The new year is just around the corner, and the Colorado Rockies are gearing up to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
The 2019 season will be different for the Rockies, with the departure of some fan favorite players and the arrival of Colorado’s top prospects. After two seasons of exponential improvement, the Rockies are primed to thrive as they enter their championship window.
Before the Rockies take the field, the front office must make some decisions about the roster. So, the scribes at Mile High Sports have taken a look at what questions the Rockies need to answer ahead of the 2019 season.
Did the Rockies make the right decision in signing Daniel Murphy?
Aniello Piro: Absolutley. While the Rockies will miss the presence of DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy is an adequate replacement in the lineup. Murph is a career .299 hitter and has gap-to-gap power, a skillset that will play well at Coors Field. So long as he stays healthy, Murphy can elevate the Rockies offense and offer consistent protection in the middle of the lineup.
Defensively, he will likely put an end to the Ian Desmond experiment at first base, something basically everyone wants to happen in 2019. Although he is a second basemen by trade, Murphy can play first base and will likely see a majority of his playing time at the corner infield spot. Having an answer at first base is a load off of the Rockies shoulders alone, but the move will also allow Colorado to groom prospects Brendan Rogers and Garrett Hampson to play at second. Overall, the Rockies filled their biggest need, added offense to the lineup and opened up a position for their young players in signing Murphy. On top of it all, he is also a clutch postseason hitter, owning a .309 batting average in October. If he can stay on the field, it’s a good deal for the Rockies.
Luke Zahlmann: Yes. Prior to the offseason, I wrote about the Rockies primary targets in free agency and what they would bring to the team. Daniel Murphy brings a left-handed bat that can really help their lineup on days where they lean towards home run or bust territory. Last year, for long stretches of games, the Rockies became an offense that either got the ball out of the park, or struck out and did little on offense. Murphy, with a career .344 on-base percentage and lower strikeout numbers, will counter that. Yes, his power numbers have dropped in recent years, but the Rockies have plenty of power in their batting order to counter it.
Being left-handed, Murphy also brings the top of the club’s lineup some flexibility. No longer will they have to throw Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Desmond all in close proximity which can yield itself to a specialist shutting the team down in the later innings. Allowing Murphy to take over one of their top spots, splitting up Arenado and Story, will loom large for their offensive success.
With first base filled, what should the Rockies next priority be?
Aniello Piro: Starting pitching. The Rockies have a fantastic one-two punch at the top of their rotation in Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. Beyond the top two, though, the Rockies rotation consists of question marks. Antonio Senzatlea and Tyler Anderson have been sharp in spurts, Jon Gray is a mess, and nobody knows if Jeff Hoffman will pan out. The addition of a veteran starter could be a difference maker for Colorado. Somebody like Wade Miley or Gio Gonzalez could stabilize the Rockies rotation past the top two arms. The Rockies likely do not want to increase the payroll substantially, but they can “grow responsibly” as General Manager Jeff Bridich said, by adding a veteran arm on a short deal. Spending some money on the rotation could be a worthwhile move for Colorado.
If the Rockies lose DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino and Gerardo Parra in free agency and replace them with internal talent, will they be better or worse next season?
Aniello Piro: Worse. The Rockies have been proactive by replacing LeMahieu with Murphy which is a solid move. Losing Ottavino will hurt their bullpen severely with Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw and Mike Dunn all having underperformed in 2018. Seung-hwan Oh will help balance the bullpen unless he opts to play in Korea again, and their talent pool might be thin if guys continue to falter. If David Dahl can stay healthy for a full season, a big “if,” he will slide into the Rockies outfield perfectly. Parra was a balancing force for the Rockies both in the clubhouse and on the field. In his three seasons in Colorado, Parra hit .283 with a .320 OBP, production that will be missed if Dahl is unable to stay healthy and Desmond continues to struggle at the plate. Parra is a free agent, and there is sure to be some mutual interest so long as the price is right.
Luke Zahlmann: Worse. Last season, Ottavino, LeMahieu and Parra all served roles of the team, roles that cannot be filled by internal talent currently, outside of Parra. The club’s biggest loss, Ottavino, is going to sting. From the bullpen, Ottavino amassed a league-leading 34 holds and 13 K/9, by far the highest on the club among qualified relievers (40+ innings). His efforts further aided the team’s late-season run, allowing only six hits in the entire month of September.
In an era that is becoming more reliant on the bullpen than ever, his loss will really hurt. LeMahieu will likely be replaced by Garrett Hampson, who proved his worth to the club with a .396 OBP and pair of stolen bases in his limited playing time. Hampson brings a speed element that LeMahieu did not possess, but lacks the power and Gold Glove defense. They will see a downgrade at second, especially if Colorado chooses to rely on players currently in their system. Giving Hampson time, while Brendan Rodgers develops, could save money. However, it may result in the Rockies finding a young star. With Raimel Tapia and David Dahl ready to contribute for the club, Parra’s loss should be lessened greatly, including a far lower financial commitment.
If the Rockies and Nolan Arenado are unable to reach a contract extension before Spring Training what should Colorado do?
Aniello Piro: Unfortunaetly, the Rockies will have to wait it out and hope that he ultimately chooses to re-sign. The return for any trade involving Arenado likely would not be worth forgoing the opportunity to try and convince him to stay in free agency. Trading him now would be a gut punch to the organization and its fans. At this time, the Rockies need to do everything in their power to lock him up before the season starts, something that seems unlikely as I wrote earlier in the month. Letting Arenado hit the market would be a big roll of the dice for the Rockies. Being that 2019 could be Nolan’s last as a Rockie, the club should do everything in their power to show him they can be title contenders should he decide to re-up.
Luke Zahlmann: Wait and see. Arenado is the franchise pillar. After Troy Tulowitzki was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, and even before then, Arenado was already the of face of the franchise. In free agency, he will likely fetch a $300-plus million commitment from the highest bidder. If the club is unable to lock him up prior to the season beginning, they would be wise to wait. Not only would the franchise wait to see if he continues his torrid pace and would be willing to sign following the season, but also how well the entire team performs.
If the Rockies begin to falter, with Arenado still on the roster, the team may be wise to survey his market for contending teams. Instead of risking the loss of their superstar for nothing, trading him for a package similar to what the Baltimore Orioles fetched for Manny Machado would make sense. While it would be advantageous for the club to lock up the services of a career .291/.346/.539 hitter prior to the conclusion of the offseason, the lack of an extension at the season’s onset leaves the franchise with little options outside of waiting.
What should the Rockies do with Ian Desmond?
Aniello Piro: The Rockies will probably move Desmond to the outfield following the signing of Murphy. The move is probably for the best because Desmond never looked comfortable at first base and has experience playing in the outfield. At this point, Desmond has been a total bust following the five-year, $70 million contract he signed in 2016. The Rockies best bet is to play him somewhere he is familiar with and hope he can get back on track. Desmond can be a fourth outfielder type for the Rockies, a role that is probably best suited for him at this point in his career.
Luke Zahlmann: As rumored already, the team is going to look at making Desmond a utility guy, a wise decision. In his first two years with the club, Desmond has provided minimal value to the club. Slating him into an everyday position, whether it’s first or a corner outfield spot would once again plague the club’s lineup. At this point in his tenure with the franchise, the Rockies are very unlikely to pick up his option in three years and would be better served to just cut their losses and utilize him as a filler for injured players. With playing time around the infield and outfield, Desmond would serve as an adequate all-around bench player. It’s not ideal for one of the higher paid players on a roster to serve a minimal role, but the club has little choice.