Catching, 'pen focus for Rox at Winter Meetings

December 10th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich has cast a wide net in his search for a catcher to pair with , but the club has specific requirements for the eventual acquisition.

Anyone available can be listed among the possibilities.

There’s , formerly of the Yankees and formerly a teammate of Rockies third baseman at Lake Forest (Calif.) El Toro High School. There’s and , the pair that caught in the World Series for the Astros. There are recently the recently non-tendered (D-backs) and Elias Diaz (Pirates). There are decorated catchers such as Russell Martin (Dodgers) and Matt Wieters (Cardinals). There are more.

And there are trade possibilities.

Bridich acknowledged that the Rockies pursued Stephen Vogt, who signed with the D-backs, and had a conversation with the Mariners before the Brewers obtained Omar Narváez in a trade last week.

Wolters, who caught in 112 games last season, is a left-handed hitter. While a righty bat is ideal, it’s not as important as being a steward of the pitching staff.

“Vogt was left-handed [as a hitter],” Bridich said. “We felt like he would have brought a certain set of skills, [but] not one of them was being a right-handed hitter. He had some experience and some desire to be here.

“We need catchers who are dedicated to the care of the pitchers -- in tune and willing to devote themselves to that. That’s high on the list. That’s where we try to thread the needle of defensive abilities, an interest in a brain that works back there and offensive potential.”

Um, is that a rocking horse? The $9 million-plus commitments to righty Bryan Shaw and lefty Jake McGee, at the end of three-year deals, constitute the rocking horse in the room. Moving one or both contracts, even if the Rockies have to eat a portion, can give relief to a payroll that could be adding a free-agent catcher and will be growing because of arbitration-related commitments.

Bridich seemed more positive about Shaw’s rebound potential.

“Bryan was, in certain ways, better this year than he was the year prior, and made some adjustments that helped to a certain degree,” Bridich said.

McGee saw 17 of the 26 runners he inherited score.

“Jake’s got to figure out a way to do better with inherited runners, especially if he’s going to be utilized the way he’s been utilized the last couple of years,” said Bridich. “It’s not like we’re relying on Jake to pitch massive amounts of innings when he’s out there. Bryan can. He’s very malleable and flexible in terms of how he can be utilized in a bullpen.”

Bridich, however, reiterated his commitment to Wade Davis -- who led the National League with a club-record 43 saves in 2018 and lost the closer job in ‘19 -- as part of the bullpen. Davis will earn $17 million in the final year of a three-year, $52 million deal.

“Some of our best relievers, they haven’t always been the same guy all the time -- [Brian] Fuentes, [Rafael] Betancourt, Huston Street,” Bridich said. “There was some of this going on. Some of our best starters, Jorge De La Rosa, it wasn’t all smooth sailing all the time. There were some years he pitched better, then struggled, figured things out and did better.

“I have a lot of belief in Wade. This isn’t the first time he’s ever struggled. This is the first time to this degree. But this isn’t the first time that the game has won out a little bit.”

Obtaining a power starter, the Rockies’ way: Signing former Rays righty prospect José Mujica last week didn’t create much buzz. But righty German Márquez, who has become a key starter, wasn’t the big headline when he arrived in a trade with the Rays before the 2016 season, either.

Mujica, 23, missed last season because of Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm, but before then had worked his way to Triple-A. The Rockies’ scouts and research and development personnel like his power mix that involves a fastball, a slider and a developing changeup.

“He can be a Major League starter,” Bridich said. “There’s a pitch mix, there’s a power element, there is a natural strike-throwing. The stuff right now isn’t as big as Márquez’s, but the strike-throwing element of that has been similar at a young age. He’s past his Tommy John and we felt like he had pitched a lot at the Double-A level and pitched at Triple-A and will go back onto the roster and be Triple-A/Major League-relevant for us in the coming months.”

Bridich cautioned for patience, given he is coming off surgery. Mujica has two years of Major League options.

The Rockies on Monday also claimed power right-handed relief potential in Tyler Kinley, off waivers from the Marlins.

It’s all talk: Other teams may hope against hope that the Rockies want to deal Arenado, or arbitration-eligible shortstop Trevor Story or right fielder Charlie Blackmon, for that matter. But that’s just because this is the time to shop and dream.

Bridich explained those conversations as teams saying, “Don’t just go do something crazy without us.

“Look, this is the time of year where those conversations happen. This is the time of year where we at least listen to teams and go, 'OK, well, should we try to investigate and put something together.' That's what these jobs are. We have people to do those sorts of things. I can't sit here and go, 'No, never, ever.'”