackmon and Arenado signed after avoiding arbitration in their last year, so it would not be a shock for no long-term deal to materialize this winter.
But how would a deal right now look?
Last winter, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was in his next-to-last year of arbitration. After settling at $12 million for 2019 to avoid arbitration, Bogaerts and the Red Sox kept talking. Shortly after the season began, they agreed upon an extension through '25 at $132 million over six years. His salary is $20 million for each year from 2020-25.
Other notable long-term deals for shortstop before they hit free agency include the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, who with one year left in arbitration got 10 years and $189 million, and Troy Tulowitzki, who got two deals with the Rockies. He signed for six years and $31 million in 2008, and after the '10 season, he reached a new seven-season, $157.75 million deal.
Could the Rockies fit Story on to a payroll under a contract similar to the Red Sox-Bogaerts pact?
Some relief could come after next season.
First baseman Daniel Murphy ($8 million for 2020, plus a $6 million buyout on a '21 option) and left-handed reliever Jake McGee ($9.5 million for '20, plus a $2 million buyout on a '21 option) could make clean breaks from the payroll. Righty reliever Bryan Shaw ($9 million for '20, $2 million buyout for '21) also completes his contract after next season, although he is in line to reach incentives that could make his $9 million option for '21 a player option. And outfielder Ian Desmond’s salary reduces from $15 million in '20 to $8 million in '21, with a $2 million buyout for '22.
The aforementioned salaries mean a big payroll hit in 2020 -- one that includes Story, whose salary is projected to be between $11 million (Cot’s Baseball Contracts) and $11.5 million (MLB Trade Rumors). The Rockies are expected to seek some '20 payroll relief by dealing some of the larger contracts, even if they eat significant salary. The Rockies are expected to attempt to deal McGee and Shaw, who are each considered candidates for improved performance after a change of scenery.
Assuming a Story deal would be like the one Bogaerts signed -- meaning the salary jumps dramatically in the second year -- the Rockies are well-positioned. The club's new contract with AT&T Sports Network begins in 2021.
There could still be issues balancing the payroll.
Arenado’s salary each year from 2020-24 is $35 million, while Blackmon earns $21 million each year through '22. Outfielder David Dahl, who joined Story, Arenado and Blackmon as 2019 All-Stars, begins the first of his four arbitration years. Righty starter Jon Gray also is due for a significant increase in his second year of arbitration, and lefty starter Kyle Freeland, like Dahl, begins his first of four arbitration years.
In November, the Rockies made early decisions on two arbitration-eligible pitchers. They outrighted right-handed pitcher Chad Bettis, who opted for free agency, and they waived left-handed pitcher Tyler Anderson, who was claimed by the Giants. Technically, righty reliever Wes Parsons, designated for assignment last week to make room for free-agent righty José Mujica, was non-tendered.