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Rox aim for calm, calculated Winter Meetings

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- In some ways, the Rockies will enter next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in the same spot as last year -- believing they can contend. The difference this time is they have a postseason appearance in the rear-view mirror.

With multiple relief-pitching holes and a catching spot to fill, and with the possibility of being creative to increase the production at first base, in the outfield or both, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich promises the same calm, detailed approach that has allowed to Rockies to steadily join the contenders over the past three years. So while there will be moves, there will not be a panicked change in philosophy.

DENVER -- In some ways, the Rockies will enter next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in the same spot as last year -- believing they can contend. The difference this time is they have a postseason appearance in the rear-view mirror.

With multiple relief-pitching holes and a catching spot to fill, and with the possibility of being creative to increase the production at first base, in the outfield or both, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich promises the same calm, detailed approach that has allowed to Rockies to steadily join the contenders over the past three years. So while there will be moves, there will not be a panicked change in philosophy.

Hot Stove Tracker

"I felt the same amount of urgency that we do now," Bridich said. "Sometimes your targets or your needs are different, but the sense of urgency is the same -- to correctly and accurately evaluate our own people, the people we have on the roster already. There's urgency in making sure that we are not skipping steps in the offseason process, that we are paying attention to the details of past seasons and past offseasons that helped us get to where we got to in 2017.

"Hopefully, one of the major differences is that there is a postseason experience -- not just the concept or an idea of it, but actually a recent, in-house experience that continues that belief from '17 into '18."

Here is a look at the Rockies' priorities as they head into the Winter Meetings.

Bullpen
Closer Greg Holland and the two key setup men down the stretch, righty Pat Neshek and lefty Jake McGee, are free agents. Given that the Rockies were 76-5 when leading after seven innings and 79-3 when leading after eight in 2017, this is no small issue. The Rockies are in contact with Holland, and Neshek said at the end of the season that he was open to a return. It's less clear with McGee, but his ability to set up or be a closer could raise his price tag beyond what the Rockies can pay given their multiple bullpen needs.

Video: COL@ATL: McGee picks up his third save of year

Bridich acknowledged having made contact with representatives for Holland, Wade Davis and Brandon Kintzler. But Bridich tends to look at many free-agent possibilities, so Tony Watson, Brandon Morrow, Addison Reed and Hector Rondon could be among those the Rockies evaluate.

Possible trade candidates include the Orioles' Zach Britton, the Cubs' Justin Wilson and the Rays' Alex Colome.

Catcher
Jonathan Lucroy makes a lot of sense, given his production and patience at the plate after arriving in a Trade Deadline deal with the Rangers last season. Lucroy's experience can also lessen the learning curve for the Rockies' young starting pitchers. But other teams are expected to check on the free agent. Alex Avila is a possible free-agent target, or the Rockies could try to swing a trade. It could be tough in the National League West, but according to reports the Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal could also be available.

Video: Free agent market for Lucroy, possible Rockies return

First base or outfield
During last year's Winter Meetings, the Rockies made the most expensive free-agent position-player signing in their history, Ian Desmond at five years and $70 million. Desmond played mostly outfield and first base. Injuries limited his production in 2017, but the Rockies are looking for more from him. And they may be able to add a helper.

Carlos Gonzalez and last year's primary first baseman, Mark Reynolds, are free agents, so expect the Rockies to explore free agency (they've been linked to Jay Bruce) and trades to see how everything fits.

Video: Duquette discusses Bruce's season, free agency

In a sense, a move isn't crucial. Left-handed-hitting infielder Ryan McMahon, the Rockies' Minor League hitting prospect of the year according to MLB.com and their third-ranked prospect, could make his mark at first base. David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman are outfielders who could be ready to make their marks.

Who can they trade if necessary
Interestingly, All-Star center fielder Charlie Blackmon and NL Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman DJ LeMahieu are in their last year of arbitration, and outfielder Gerardo Parra is at the end of his three-year deal. But as the Rockies showed with Gonzalez, they are willing to risk seeing a player leave if they feel they're better with him than without.

Video: 2017 MLB Awards: Best Major Leaguer - Blackmon

Bridich doesn't rule out dealing Major Leaguers, as he showed before the 2016 season when he sent outfielder Corey Dickerson to the Rays for McGee and 2017 Topps Rookie All-Star starting pitcher German Marquez. Generally, Bridich has dealt lower-level prospects rather than those at the Major League level.

Rule 5 Draft

With 37 on the 40-man roster, the Rockies would have to make roster-clearing moves to participate. It's possible, especially with the recent emphasis on accumulating power arms, that they could lose relief pitching.

Big contracts they might unload

By going year-to-year with most arbitration-eligible players, and by being modest on the free-agent market, the Rockies don't have cumbersome contracts.

Payroll summary

Bridich said the Rockies, who added payroll in bringing in Neshek and Lucroy last season, expect to start 2018 where they finished 2017 -- $147.6 million, which included $22 million for shortstop Jose Reyes, who was playing for the Mets. The Rockies also have paid Reyes a $4 million buyout on an option for 2018.

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.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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