What would it take for the Colorado Rockies to succeed this off-season? Come join me as I give you five keys to making it happen.Embed from Getty Images
When the Colorado Rockies ended the 2021 season, everyone expected the loss of Trevor Story. Kris Bryant trying to fill the power vacuum that was created though, I don’t believe many seen coming. So, while there is bound to be a surprise or two in store, I’m here to show how slow and steady can win the race.Embed from Getty Images
Fire Bill Schmidt and hire James Click.
I went in-depth with this potential franchise-changing move here. But to sum it up, the Colorado Rockies need an outside voice bringing a fresh perspective to the franchise. The latest World Series winning GM surprisingly became available due to a miser in Houston who wouldn’t offer him more than a year of job security. James Click would carry the clout necessary to ensure Dick would be willing to acquiesce the necessary power to re-align this club to what Coors Field and this loyal fan base deserve.
James Click’s specialty is finding pitching, especially in the low-cost international player pool. He is also familiar with working in a small market when he was in Tampa Bay’s front office before being hired by Houston in 2019. He was given credit for finding current Rockies ace German Marquez during his time there. In Houston they traded Jake Odorizzi at the deadline, Justin Verlander can leave during free agency, and they will still have six starters under contract until at least 2025. All six of those starters helped the 2022 Houston Astros clinch that World Series we mentioned earlier.Embed from Getty Images
Revamp the analytics department.
The first key will lead directly into the second. One of the biggest sticking points for Click leaving Houston wasn’t just about the money spent on him, but his analytics department. Coming from Tampa which has one of if not the most robust analytic departments in baseball it’s easy to see why he values analytics so much. The Monforts are tied for the 4th-lowest net worth at $700MM. That is obviously still very rich by any standard, but when you are competing against the Steve Cohens ($16 Billion) and Steinbrenners ($3.8 Billion) you need to be running your front office like your peer Stuart Sternberg (owner of the Rays).
Sternberg is just above the Monforts at $800MM and is a perfect case study of how you can be cost-conscious while putting a consistent contender on the field. Four of the most consistently winning teams over the last decade (Rays, Braves, Astros, Dodgers) and the last three World Series Champs (Braves, Dodgers, Astros) can all trace their front office lineage back to Tampa Bay. And what is the consensus of baseball on why they have been so good? Their analytics department.Embed from Getty Images
Address the bullpen with familiar faces.
What is the most nauseating take for those clad in purple and black in LoDo? You can’t pitch at a mile high. The below four names know more than any that’s simply not true. While it is an inherent disadvantage to pitch half your games at Coors Field, it is not impossible.
Adam Ottavino is arguably one of the best relief pitchers in Colorado Rockies’ history. From 2012-2018 Otto was 17-18 with a 3.41 ERA, 17 SVs, 452 Ks in 390.2 innings, and a ERA+ of 136. When you remove his first full season of 2012 where he was adjusting from life as a former first-round pick as a starting pitcher into a late-inning reliever, that stat line drops the ERA to 3.12 and bumps the ERA+ to 149 with all 17 of those saves and 12 of the wins. He was also touted as a true leader in the bullpen. Something the Colorado Rockies are still sorely missing just beyond the right-field Bridich Barrier. And after coming off a season that saw him have the 2nd lowest ERA of his career (2.06) and 2.3 WAR (2nd best of career) over 66 appearances, it’s not just a nostalgia move. Otto is still lights out.Embed from Getty Images
After a rocky start to his career (no pun intended), Carlos Estevez is coming off his best season in purple pinstripes. He had a career-best 3.47 ERA and his 2nd-best total in ERA+ (135). His 1.1 WAR in 2022 more than doubled his career total to 2.1. Relief pitching is relatively inconsistent and infuriatingly futile to try and predict. But I have always been a proponent of if you find a guy that can find it at Coors, you keep him. Carlos can also be most likely retained at a low number to save money for other moves down the list.
What was said about Estevez applies to Jesus Tinoco. The only difference is it took a change of scenery to find his rhythm. Coming off a season in Texas that he posted a 2.18 ERA (albeit it in only 17 games) and .6 of his career .7 WAR. It’s not just me either, Brian Kenney stated on MLB Now on the MLB Network on November 14, 2022, that Tinoco is poised to turn the corner into a dominant force in the middle to the back-end of a bullpen.Embed from Getty Images
Miguel Castro is a direct replacement for a recent move made in LoDo to let Tyler Blach free to explore his options. Miguel doesn’t have the pedigree or ceiling of the above pitchers, but he has been a reliable “innings-eater” pitching at least 66 innings in 4 of the last 7 years. As mentioned above, pitching at Coors Field is treacherous for even the best in the game. So having someone that can consistently come in and take it on the chin is invaluable. Think back to Chris Rusin, Gabe White, Darren Holmes, et al.
There has been one consistently successful type of pitcher at altitude. Big fastball with movement and some combo of a high spin-rate slider/sinker/curve. The proof is in the puddin’, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin, Pedro Astacio, and German Marquez. Every one of the men mentioned matches this criterion. There are outliers that find success with a below-average fastball, but they are few and far between (i.e., Aaron Cook, Kyle Freeland). And most importantly, they should all be affordable with none making more than $4MM in 2022.Embed from Getty Images
Bring Brandon Nimmo back to the Rockies.
Brandon is a top-tier athlete that grew up at an even higher altitude than Denver in Cheyenne, WY that has the Rockies home beat by almost 800 ft at 6,036’ above sea level. So, he knows the rigors of roaming center field at altitude. A former first-rounder (13th overall) of the New York Mets has spent his entire career in the pressures of the Big Apple. There are some grumblings mentioned by Brian Kenney on the same MLB Now episode mentioned before that he would listen to his childhood team should they make a pitch.
With Charlie Blackmon to at least start the season and Zac Veen seemingly poised for a big-league breakthrough sooner rather than later in right field. Plus Kris Bryant is entrenched in left field for at least the next couple of seasons with the paychecks he is owed. That leaves center as the biggest hole left in the outfield.
The Colorado Rockies have a long history of stellar outfielders, and the semi-local kid could put another notch on that belt. He is coming off his best season per WAR at 5.1. He is a top-of-the-order bat with pop as evidenced by his 53 combined extra-base hits and 130 OPS+. He is also a stellar defender with speed at 6’3” and 210 lbs. He’s built sturdy and seemingly born to thrive at 5,280’. He won’t be cheap, but somewhere in the 5-7 year and 130-170 million range should get him to the ballpark barring a bidding war.Embed from Getty Images
Bring in Seth Lugo as a starter.
Seth has spent the entirety of his career bouncing between the bullpen and rotation as a valuable piece of the New York Mets staff. Yes, there are a lot of New York Mets ties here, but why not? They only went and won 101 games in 2022. Why not pick off what you can from that golden goose while the gettins’ good?
Seth has a lively 4-seam fastball in the 94-96 range, a tight sinker at 92-94, and a high spin-rate curveball in the low that is unhittable when he has the feel for it. He also has a good slider he can throw for strikes. The spin rate on his curveball has never dipped below the 99th percentile in his entire career.
While it is a bit of a projection to make him a full-time starter and take him from Citi to Coors Field. But that is where the Colorado Rockies must shop for starting pitching. Lugo could help start to change that narrative and do it at a team-friendly rate for a few seasons to prove himself as an every-5th-day starter. The Rockies offer a low-pressure situation to establish a place as a starter.Embed from Getty Images
This is obviously contingent on a lot of variables, such as a front office shake-up in a franchise that hasn’t hired an outside voice of any note since 1999 when they brought in Dan O’Dowd. Then that same franchise not only staying at a record payroll number almost $30 million more than they ever have spent. They would have to go even higher to make all the moves listed.
Currently, the Rockies are projected as 3rd in the league in payroll for 2023 at over $154MM. If they were able to make all these moves that number would be closer to $180-190MM. There is talk about the Rockies adding even more than they did last year, but even so, this is a tall task. Yet it is completely doable with the right motivations in the right places.
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