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What Rockies history says about their near future

Drew Creasman Avatar
November 14, 2018

DENVER – They say that in order to understand where you are going, you must understand where you have been.

While plenty of important things have changed since the last time the Colorado Rockies were seen to be inside of a window of contention, it may be helpful to fill in some blanks if we look back on that time to see what the club did to try to keep themselves relevant the last time around.

After streaking their way into the World Series in 2007, the Rockies experienced a setback in 2008 thanks to numerous injuries, some player departures, and a bit of bad luck. But they rebounded after a blockbuster trade sent Matt Holliday out and brought Carlos Gonzalez and Houston Street in, setting the still-standing franchise mark with a 92-win season in 2009.

The end of that season is the closest parable we have to where the team stands now after a 91-win season, losing once again in the NLDS.

So, what did they do with the roster back then and what does it tell us about what they might do this offseason?

Mostly, they spent money to bring back the faces of the franchise at the time.

They began with one of the best pitchers they’d ever had, Aaron Cook who signed a three year, $30MM deal with a team option off heels of a 2008 All-Star Game appearance and 4.4 fWAR season. He put up 2.9, 0.3 and -0.5 WAR in three seasons during the contract.

He had only one year remaining, so Colorado bought out his final year of arbitration and extended him for two years, hence the hefty cost.

Next was Brad Hawpe on a three year, $17.425MM with an option putting up 0.0, 1.4, -0.4 WAR in three seasons during contract.

He was released in 2010; the three-year deal gave Colorado cost assurance, but ultimately didn’t save any money. If Hawpe had been better, they could have saved some money with the option in 2011, but ultimately, this was a moderate contract that didn’t need to be given out, however, arbitration would have guaranteed Hawpe about just as much money, so no real loss.

They also added onto their extension with Troy Tulowitzki, making it a seven-year $134.5MM contract famously trading out from underneath the final few years of it.

Ubaldo Jimenez was also extended during the year for four years at $10MM with two years of options. This was the best extension of the bunch; saved money and allowed them to acquire prospects since his contract was so low though prospects were a bust. He put up 14.2 WAR with the Rockies during those years (2009-11) and was paid less than $4.8MM.

And finally, Carlos Gonzalez, the next season was extended for seven year at $80MM which locked up three years of free agency including two sub-par seasons. He accumulated 15.5 WAR and was a three-time All-Star.

The Jimenez, Tulo and CarGo deals saved the Rockies a lot of money. CarGo’s 2017 skews the ledger a bit since he made $20 million and posted -0.2 WAR; otherwise, his deal was a boon for Colorado.

Corpas and Hawpe deals were a wash and the Cook contract was a loss, but not too horribly.

Locking up players long term proved beneficial for three reasons:

  1. Cost assurance – considering Nolan may make $26 million in arbitration this year, it’s nice to know how much a player will make going forward
  2. Player gets guaranteed contract – arbitration doesn’t guarantee a great payday; a career-ending injury means getting released and not earning the money that would have been given through arbitration
  3. Team can get a player’s first free agency year and possible extensions after that (which are less likely)

Any other organization would be crazy to not lock up Freeland and Marquez, but with the frequency of Tommy John Surgery for young pitchers and the potential for a career that does not continue on an upward trajectory, it’s understandable if the Rockies do not extend either player.

If they did, Marquez would come at a much cheaper price, much like Jimenez came as a bargain. Freeland might be a bit closer to Cook.

Reconsidering my assessment for the six extensions highlighted, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to get some cost assurance with either of those pitchers. The sly move might be locking up Antonio Senzatela ridiculously cheap, for, example five years for $15MM and an option. Tyler Anderson might come cheap, too, as he’s coming off a down season; a 4 year, $22MM pact with an option would also be sly.

Similarities between Story and Tulowitzki are striking and an extension for the current Rockies’ shortstop seems wise.

Though, many young Rockies hitters have burst onto the scene early, only to fizzle out or experience injuries that greatly reduced their value.

Payroll has increased four of the past five years. Payroll increased 31% in 2007 to help lock up a spot in the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history.  And the budget increased in the four years that followed, as well.

So could the Rockies spend big this offseason? And if they do, will history repeat itself?

It should also be noted that, despite most of these contracts working out at least fairly well, Colorado wouldn’t make the postseason for seven years and the only player of the bunch who remained once they did was Gonzalez.

Jeff Bridich, it has been proven, is a different person than Dan O’Dowd. But the men signing the checks, the Monforts, remain the same and might still be most willing to spend on the players they know best.

And history shows that, on an individual basis, that can work out just fine. But they will also need to learn the lessons from the past about how they can avoid the pitfalls that come with a bit too much faith in their own.

I would fully expect the Rockies to lock down a few fan favorites this offseason. But it also appears wise to look at this moment in time as an opportunity to inject new life into a franchise that is one jolt away from becoming true consistent contenders.

(Note: Major credit goes to Patrick Lyons for the research and analysis in this article)

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