Much debate this offseason about the Colorado Rockies biggest needs this offseason. After a year in which so many things went so awry, it’s understandable for the club that went 71-91.
It also underlines the fact that they also have more potential spread across the roster than some are willing to give them credit for.
But potential is always trapped in the future.
It has been suggested that the Rockies must prioritize adding a catcher and seeking improvements at starting pitcher and possibly center field, all of which make sense in a vacuum, but less so in context.
If one was inclined to generalize, the easy answer is to say that the area in which Colorado most needs an upgrade is on the mound.
A veteran starter should be considered. After Jon Gray and German Márquez, the Rockies rotation is cluttered with question marks. Even with a reasonable-to-expect rebound from Kyle Freeland, Bud Black will still be stuck handing the ball to two starters who haven’t proven themselves in the Bigs yet unless they can make an addition.
And inside of that, a twisted irony has emerged.
Gray, Marquez, and Freeland aren’t the newbies they once were, and the ups and downs of their careers were once buoyed by a bullpen that boasted the likes of Greg Holland, Adam Ottavino, Jake McGee (the temporarily good version) and Wade Davis. Even with the inclusion of a consistent innings-eating reliever like Bryan Shaw, it hasn’t quite worked out the way it was expected.
The veterans were supposed to be the insurance for such a young starting rotation. And even through plenty of ups and downs, it mostly worked out that way in 2017 and 2018 when their bullpen picked up a ton of innings and held on for postseason spots while the backend was breaking records.
Then, 2019 happened and it all fell apart.
Holland and Ottavino are elsewhere, while McGee, Davis, and Shaw all stand on the shakiest ground of their careers.
The trio also represents, by far, Colorado’s most experience out of the ‘pen for career innings pitched.
Davis: 943.1 IP
Shaw: 573 IP
McGee: 455.1 IP
With just over half the number of McGee’s career is Scott Oberg (257.1) as the fourth-most experienced relievers. Next, believe it or not, is Carlos Estevez with 159.1 and 28-year-old newcomer James Pazos with 122.1 IP.
Perhaps most eye-popping of all is that the man who surprisingly ended last season as the club’s closer, Jairo Diaz. He began the year having thrown just 29.2 innings, but by the end had tallied 87.1 in a breakout campaign.
On Monday, the team announced that they have claimed righty Tyler Kinley off waivers. That puts him in eighth place on our list with a whopping 60.1 innings worked in MLB. Coming off the only season in which he pitched enough to draw many conclusions, he put up an intriguing 3.65 ERA and 116 ERA+ but with some red flag peripherals. The 28-year-old will need to cut down on his career walk rate of 6.56/9 and a 5.78 xFIP if he wants to succeed at Coors Field.
Yency Almonte, who was converted into a reliever just two years ago and spent a decent portion of 2019 in Triple-A to work out some things as he still tries to get his foot in the door, somehow rounds out the Top 9.
The Rockies typically carry eight relievers.
There is some good news on this front. First, there are some interesting conversion candidates including Antonio Senzatela, who has pitched in relief before. While he is only going into his age-25 season, he has been a part of three different MLB campaigns and has even held his own in a postseason appearance.
Jeff Hoffman hasn’t had the most inspiring tenure at the highest level in the land outside of a great month early in 2017 and it is getting close to show-up-or-ship-out time for the fireballer with the wicked curve. The tools are there and it is often said in baseball that failure is the best teacher. If Hoffman can harness his natural gifts and learn from his 209.1 innings or work where he has only mustered a 6.11 ERA, he could end up as an unforeseen answer to this question.
Chi Chi Gonzalez and Tim Melville are lower-ceiling, higher-floor candidates for this job as well, but both may be more suited as rotation depth at the moment.
Then comes a slew of young arms that bring us back to that whole “potential” conundrum.
Jesus Tinoco, Phillip Diehl, or Joe Harvey – who could still remain with the organization – have all seen time in the majors and could take a step forward to solidify themselves as an integral part of the ‘pen. The left-handed Diehl could prove to be critical, especially if the Rockies unload McGee’s contract.
Finally, newly-acquired Jose Mujica will join righty sidewinder Justin Lawrence and lefty Ben Bowden as players hoping a sterling spring will be rewarded with an MLB debut. Mujica is currently slated to serve as a starter but clearly all options are on the table.
There’s as much talent here as there are questions. Which in both cases, is a lot.
Colorado could roll the dice on the unproven commodities, and may have to since all the more experienced guys have “proven” lately is that they aren’t getting the job done. Meanwhile, it may be worth considering adding “someone with MLB experience in the bullpen” to the list of offseason needs.