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2017 MLB Offseason Preview: Colorado Rockies

Colorado's offense is solid. Can they assemble a consistent pitching staff to make them a perennial contender?

National League Wild Card Game - Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Colorado Rockies (87-75), third in NL West

Free Agents: Ryan Hanigan, Johnathan Lucroy, Mark Reynolds, Alexi Amarista, Carlos Gonzalez, Tyler Chatwood, Greg Holland, Jake McGee, Pat Neshek

Don't let the Rockies' third place finish in 2017 deceive you. While the club ran out of gas down the stretch, baseball in Colorado was anything but mediocre this summer.

The Rockies were widely scrutinized for signing Qualifying-Offer-recipient Ian Desmond to a 5yr/$70 million contract last winter to play first base, thereby forfeiting the team's 2017 first-round pick (a penalty that no longer exists under the new CBA). A full season later, the deal doesn't look too much better—but it certainly signaled that the Rockies should be taken seriously.

Led by a dynamic Charlie Blackmon atop the lineup card, Colorado came out of the gates hot. winners of 33 of their first 52 games, Colorado took an NL West lead through May 29th before falling behind the streaking Dodgers for good. A wrist injury to Jon Gray in April opened the door to a plethora of starting pitching auditions from the Rockies' young cast of arms, with Kyle Freeland and German Marquez cementing themselves into the organization's future plans. The offseason signing of Greg Holland—who missed all of 2016 due to Tommy John Surgery—was critical to the Rockies' success; Holland accrued 1.4 bWAR across 57.1 innings as Colorado's closer, and led all of baseball with 41 saves in 45 opportunities.

Colorado's pitching may have held up better in 2017 than it has in recent memory, but it was the Rockies' offense that kept the club afloat as playoff contenders all season long. Even a career-worst season from outfielder Carlos Gonzalez couldn't slow down the bats, as Colorado's 824 runs were the best in the National League. Nolan Arenado proved once more that he's one of the premier hitters in all of baseball, Mark Reynolds posted a surprising 105 OPS+ with 30 HRs and 97 RBIs, and the Rockies won enough games to clinch the second spot in the National League Wild Card Game.

But the Rockies' 11-8 loss to the Diamondbacks in the WC was indicative of what the club needs going forward: pitching. With Tyler Chatswood departing via free agency, the Rockies are projected to have between $35 to $40 million to spend this offseason. here's how Colorado's starting rotation currently shakes out:

  • RHP Jon Gray (26 years old)
  • RHP Chad Bettis (28)
  • LHP Tyler Anderson (28)
  • LHP Kyle Freeland (24)
  • RHP German Marquez (22)

While Colorado has depth in its rotation, it's too early to count them out as possible buyers on the starting market; the club was linked to Jose Quintana and Sonny Gray rumors last trade deadline. However, a deal is more likely to culminate through trade than free agency, due to Coors Field's intimidation factor for free agent hurlers.

With that being said, the Rockies are expected to allocate most of their payroll flexibility toward the bullpen. Colorado is losing three key contributors from their postseason roster this winter:

  • RHP Greg Holland (31 years old)
  • LHP Jake McGee (30)
  • RHP Pat Neshek (36)

Colorado might benefit most by keeping these guys around. The Rockies have already expressed interest in re-signing Holland to a multi-year deal this winter, reports FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman. Holland declined his $17.4 million qualifying offer earlier this month, granting him unrestricted free agency. The decision also subjects the Rockies to draft-pick compensation should Holland choose to sign elsewhere (Heyman names the Cubs and Cardinals are contenders for the closer, as well).

Without Holland, the Rockies have left-hander Adam Ottavino and right-hander Mike Dunn lined up in late-inning roles. Neither reliever held an ERA below 4.00 in 2017 across a combined 103.2 innings, which is an obvious red flag. Colorado needs to add a shutdown reliever to the club, and free agents Addison Reed and Brandon Morrow stick out as good fits. Reed, 28, was a workhorse for the Mets and Red Sox last season, pitching to a 2.84 ERA over 76.0 innings. Morrow, a 33-year-old converted starter, held a dominant 2.06 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in 43.2 high-leverage innings for the Pennant-winning Dodgers.

Will General Manager Jeff Bridich make a move for Wade Davis, the top-tier closer on the market? Bridich said Monday that the Rockies are "keeping our eyes and ears open to just about everything," reports Thomas Harding and AJ Cassavell of Davis undoubtedly would fit well into an open closer's role in Colorado, though obviously he comes at a much higher price. Inking Davis longterm may limit the Rockies' ability to sign multiple high-leverage arms this offseason.

Offensively, the Rockies are in good shape for the future. Although Gonzalez' career-worst performance in 2017 comes at an in-oportune time for the slugger, Colorado seems to have caught a break by never finishing off a long-term extension. Gonzalez' struggles coincided with the emergence of veteran Gerardo Parra, who slashed a career-best .309/.341/.452 in 115 games. Parra, under team control through 2018 with a club option for '19, will man left field duties next spring.

Left-handed hitting prospects Raimel Tapia and David Dahl will head to spring training battling for Gonzalez' right field spot, and I'll subjectively give the early lead to Dahl. While the 23-year-old missed all of 2017 due to injury, he produced spectacularly as a rookie in 2016. In 63 games after being promoted from AAA Albuquerque, Dahl hit .315/.359/.500 with five stolen bases and a 113 OPS+. Tapia's defense is stellar, but his bat is a liability: he was worth -0.7 bWAR in 2017 across 277 PAs.

Colorado acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Texas Rangers at last summer's trade deadline, and Lucroy voiced his desire to return to the organization earlier this fall, according to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. While the Rockies' interest level in a reunion is currently unknown, the club does have serviceable tandem in Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy already in place. Should the Rockies strike out on the big names in the relief pitching market, Lucroy might receive a reasonable offer from the Rockies. The eight-year veteran will likely earn his money from a club outside of The Centennial State this winter.

The Rockies surprised many fans and executives alike in 2017 with their ability to hang with Los Angeles and Arizona, but the club simply did not have enough pitching to get themselves over the hump. With lots of money to spend and many ways to spend it, Colorado enters Hot Stove Season as the favorites to make a splash in the relief pitching market.