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Trade Deadline offers intrigue for Rockies; future of franchise potentially at stake

Patrick Lyons Avatar
July 16, 2021

When Dodgers’ Will Smith swung through an 0-2 knuckle curve from Cubs’ Craig Kimbrel to finish a combined no-hitter on June 25, few expected it would somehow be the beginning of the end for the North Siders. 

Tied for first in the NL Central with the Milwaukee Brewers and nine-games over .500 at the end of that memorable day, Chicago looked poised to give the remaining corps of players from the 2016 World Series one more bite at the proverbial apple.

In the following two weeks however, Milwaukee won nine-straight to make for an 11-game win streak while the Wrigleyville denizens lost 11-straight, limping into the All-Star break at 2-13 since celebrating the no-no. 

On Thursday, the demolition began on the corner of Addison and Clark. OF Joc Pederson was traded to Atlanta for 1B Bryce Ball, a prospect that could contribute to the club’s next contender. The move signals the start of a tear down as some of the team’s best players head to free agency at season’s end: 3B/OF Kris Bryant, 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Javier Báez, RHP Craig Kimbrel and RHP Zach Davies.

The most prominent name on that list with ramifications for the Colorado Rockies front office is Báez. The two-time All-Star joins Trevor Story as star shortstops coveted by contenders looking for a final piece to a potential championship squad. 

Much like the deal of Pederson placed the Arizona Diamondbacks in a disadvantageous situation with one less suitor for their left-handed outfielders (David Peralta and Kole Calhoun), the Cubs could very well do the same to the Rockies should interim GM Bill Schmidt not find the ideal package in a timely manner.

Tier 1: Superstar

As one former general manager intimated during the All-Star Game festivities at Coors Field, the bar has been set for shortstops with recent contracts for Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr. eclipsing the $300 million mark. 

While Story may not reach those figures, he and his representation may be looking for a deal similar to one given to former teammate Nolan Arenado ($260 million). Ironically, it seems unlikely that the organization who recently rid itself of that contract would turn around and sign up for the same thing a year later. (The same would be true of the player who would expect a different outcome from that organization.)

Jun 23, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story (27) celebrates after hitting a home run during a game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. The Rockies won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Should Colorado stand pat and keep Story for the remainder of the season, they could extend him a qualifying offer for a one-year deal. If Story were to decline that offer and sign elsewhere, the Rockies would receive a draft pick in 2022. Probably.

This offseason will bring much tumult for owners and players as the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire. Considering the rules for the qualifying offer changed in the previous CBA and compensation for players lost in free agency has drastically declined with each negotiation, there’s no guarantee that Colorado will receive any draft pick at all for it’s superstar. Instead, there is a chance he could leave for greener pastures and Colorado would not even receive a player to be named later or worse, not even a bag of baseballs in return. 

The Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds are two clubs in need of some offense at shortstop while teams like the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets could use Story to fill a hole elsewhere in the infield like second base and third base, respectively.

Bottom line: if Schmidt can do better in a trade than a potential compensatory draft pick, Story will be elsewhere by the end of the month; if not, the entire front office will be crossing their fingers that nothing runs afoul. 

Tier 2: Presence/Presents

With the MLB trade deadline one day earlier than normal on July 30, Colorado could unload several other notable players in the final weeks before free agency, not to mention those with only a year remaining beyond 2021.

RHP Jon Gray and RHP Mychal Givens are two players sure to garner interest from opposing GMs as pitching is always coveted for a successful postseason push. Givens has proven doubters wrong who pointed to a 6.75 ERA last season during 9.1 innings of work. Through 24.2 innings this year, the 31-year-old has a 2.92 ERA and has returned to the Rockies struggling bullpen following a lower back strain that sidelined the setup man for two weeks. 

May 16, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Mychal Givens (60) reacts to his bases on ball call in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Gray is the more interesting trade candidate. An organization favorite that has remained a central figure in Colorado’s rotational success throughout much of his tenure, the 29-year-old could be dealt for future assets before making a U-turn in the offseason and returning to the club in free agency on a long-term deal… Perhaps you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Tier 3: Valuable Veterans

A quartet of veterans with an ever-approaching expiration date could net the Rockies a modest yield. Or, they could be the kicker that helps complete a package for a Tier 1 or 2 player.  

First basemen Matt Adams (32) and C.J. Cron (31) are the next two oldest position players behind OF Charlie Blackmon and their future following their one-year deals is murky, at best. Adams has been prosperous against right-handed pitching for the majority of his career, but has been hampered by injuries in 2021, registering a .167 batting average in just 32 plate appearances. Conversely, Cron is stronger against southpaws; he’s second on the team in home runs (12) and fifth in wins above replacement (0.8) according to FanGraphs.

When healthy, IF/OF Chris Owings has quietly been one of the best in purple pinstripes over the last two seasons. The biggest challenge for him: staying on the field. A left hamstring strain limited the super utility player to 17 games in 2020 and a left thumb sprain has kept him from all but 19 games in 2021. Colorado would love to keep his services anywhere around the diamond next season. And it still could despite a trade of this impending free agent.

RHP Jhoulys Chacín returned to the organization he called home for the first six seasons of his big league career and has been effective out of the bullpen in short bursts for manager Bud Black. He hasn’t surrendered a run in the month of July and has given up just two runs in 14 innings dating back to June 12. 

Tier 4: Depends

RHP Daniel Bard, RHP Carlos Estévez and C Elias Díaz will be free agents after next season, so there’s no real rush to make a move. Considering teams are more amicable to these types of players – see: Seunghwan Oh in 2018 and Givens in 2020 – Schmidt and company can still listen to offers on this triumvirate.

Jun 30, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Daniel Bard (52) celebrates with catcher Dom Nunez (3) after the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Though Bard and Estévez need to reclaim some value lest Colorado wait for a better proposal this offseason, Diaz is a hot commodity having recently homered in four consecutive games and batting .400 (16-for-40) since June 25.

Beyond The Tiers

Besides Story, the most frequently mentioned Rockie swirling around the rumor mill is Germán Márquez. 

Since his rookie season in 2017, the All-Star from Venezuela is 12th among all pitchers in fWAR (15.0) and 7th in the National League. With an average annual salary of $14.2 million over the next three years, the 26-year-old is among the most coveted starting pitchers in the game.

While Márquez would boost the rotation of any club with its sight on the playoffs, it would be wise to solicit offers on the Rockies’ ace during the offseason when 29 other teams can enter the bidding war as opposed to only the current contenders.

Jul 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; National League pitcher German Marquez of the Colorado Rockies (48) reacts after pitching against the American League during the fourth inning during the 2021 MLB All Star Game at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado doesn’t need to trade the young ace for financial reasons, especially when considering the club with the 18th-highest Opening Day payroll in 2021 could drop several spots lower in the coming years.

With only $67.1 million guaranteed for the next three seasons to rostered players – Márquez, Blackmon and RHP Scott Oberg – the franchise can aim to extend those believed to be critical for the next run at the postseason.

If those extensions do not occur this offseason, Colorado will certainly be faced with losing more notable names to free agency in the proceeding 24 months, players such as Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland as all will have zero team control following the 2023 season.

This season for the Rockies has been one about transition and the emergence of inexperienced players in the Major Leagues. The core of players from the 2017-18 teams that went to consecutive postseasons for the first time in franchise history is largely gone or set to leave without a change in course. 

The seas are choppy and the vision ahead is foggy. The direction appears unknown. But Colorado can say a lot in their actions before the trade deadline and right the ship before the start of next season. 

The Cubs’ trade of Pederson and the probable swaps of several more symbolize the waving of the white flag on a window of contention that included the end of a 107-year Wolrd Series drought. It’s an acceptable admittance of failure, somthing almost all teams face as only one can be triumphant in that final October contest.

The question remains: will the Rockies be able to do the same? Will they accept the loss in battle for 2021 in hopes to win the larger war ahead?

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