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The best, most realistic and incredibly beneficial trade scenario for the Colorado Rockies

Patrick Lyons Avatar
January 9, 2022

As part of the lockout enacted by Major League Baseball, transactions as well as communication have officially ceased. 

This means those rumors and rumblings during the coldest months of the Hot Stove League have become null.

While no one truly believes back-and-forths have been entirely nonexistent, the typical whispers to media members have become little more than a cold shoulder.

Once a new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated by MLB and the MLB Players’ Association, we can get back to signing free agents and analyzing trades.

The first thing Colorado Rockies GM Bill Schmidt should do when the transaction freeze is over: call President of Baseball Operations for the Tampa Bay Rays Erik Neander and swing a trade.

Dec 17, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays Sr. Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Erik Neander talks during a press conference at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Why Tampa Bay?

No team in baseball makes more trades than the denizens of Tropicana Field. Since the start of 2017, the Rays have made 11 trades alone involving the Seattle Mariners. (By comparison, Colorado has only made that many with six other teams in the history of the franchise.)

In addition, Tampa Bay hasn’t forgotten about the Germán Márquez trade. In January of 2016, the Rockies sent OF Corey Dickerson and 3B Kevin Padlo southbound for LHP Jake McGree and Márquez. 

Sep 4, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Corey Dickerson (10) hits a solo home run during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dickerson was an All-Star for the Rays in his second season, but Márquez will forever be the one that got away for the franchise. As such, they’d love to try to get one back.

And it’s reasonable to think Colorado has been working hard to avoid this.

Since that fateful deal nearly six year ago, the Rays have made a trade with every club. Heck, they’ve even made a deal with every team since the start of 2020 except for the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals and those folks in purple socks. (Conversely, the Rockies have made trades with only six teams since the start of 2020 and haven’t agreed to a swap with the Milwaukee Brewers since 2004.)

Neander and the rest of the Rays will be listening and willing to do business. It’s what they do. 

What’s The Point?

Colorado feels it is only a few pieces away from contending. While many would disagree with this assessment, it’s become commonplace for the franchise to evaluate their club ambitiously. It was only two years ago owner Dick Monfort saw his club as being capable of a franchise-record 94 wins. (To be fair, they’ve won 100 games in the past two seasons since that statement.)

Even without Jon Gray as part of the organization for the first time since 2012, the rotation is still incredibly strong with Márquez, Antonio Senzatela, Austin Gomber and Kyle Freeland. This quartet has two more seasons together until Freeland reaches free agency following 2023 and three seasons until Márquez gets there. 

If the Rockies can add the right pieces in free agency and swing the right trade or two, Rocktober could be back on the calendar for the first time in four years. 

Who’s The Target?

Let’s keep it simple. Improve the outfield and bullpen.

Charlie Blackmon is the only lock for significant playing time in 2022 among outfielders on the roster.

The bullpen is the bullpen: a truth for roughly 90% of teams in the history of baseball.

Tampa Bay projects to have a payroll nearly $18 million more than last season and the highest in franchise history. They have depth everywhere and possess an ability to turn over a stone and find a 1.0 WAR player anywhere. The only player they won’t field calls about trading is the 20-year-old wunderkind Wander Franco… at least not until 2025.

It just so happens that the player making the most money for the Rays is the one that would fit so well in Coors Field: CF Kevin Kiermaier.

Jul 29, 2021; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) singles during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At $12.167 million, the 31-year-old center fielder could handily patrol the green grass at 2001 Blake Street and provide the range the likes of which haven’t been seen since Juan Pierre.

His bat may not offer a ton of upside, but it’s the Gold Glove caliber defense that would more than make up for a career 98 OPS+. 

There’s also a $13 million option for 2023, so if the front office really wants to give a run at these next two seasons before Freeland, Ryan McMahon and Raimel Tapia become free agents, then Kiermaier ticks a lot of boxes.

Can you name a current reliever on the Rays? (If you said Sergio Romo, you deserve a point, even though he hasn’t served as their opener since 2018.)

Colorado could have any number of horses from the arm barn down in St. Petersburg. RHP Andrew Kittredge would have the biggest price tag associated with him, especially after becoming a first-time All-Star this past season. He was the only American League reliever to not surrender a hit and recorded three consecutive ground balls in his Coors Field debut.

Jul 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; American League pitcher Andrew Kittredge of the Tampa Bay Rays (36) walks on the field during warmups before the 2021 MLB All Star Game at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Kittredge still has three years of club control and after seeing his success in high-leverage spots – including a spell as the closer, when he recorded eight saves – he could help settle the debate over Daniel Bard-Carlos Estévez as the man in the ninth-inning in 2022, not to mention 2023 and 2024. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $1.6 million this season with future wages likely to increase depending on how many more saves he racks up.

RHP Matt Wisler, set to make a projected $1.8 million in his final year of arbitration, would be a fair and more affordable option. He was designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants after pitching to a 6.05 ERA in 21 games through early June only to join the Rays and have a 2.15 ERA in 27 games. 

LHP Jeffrey Springs, 29, was another reliever plucked from relative anonymity to find success with Tampa Bay. Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in a trade last February, he went from having a 7.08 ERA with the BoSox in 2020 to a 3.43 ERA with TB before spraining his ACL in August.

The first-year arbitration eligible lefty is projected to make $1.0 million, so he’ll be more expensive than a league minimum reliever and will only get more costly over the next two years. So long as he’s healthy, a pairing with him and LHP Lucas Gilbreath could be make for a strong southpaw tandem at Bud Black’s disposal.

Who’s Colorado Giving Up?

You’ve got to give some to get some. While Colorado isn’t overflowing with big league depth, there should be enough to entice Neander. And in the hands of the Rays, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a player like Sam Hilliard morph into Joey Gallo or Ashton Goudeau blossom into a no. 4 starter on a division winner. 

Tampa dealt away their All-Star third baseman Joey Wendle before the lockout began and the incumbent, Yandy Díaz, is better suited at the other corner. Between the platoon of Díaz and Ji-Man Choi, the Rays could be set to pay $6.1 million for their first base production, which is a lot for a team that’s been better than the 26th-highest payroll on Opening Day since 2010.

In steps Colton Welker.

The 24-year-old has a hit tool with enough upside to dream on a batting title. Though he dipped to .252 at Double-A Hartford in 2019, the Eastern League average was actually .239 that season. Welker is set to make the league minimum and won’t reach arbitration until 2025 at the earliest, so the price is right.

Sep 15, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Colorado Rockies third baseman Colton Welker (4) hits a single against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Welker bats right-handed and could afford the Tampa to simply offload Díaz and save $2 million. Should his defense not warrant consistent playing time, he can still give Choi the day off against left-handed starters.

The second player in the deal surely have to begin the season at Triple-A or higher. 

IF Coco Montes was not added to the 40-man roster by Colorado in November and would be another jack-of-all-trades that can play around the infield. He’s got sneaky pop – 13 homers in the pitcher-friendly Double-A Northeast – and could see some AL East action with a successful showing with the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls.

Similar situation with a player like C Willie MacIver who has a unique set a tools that a club like Tampa Bay would love to utilize. Surprisingly, MacIver was not added to the 40-man this offseason despite have almost elite defense abilities and a penchant for stealing bases. He swiped 20 this past season, something not seen in the majors by a catcher since Russell Martin in 2007.

Now comes the part the Rays have been waiting for since Márquez broke out in the minors early in 2016. Time for them grab an undervalued minor leaguer they can finish developing into an All-Star.

Of course, 2020 1st Rd Pick Zac Veen will not be part of this conversation. Same with top prospects like Drew Romo, Benny Montgomery and Michael Toglia.

Aim for those outside the top 10 and on the bubble for being added to the 40-man roster this upcoming November ahead of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft. The name that could move the needle for the Rays: 1B Grant Lavigne.

Taken with the 42nd overall pick in 2018, Lavigne is the highest selected high school position player taken from the state of New Hampshire. He hit well in Grand Junction (.350/.477/.519) that first year as a pro in ’18, but Colorado immediately went out and drafted another first baseman with the 23rd overall pick, a college player in Toglia who is firmly entrenched as the first baseman of the future.

Lavigne struggled in his full-season in 2019, but played well through most of last year with Low-A Fresno before experiencing hiccups at High-A Spokane over the final 32 games. He’ll play next season at 22 years old, so there’s plenty of time for him to develop.

Colorado has typically seen about 4-5 players added to the 40-man each year. It’s impossible to know how the current roster will shake out, but from the next class of Rockies prospects, Lavigne appears on the bubble.

Toglia is clearly ahead of Lavigne on the depth chart. Ditto with OF Brenton Doyle. SS Julio Carreras and 2B Aaron Schunk are not far off and 2022 will say a lot about their immediate future with the franchise.

Players like RHP Tony Locey and 2B/OF Isaac Collins are rising in the ranks while C Ronaiker Palma and others who played in the Dominican Summer League in 2019 only to lose development time with no MiLB season in 2020 could also take significant leaps.

If any of those things happen, more players will become bigger priorities and Lavigne could end up poached by another club in the Rule 5 Draft, a truly unfortunate mismanagement of assets.

Ultimately, the Rockies can strike here and the only question is whether or not they’ll rise to the challenge. Because the Rays will give them every opportunity to do so.


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