SAN DIEGO – Providing the kind of warmth in the winter that’s typical for the aptly-named Hot Stove League is what makes the Winter Meetings one of the most exciting times of the baseball season.

Between $300 million deals and players changing employment from one coast to the other, as with Xander Bogaerts’ Boston-to-San Diego trek or Trea Turner’s Los Angeles-to-Philadelphia flight, the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego has been humming with electricity.

That is, unless you are a club like the Colorado Rockies right now. Then, unfortunately, it may be a cold, cold few months until spring.

Following a 68-win season that required his team to “play better”, GM Bill Schmidt began his first Winter Meetings by laying claim to “make the roster better” this offseason. 

Seemingly squashing any speculation as to whether Colorado would make a serious run at Brandon Nimmo to fill the dual role of left-handed center fielder, it sounds as if the team will sit back and wait for the market to come to them.

The Rockies payroll on Opening Day 2022 was at $131 million, according to Baseball Prospectus. At the moment, it’s an estimated $116.3 million before adding any veterans. The gap of nearly $15 million could bring in a mid-tier free agent or be used similarly to last offseason when three veterans – Chad Kuhl, Alex Colomé and José Iglesias – took their talents to LoDo for a combined $12.1 million for one year each.

Something more substantial means approaching the franchise-high of $145 million from Opening Day 2019.

“I think (owner Dick Monfort is) open,” Schmidt said this week in San Diego of increasing the payroll. “I bring things to Dick. We do as a group and then we talk about it. Take everything case by case.”

One new free agent name on the docket is former Mets’ outfielder Michael Conforto.

Oct 2, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto (30) rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The 29-year-old is a one-time All-Star who has slugged 132 career home runs in parts of seven seasons. He missed all of 2022 with a shoulder injury and hasn’t played center field since 2019. Predominantly a right fielder, the most games he’s played in center is 58 back in 2018. 

“He’s more of a corner, but I think (agent Scott Boras) – I’m not going to speak for him – but my anticipation is he’s at a point where he’s looking multiple (years),” Schmidt shared.

After watching the big free agent splash from last year play only 42 games because of injuries, it would be easy to eschew the idea that avoiding another Kris Bryant situation with Conforto would be paramount. Not quite so.

“Depends what our medical people say,” Schmidt countered. “That’s the great thing about one year: it’s only worth the risk for one year. You’re not tied into multiple years.”

If Colorado is not going to follow the route of bringing free agents to their team like the San Francisco Giants, who signed Mitch Haniger to fill a void in the outfield, or the San Diego Padres, who signed Xander Bogaerts to improve an already talented squad, then the only remaining option is to find a trade.

Though not typical for the Rockies, who were the only of MLB’s 30 teams to make no deals at the Aug 2 trade deadline, there’s a greater chance such an avenue would be traversed now.

“We’ve had conversations with teams,” Schmidt said of improving the roster via player swap. “Trying to see if there’s matches and if they’ll express some interest. We exchanged names and who knows if they’ll be a fit, but (we’re) trying to make the club better.”

One of those conversations this week was with the Oakland Athletics. On Tuesday, the Rockies added starting pitcher Jeff Criswell to their upper minors in exchange for reliever Chad Smith.

Other conversations may not actually bear any fruit while at the Winter Meetings, but seeds have invariably been planted.

“It might be a week or two weeks or maybe a month. There’s no real timetable of how things are gonna get done,” explained of the trade market Schmidt. “But anytime you have conversations about things, it’s good.”

Trading a big leaguer for a prospect hasn’t been Colorado’s style for some time. But offloading a youngster to help the 26-man roster hasn’t been a strategy they’ve been shy to use during Schmidt’s administration.

Acquiring Randal Grichuk for Raimel Tapia required the addition of 2B Adrian Pinto to the Toronto Blue Jays. Coming off a season where he won the batting title in the Dominican Summer League in his age-18 season, Pinto was depth for a farm system replete with players at the position. 

Apr 19, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Kris Bryant (23) and center fielder Yonathan Daza (2) and right fielder Randal Grichuk (15) celebrate defeating the Philadelphia Phillies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ditto for 2B Juan Brito who played a critical role for the Fresno Grizzlies’ squad that finished with the best record in the California League last season. He was traded to the Cleveland Guardians last month for OF/3B Nolan Jones. 

Would Schmidt actually use some of the ever-growing depth in the farm system to utilize in a trade this offseason? Are the crops that plentiful?

“I think we have that type of talent now,” he confirmed.

If dealing from their depth, from the lower levels and back end of the top 30 minor leaguers, isn’t enticing enough for some teams, would the likes of elite prospects such as Ezequiel Tovar, Drew Romo and Zac Veen be included in a swap?

“I don’t think anybody is untradeable. Could probably take a lot to get one of them, but we’re not looking to move them,” Schmidt explained before adding, “We’d like to build around them.”

Of course, if parting with young players doesn’t strike you as feasible for the franchise, there’s always a third option: promote from within. Draft and develop – and deliver to the big league skipper to handle – has long been one of baseball adages rolled out by the club to explain their practices with roster construction.

However, such a choice right now feels paramount to waving a white flag on the 2023 season before it even begins. A bullpen, as one example, with six players with zero-to-two years experience in the Majors is hardly a recipe for success, especially at Coors Field.

It’ll require some magic for Colorado to make significant improvement with this route. Like getting Carlos González and Huston Street in the same package. Or stealing Germán Márquez from under the Tampa Bay Rays.

Even if the Rockies don’t reach into the hat and pull out a rabbit, they may need to grasp onto something this winter.

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