This is the time of year when Major League Baseball executives earn their money. They aren’t watching games now; they’re crunching numbers. Poring over statistics, and “advanced analytics,” evaluating what they have for next season and determining what they need… and how to get it.
Free agency in baseball starts now. Players like the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke are opting out of contracts that already have guaranteed them bazillions, believing they can get even more. The list of players available to the highest bidder is long and intriguing.
Even with a glaring need for pitching help, the Rockies don’t figure to be big players in the free agent marketplace. It’s been 15 years since Colorado went shopping in the expensive stores and signed Mike Hampton to what remains the 60th largest contract in the history of professional sports. It’s the last time they shopped there, and there have been no indications of any plans to go back. Colorado now shops at the outlet stores, looking for bargains.
So scratch Greinke off the list of potential Rockies free agent signees. Go ahead and scratch David Price as well. Heck, both Greinke and Price will probably end up in Dodger blue. Add World Series hero Johnny Cueto to the “ain’t coming here” list, too.
But whom might the Rockies go after? Typically they try to sign one pitcher (who comes with an affordable price tag), whom they believe can help stabilize a rotation that’s annually beset with a bad combination of youth, injuries and ineffectiveness. Last season, they opted for Kyle Kendrick. That didn’t work out. Neither did Jeremy Guthrie before that. In fact, going back to the beginning of the franchise more than 20 years ago, the acquisition of big name free agent pitchers, even guys like Bret Saberhagen, Denny Neagle and Hampton, hasn’t worked out… pretty much ever.
So do they try again? Go back to the well and hope they land the right one this time? Or do they stick with the same plan that hasn’t produced much in terms of quality results?
There are plenty of quality arms available on the free agent market. Even if the Rockies did want to sign a top-tier free agent pitcher, convincing any of those available that Colorado is the best place for them will take a lot of good coaxing and a few extra zeroes on the contract. Guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister from the Washington Nationals would provide a serious upgrade, as would Marco Estrada, Jeff Samardzija, Ian Kennedy or Ryan Vogelsong. Even though the chances of adding any of these guys is slim (“So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance!”), it will be interesting to see how hard the Rockies try anyway.
The long-term core of future Rockies pitching staffs will have to continue to come from the farm system – and that includes players, like Jeff Hoffman, that they acquired via trade and placed in the minor leagues. But they’re likely to continue to try to sign one pitcher each offseason they think can be a quality “innings eater” and staff stabilizer. Yet to do so successfully will mean they have to start looking outside the bargain bin and pursue players that aren’t just available, but are guys other teams – contending teams – want to sign, too.
We could very well see someone like Aaron Harang or Mike Pelfrey end up with the Rockies. Both have had quality careers and could still have something to offer here, but neither will be highly sought by numerous other clubs. If that’s the type of pitcher Colorado ends up with again this offseason, it will tell us that either they tried to land a bigger name and couldn’t (in which case you can’t fault the effort), or that the new Rockies administration is taking the same approach to free agency that the previous regime did. When it comes to shopping for top-tier free agent pitching, it will remain, “Thanks, but we’re just looking.”