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2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Are the Colorado Rockies going to be buyers or sellers?

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The Rockies are in an awkward spot, as they’ve been disappointing this year but remain in striking distance in the NL West.

MLB: Spring Training-Media Day Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Rockies: 41-43, 4th in the NL West

It will be interesting to see how the Rockies approach this year’s trade deadline, because they’re coming off a playoff appearance in 2017 and haven’t exactly proven that they shouldn’t be a playoff team this year. But even in an NL West where no team has grabbed the bull by the horns, the Rockies have struggled, as they’re under .500 to this point and have gotten worse as the season has gone on, posting an 11-16 record in June. Further complicating things is that while Colorado has a very good farm system, the window is perhaps closing for its current core to win a World Series; Carlos Gonzalez has slowed down substantially after dominating opposing pitchers for years, Charlie Blackmon just signed a long-term extension but is 32 years old and has taken a step back this year, Nolan Arenado may stick in Colorado long-term but is eligible for free agency after next season, and DJ LeMahieu’s contract expires at the end of this season. Because of all of that, it’s likely that the Rockies will fall more into the “buyer” category than the “seller” one, if nothing else because in contrast to the offseason, teams that are even vaguely in the playoff race at the deadline tend to operate based on hope rather than logic. If their July is as terrible as their June was, though, they have to at least consider trading some key veterans.

What moves have they made so far?

From a transaction standpoint, the Rockies have been about as quiet as a major-league club can be during the first half. They removed relievers Zach Jemiola and Jairo Diaz from the 40-man roster, but both remained in the organization. They haven’t made any trades or waiver claims since spring training began.

Who could they acquire (or trade)?

The Rockies haven’t been quite as consistent offensively as they hoped to be this season, but that’s largely due to Blackmon merely being good rather than performing at the MVP-caliber level he’d hit at for the past two seasons and LeMahieu missing three weeks due to injury. The one spot that’s been a disappointment all season long is first base — while Ian Desmond is on pace for a 30-homer season just like the one his predecessor Mark Reynolds had in 2017, he’s struggled to make contact, hitting .217 with a .294 on-base percentage through 320 plate appearances. Ryan McMahon and Pat Valaika have been downright awful when they’ve received starts there. Desmond isn’t going to be bumped from the starting lineup — he’s in the second season of a five-year, $70 million contract, and the Rockies aren’t giving up on him nearly that easily — but moves could be made to put him in a better position to succeed. If the Rockies could acquire a veteran first baseman, it’d free up Desmond to move back to a corner outfield spot — where he’d be able to make a more significant defensive impact and where all-around great offensive production isn’t quite as much of a necessity — and prevent them from having to start Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra on a near-everyday basis.

A couple of guys who would make sense for the Rockies are White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Royals first baseman Lucas Duda. Abreu would obviously be the bigger of the two possible acquisitions, as he’s a far better player — he’s a former All-Star who has an .873 career OPS and has posted a strong .801 OPS with 12 homers this season — and has more contractual control, as he’s arbitration eligible through next season. It’d be extremely fun to see what Abreu, who has hit at least 30 homers in three of his four full major-league seasons, could do at Coors Field, and the fact that he’s a right-handed hitter is key for a Rockies lineup that is currently relying on a pair of left-handed hitters (Gonzalez and Parra) who hit well against right-handers but can’t hit lefties. With that said, Abreu has -6 defensive runs saved this season and may struggle with having to play in the field every day for the first time in his career.

Duda is a run-of-the-mill slugging first baseman who has struggled to a .698 OPS while battling plantar fasciitis this season, but he’s posted an OPS over .800 in three of the last four years with two 30-homer seasons over that span. Both due to his ongoing injury struggles and his problems hitting left-handed pitching, he’s probably not a guy who’d fit into Colorado’s lineup on an everyday basis. But as a player who could give more rest to Parra and Gonzalez (with Desmond moving to the outfield on those days) he might make sense, and he’d be extremely affordable — he’s making $3.5 million this year and is a free agent at the end of the season.

Though the Rockies possessed an impressive arsenal of young starting pitching depth entering the season, all of their starters except Kyle Freeland have once again struggled to limit runs at Coors Field (as nearly every starter in franchise history has). With those struggles in mind, GM Jeff Bridich has acknowledged that he’s considering trading for a veteran starter, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding wrote Sunday. That may not be the most logical strategy for a Colorado franchise that has repeatedly been unable to get strong results from its starting pitchers at home — after all, with all the different strategies they’ve thrown against the wall over their 26-year history, the most accomplished pitchers in Rockies history are Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, and Jorge de la Rosa — but they’ve got such a surplus of young, major-league-ready prospects that it wouldn’t devastate the organization if they were to make that type of deal. While it’d certainly make sense for the Rockies to do their due diligence on guys like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Cole Hamels, they may not be comfortable trying outbid contenders like the Yankees, Dodgers, Indians, and Brewers who have more realistic chances of making long playoff runs this year. While it could be argued that going after more of a second-tier guy would be more of the same for the Rockies, trading for a rental starter such as J.A. Happ, Tyson Ross, or Mike Fiers might make the most sense for a Colorado team that might as well try to make a second-half run but hasn’t exactly screamed “World Series” this year.

If the Rockies happen to fall apart over the next month and decide to sell off some pieces at the deadline, they’ve got a few pending free agents they could move. LeMahieu has been one of the lineup’s most valuable contributors over the last seven seasons, but it’s unlikely that Colorado will re-sign him this offseason with star middle-infield prospect Brendan Rodgers nearing the majors (and the club needing to conserve funds to try and re-sign Arenado after next season). LeMahieu is one of the best second basemen in the majors and could bring back a substantial return; with teams like the Red Sox, Brewers, and Indians potentially seeking upgrades at second base, there would be at least a few suitors for him, and he’s kept his value high this season by posting a .274/.324/.433 slash line with eight homers and seven defensive runs saved at second.

Though he’s struggled a bit over his last few appearances, Adam Ottavino has been one of the best relievers in the majors for most of this season and has an outstanding 1.88 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 36 appearances. With the Rockies having spent $106 million on their bullpen last winter, it’s unlikely that they’re going to want to pony up again to give Ottavino the contract he’ll presumably command unless he takes a nosedive during the second half. If they’re out of contention by the deadline, he could be a hot commodity, especially with virtually every contender looking to add established bullpen depth — though his $7 million salary could be burdensome for clubs up near the luxury tax and looking to stay under it. Gonzalez could also perhaps bring back a minimal return — and it’s uncertain whether the Rockies would essentially give away a guy who’s been a franchise icon for a decade — for a team that wants a righty-mashing platoon outfielder.

Predictions

Despite their recent struggles, it’s difficult to see the Rockies throwing the white flag up at the trade deadline. Though the Giants are now surging and the D-Backs and Dodgers have continued to win as difficult circumstances have been dealt their way, there’s still not an overwhelming favorite in the NL West, and Colorado could work itself back into that mix, whether it’s this week or some time in August. As inconsistent as the Rockies have been this season, it’s hard to pinpoint a spot where they could stand to make a clear upgrade other than at first base — and it’s very possible that they’ll address that need over the next month with a guy like Abreu or Duda. Bridich has talked about boosting the rotation — and the Rockies may very well attempt to do so — though it’s difficult to see anyone on this year’s trade market being good enough to overcome the negative effects of Coors Field and really make Colorado’s rotation a whole lot better.

From a cold-hearted business standpoint, it would make sense for the Rockies to try to trade guys like LeMahieu and Ottavino if they continue to struggle over the next month. But with their window possibly closing as Arenado gets closer to free agency and Blackmon continues to get older, it’d be hard for them to justify those moves with their World Championship-starved fan base, and therefore it’s unlikely that they’ll end up making them.