The Colorado Rockies and GM Bill Schmidt enter the offseason after the first 100-loss campaign in the 30-year history of the club.
For everything that went wrong in 2023, there was a counter act that created hope for a fanbase dying to see their team play relevant games during the summer months, let alone make the postseason for the first time since 2018.
When rotation stalwarts Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela were shut down for the year following Tommy John surgery, a pair of prospects in Nolan Jones and Brenton Doyle turned heads in the outfield and provided some promise on offense.
Is there anything more fitting than seeing Brenton Doyle and Nolan Jones embrace in joy to end this season pic.twitter.com/8kQ9IRyTxU
— DNVR Rockies (@DNVR_Rockies) October 2, 2023
Schmidt shuttled away five veterans during the summer, leading to a 17-38 record (.309) after the Aug. 1 deadline, but in return came six pitching prospects that bolstered the farm system’s depth in a much needed way.
Even with the 103 losses that put Colorado all alone at the bottom of the National League for the first time ever, it comes with the maximum guarantee of an 18.3% chance at winning the Draft Lottery for the 1st overall pick in the 2024 MLB Draft. Such fortune would also increase their bonus pool money and increase their ability to improve the quality of prospects they select.
The Rockies would love to join the likes of the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, three clubs who reached the playoffs in 2023 just two years after 100 losses. In order for Colorado to do that, Schmidt will need to work wonders this offseason in terms of improving the big league roster and bridge the gap for October baseball in 2025.
Your 2023 #WorldSeries matchup is set:
— MLB (@MLB) October 25, 2023
Here’s the state of the Colorado Rockies going into the Hot Stove Season:
Four trades in June and July removed five notable names from the roster, many of whom were impending free agents. Seven more were outrighted off the 40-man roster in October: C Austin Wynns, 2B/OF Harold Castro, LHP Ty Blach, RHP Matt Koch, RHP Matt Carasiti, RHP Karl Kauffmann and LHP Ryan Rolison. Only Kauffmann and Rolison are still with the club in the minors and the other five elected free agency.
Three veteran pitchers became free agents the old fashioned way once the World Series ended: RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Chris Flexen and LHP Brent Suter. Expect most of this trio to sign deals later in the offseason once the bigger name free agents have settled.
Though it would seem Colorado has lots of room for adding new players, four players on the 60-day injured list — RHP Germán Márquez, RHP Antonio Senzatela, LHP Austin Gomber and LHP Lucas Gilbreath — were needed to be placed back onto the 40-man. (There’s no injured list in the offseason.)
That put the 40-man roster at 35 players before Monday’s waiver wire acquisition from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Jalen Beeks' Unique Arm Action pic.twitter.com/dbwl3ORnHD
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 17, 2023
LHP Jalen Beeks spent much of 2023 in the bullpen and pitched to a 5.95 ERA. THe 30-year-old found more success in 2022 with a 2.80 ERA during his first season after Tommy John surgery. Colorado is banking on him replacing Suter as the veteran left-hander in the bullpen to pair with rookie Evan Justice and Lucas Gilbreath, who will be returning from TJ surgery himself. Beeks’ strong strikeout-to-walk ratio (3-to-1) since 2020 is one reason the Rockies don’t mind the $1.8 million price tag projected by MLB Trade Rumors for his final year of arbitration.
Catcher (2) – Elias Díaz, Brian Serven
Infielder (7) – Ryan McMahon, Elehuris Montero, Brendan Rodgers, Ezequiel Tovar, Alan Trejo, Warming Bernabel*, Julio Carreras*
Infielder/Outfielder (3) – Kris Bryant, Hunter Goodman, Michael Toglia
Outfielder (4) – Charlie Blackmon, Sean Bouchard, Brenton Doyle, Nolan Jones
Starters (8) – Noah Davis, Ryan Feltner, Kyle Freeland, Austin Gomber, Peter Lambert, Germán Márquez, Connor Seabold, Antonio Senzatela
Right-Handed Relievers (9) – Daniel Bard, Jake Bird, Tommy Doyle, Gavin Hollowell, Tyler Kinley, Justin Lawrence, Nick Mears, Riley Pint, Victor Vodnik
Left-Handed Relievers (3) – Jalen Beeks, Lucas Gilbreath, Evan Justice
*Has yet to make Major League debut
Rule 5 Draft
Any player signed at 18 years old or younger needs to be added to the 40-man roster within five years or else they’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Players signed at age 19 or older will need to be added within four years.
Even with four spots open at the time of publishing, Colorado could clear room to add more players. Two names are sure to be placed on the 40-man roster before the Nov. 14 deadline: 2B/SS Adael Amador and OF Yanquiel Fernandez.
Adael Amador hits his first @GoYardGoats homer into the SECOND DECK!
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 30, 2023
Amador is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the top player in the Rockies’ farm system and the 21st overall prospect in the game. The 20-year-old switch-hitter posted a slash line of .302/.392/.514 with High-A Spokane before missing nearly two months with a broken hamate bone in his right hand. He returned in late August to make his Double-A debut for the final 10 games of his season. Signed as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, Amador has continued to see more playing time at second base due to the presence of Ezequiel Tovar at shortstop for the foreseeable future.
Fernandez, also 20, excelled at Spokane before being promoted to Double-A Hartford on June 20. On July 8, the outfielder from Cuba dazzled during the MLB Futures Game. Not only did he notch a single in his first at-bat, but he showcased his arm in right field with an impressive throw clocked at 103.3 MPH. The left-handed hitting slugger faced challenges this season in the Eastern League, but ultimately ended his year with 92 RBI, second-most in Colorado’s system.
It wasn't accurate enough to get Spencer Jones going first to third, but …
— Sam Dykstra (@SamDykstraMiLB) July 9, 2023
In recent years, few players other than Lucas Gilbreath (2020) and Brenton Doyle (2022) have been added to the 40-man roster and immediately made significant contributions to the Rockies in the next season.
Other notable names who could be placed on the 40-man next week: C Willie MacIver, 1B Grant Lavigne, 2B/3B Aaron Schunk, OF Bladimir Restituyo, RHP Jeff Criswell, RHP Tanner Gordon, RHP Chris McMahon and RHP Victor Juarez.
The Rule 5 draft will take place on Dec. 6 in Nashville, Tenn. during the 2023 Winter Meetings. Colorado will have the third overall pick in the draft so long as they have 39 or less players on the 40-man roster. Last year, they selected RHP Kevin Kelley before trading him to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash consideration.
Twice have the Rockies used the Rule 5 draft to improve the roster: 2014 with Tommy Kahnle and 2021 with Jordan Sheffield. The only notable loss to the organization came in the 2008 Rule 5 draft when Everth Cabrera was taken by the San Diego Padres. As a 22-year-old shortstop, Cabrera received NL Rookie of the Year Award votes and later became an All-Star in 2013.
Colorado operated with a payroll of approximately $171 million in 2023, good for 14th-highest in all of MLB and slightly higher than the league average of $165.8 million. Since 2014, the Rockies have ranked in the teens in terms of payroll nearly every season and 2024 shouldn’t be any different.
With $99.5 million guaranteed to seven players — Bryant, Blackmon, Freeland, McMahon, Márquez, Senzatela and Bard — the payroll is projected to be $136.8 million before any financial additions to the roster via free agency or trades. If nothing were to change, this would still top the 2022 payroll ($136.0 million) and be the Rockies lowest for a full 162-game season since 2018 when the $137.0 million payroll ranked 14th in MLB.
— DNVR Rockies (@DNVR_Rockies) April 20, 2022
After watching attendance improve in 2023 despite nine more losses than 2022, not to mention the most losses in team history, it seems reasonable to expect Colorado will spend more on the roster this season. GM Bill Schmidt could do a lot with $40 million in free agency should the payroll this year match last year, but that opportunity may not present itself in light of the situation with their regional sports network.
AT&T SportsNet has been the home of Rockies games since 1997, but their parent company — Warner Brothers Discovery — opted to shut down the operation on Oct. 6. The uncertainty for where fans can watch the 2024 season is one thing. The financial uncertainty for Colorado is another.
When the Rockies signed an extension with AT&T SportsNet in Sept. 2019, owner Dick Monfort said soon during the team’s media availability, “It’s not as lucrative as I wanted it to be, but it’s more money.” According to Forbes, those annual rights fees totaled $57 million in 2022, 10th-lowest among the 29 clubs in the United States. Now, that influx from broadcasting fees is less certain.
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) September 6, 2023
While Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league was able support teams in a similar position in 2023 with up to 80% of what they would have received from rights fees, that situation will be different for 2024. So instead of cutting payroll by $11.4 million, that number may need to be even greater due to this ambiguous situation created with broadcasting Rockies games.
Areas of Need/Improvement
If you’ve just woken from a 25-year slumber — congrats on that comfortable mattress — it may come as no surprise that Colorado needs pitching. A pair of reliable starters in Márquez and Senzatela can’t be counted on until the second half of the season. Even then, they’ll be building up arm strength and getting their feel back following Tommy John surgery. Since they won’t be the pitchers many are accustomed to viewing until 2025 the earliest, those quality innings need to be replaced.
Starting pitching depth in the minors is still limited. Three of better prospects for the rotation — LHP Joe Rock, RHP Case Williams and RHP Chris McMahon — just finished with their first full-season at Double-A and need more seasoning before debuting later next summer, should all go well.
This means at least one starting pitcher on a big league deal will need to be brought in to give Colorado some reliable innings, even if it’s at the back of the rotation. Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber are locks to start while Ryan Feltner and Peter Lambert will be given the chance to make the rotation following their respective comebacks last season.
"There's one of two ways it could have gone and I didn't want it to go in a negative direction."
Colorado Rockies pitcher Ryan Feltner speaks out for the first time about his return to baseball after taking a 92-mph line drive to the back of the head during a game in May. pic.twitter.com/jRvxHqPwiU
— Good Morning America (@GMA) September 28, 2023
The bullpen could also use the presence of more veterans. Three were brought in last offseason and all three contributed in a major way, especially early in the year when the rotation took hit after hit in the injury department. After the addition of Beeks, two more will probably be added at some point this winter.
On the hitting side of things, there may not be many changes other than a veteran or two for the bench as Colorado is committed to players at nearly at spot. A quartet of players age 27 and under — Brendan Rodgers, Nolan Jones, Brenton Doyle and Ezequiel Tovar — will continue to grow with daily starts. Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon will man the infield corners for several years to come. Veterans Elias Díaz behind the plate and Charlie Blackmon as the designated hitter and occasional right fielder return in the final year of their deals.
"The @Rockies want me here. I want to be here. And to have that work together for as long as it has is special."
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) March 7, 2023
That leaves only one spot in the lineup and it could be utilized as a revolving door to give opportunities to younger players like Elehuris Montero, Hunter Goodman and Michael Toglia, not to mention 27-year-old Sean Bouchard who’s been exceptional during his 140 plate appearance the past two seasons.
What’s the free agent situation?
Groucho Marx once said, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” Were he to run this franchise, his skepticism might extend to free agent pitchers who want to sign with the Rockies.
Since the calamitous offseason signings of Mike Hampton for $121 million and Denny Neagle for $51 million in the winter of 2000, no free agent starting pitcher from another organization has come to Colorado for more than Kyle Kendrick’s $5.5 million in 2015.
Signed two weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, the 30-year-old was given the Opening Day start and proceeded to post a 6.32 ERA in 142.1 innings. The following season, he was cut from an Atlanta roster that lost 93 games and spent the season at Triple-A with the Los Angeles Angels. He made two more starts with the Boston Red Sox in 2017 before calling it a career.
The free agent market for pitching this year is deeper than the hitting. If the Rockies want to entice even mid-tier starter to come to Denver, they will still have to overpay. One pitcher deemed to be a good fit for Colorado is RHP Michael Lorenzen. The 31-year-old has a 4.20 ERA over the past two seasons since becoming a full-time starter. Prior to signing with the Los Angeles Angels in 2022, he made 269 relief appearances with the Cincinnati Reds and pitched to a 3.74 ERA.
Michael Lorenzen has thrown a 124 pitch no-hitter! pic.twitter.com/ag7gYO8lcR
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) August 10, 2023
A first-time All-Star with Detroit this season, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline and threw a no-hitter in his first start with the club at Citizens Bank Park. Over his next five starts with the Phils, his 7.96 ERA earned him a demotion to the bullpen. The California native was left off their roster in the Wild Card Round before being added in the Division and League Championship Series, throwing 2.2 scoreless frames in the process.
If Lorenzen had a better track record of posting 150 or more innings, this partnership might make too much sense. But the former two-way player reached a career high in 2023 with 153.0 innings and has made 20 starts only once since his rookie season. Most team won’t have to give a pitcher like Lorenzen more than two years, but Colorado may. He’ll require at least $10 million annually and the Rockies might have to offer a three-year, $35 million deal to convince him.
Others in a similar price range like RHP Nick Martínez, LHP Sean Manaea, RHP Mike Clevinger, RHP Luis Severino and RHP Frankie Montas have the same dubious track record for one reason or another. Some in this group could opt for a pillow contract in 2024 as the best option for their future. By resetting their market will a successful campaign, they could get multiple years in free agency next offseason. Unfortunately, such a scenario is not plausible in the thin air of Denver.
Pregame stand off between Nick Martinez and Sean Manea 😂 pic.twitter.com/VSuR7Xdhyn
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 30, 2023
RHP Kyle Gibson is one option that has proved to be an innings eater since his first full season with the Minnesota Twins a decade ago. Since 2014, only Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke have more innings than the 35-year-old. His 4.48 ERA during that time is an outlier when comparing him with more successful starting pitchers who regularly make 25 or more starts per season. That kind of run suppression would actually make him a Rockies legend at Coors Field.
LHP Wade Miley and RHP Lance Lynn are pair of veterans entering their age-37 season who could also fill this role for Colorado. LHP Martin Pérez is player only a year removed from being a first-time All-Star and receiving a $19.625 million qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers. These signings won’t make the Rockies contenders for 2025, but it would get them through the 2024 season.
4⃣ days until opening day!!!
Wade Miley is back in Milwaukee! In 2018, Wade Miley made 4 postseason starts for the #Brewers. His stats:
(Also, Prime Lorenzo Cain 🥲) pic.twitter.com/HISegsnUhQ
— Brewers Stats (@BrewersStat) March 26, 2023
Excluding non-roster invites — there will several of those — who have even more flaws than the names above, Colorado may have to take a leap of faith. They could take a chance on RHP Jakob Junis and see if he could be stretched out to become a starter after a successful campaign with the San Francisco Giants as a long reliever. Trading from their depth in hitting prospects is another route for possibly solving the pitching issue.
No matter what choice Colorado settles on this offseason, the likeliest outcome will develop late in the offseason when most of the top players and destinations have settled and free agent spending comes to a halt, similar to how the Kendrick signing took place in February.
Bud Black enters 2024 with one year left on his deal. Will he get another one-year extension to become the first Rockies manager to helm the club in 2025 for a ninth season? The Arizona Diamondbacks stuck with manager Torey Lovullo after reaching the postseason in 2017 and losing 110 games in 2021 before getting back to October in 2023. Could the same patience extend to Black?
Ezequiel Tovar wrapped up a rookie campaign that was everything advertised by the organization. The 22-year-old won’t reach arbitration until 2026 or hit free agency until after the 2028 season when he’ll be 27. An extension for Tovar and the Rockies is a win-win deal: Tovar would received guaranteed money, including a fair amount more than he would in arbitration, and Colorado would have a cornerstone player on a cost-controlled deal for nearly a decade.