- The Rockies have agreed to a minor league contract with catcher Brett Nicholas, per Thomas Harding of MLB.com. The 30-year-old Nicholas spent all of last season at the Triple-A level with the Padres, who acquired him from the Rangers in April, and slashed .291/.353/.485 with 16 home runs in 456 plate appearances. Prior to last year, Nicholas had been with Texas his entire pro career, which began when the organization selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He ultimately amassed 110 major league PAs as a member of the Rangers (45 in 2016, 65 in ’17), with whom he hit a respectable .252/.300/.456.
Despite the struggles of the Rockies’ catchers in 2018, it doesn’t appear they’ll be among the most ardent suitors for Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto, Thomas Harding of MLB.com hears. It’s unclear, though, whether Colorado will make a less splashy attempt to upgrade over its current trio of Chris Iannetta, Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy, a woeful offensive group in 2018. Realmuto was the game’s premier catcher last season, on the other hand, but his refusal to sign an extension with the Marlins makes him a prime trade candidate. With two years of arbitration control remaining, Realmuto would bring back an impressive haul, but it doesn’t look as if it’ll come from Colorado.
Speaking Friday with reporters – including Kyle Newman of the Denver Post – general manager Jeff Bridich revealed that the Rockies and Nolan Arenado have had “honest” discussions about a contract extension over the past couple years. Bridich added that he expects the two sides to continue talking in the coming months, and suggested the team’s unlikely to trade the superstar third baseman this offseason. “There’s not a perfect timeline or a specific timeline, but we’d love to have him here, and he knows that,” Bridich said. “We’ll see what happens … We expect him to be on our team next year.” Arenado has been a speculative trade candidate because he’s facing his last year of team control in 2019, when he’s projected to rake in a whopping $26.1MM via arbitration. But the 27-year-old is integral to the Rockies, who have earned two straight playoff berths and, with Arenado’s help in 2019, figure to aim for another postseason trip in what could be his last hurrah with the club.
Our predictions at the top of the free agent market are certainly not for the faint of heart; by our reckoning, both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have chances at securing record-setting contracts. Whether or not that’ll come to pass remains to be seen, but a more pressing question for hot-stove enthusiasts may be whether we’ll see a repeat of last winter’s agonizingly slow market. It seems fair to say our overall slate of predictions represents a general bet that the activity will pick up this time around. Indeed, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets that there’s a broader sense that the 2018-19 offseason will feature action. The player market, he says, could be “robust early” and “awfully busy” all winter long.
We heard earlier about some intriguing possibilities in Cleveland. For the most part, though, things are just starting to get heated up. Here’s some early chatter:
- While Garrett Richards will hit the market while still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, that doesn’t mean he won’t draw strong interest. Indeed, a dozen teams have already reached out, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). It’s no surprise to hear that, as quite a variety of clubs have agreed to two-year contractual arrangements with recovering hurlers in recent seasons, primarily in hopes of capturing value in the second season of the deal. MLBTR predicts that Richards will land a deal right in line with some of those cases.
- The Dodgers factor as a strong possible suitor for Japanese hurler Yusei Kikuchi, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register tweets. It’s hard to argue with that assessment based upon recent history, even if the Los Angeles club seems to be well on its way to filling out a deep rotation mix. The Dodgers have secured several talented but less-hyped starters from Asia via the posting process and have given out several large deals to pitchers with injury questions. In this case, Kikuchi figures to draw a number of suitors, particularly since he’s just 27 years of age. But recent shoulder woes could be a red flag for some organizations. Truthfully, it’s exceedingly difficult to get a read on his potential market, but the Dodgers are among the west coast organizations that seem to be rather good fits if Kikuch is posted, as seems likely but has yet to be decided conclusively.
- As the offseason gets underway, the Rockies represent a bit of a mystery team. They obviously look to be a contender, but have some clear needs and don’t appear to have much payroll flexibility barring a boost in their spending or clever move to shed salary. GM Jeff Bridich said today, as Nick Groke of The Athletic tweets, that the club will seek to oversee “responsible growth with the payroll,” adding that “success begets more growth.” That seems at least to leave open the possibility that the organization could add some more dollars to the books, though what kind of outlay might be possible remains unclear. Improving a lagging offense is the priority, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes.
- While the Marlins have given prior indication that they hoped to pursue a long-term deal with catcher J.T. Realmuto, his agent shot that idea down rather candidly, indicating that he does not expect his client to don a Marlins uniform in 2019. That hasn’t deterred the Miami brass, though, as Wells Dusenbury of the Sun Sentinel was among those to cover (Twitter links). CEO Derek Jeter rejoined recently that the Miami organization will decide where Realmuto plays. Today, president of baseball operations Michael Hill says that Realmuto’s apparent preferences won’t “impact in any way how we approach our offseason.” Of course, it still seems quite likely that the Marlins will end up marketing Realmuto this winter, as his value has undeniably crested after turning in a strong season with two more arb years left to go.
The Rockies won’t issue qualifying offers to any of their free agents today, general manager Jeff Bridich tells Nick Groke of The Athletic (Twitter link). Second baseman DJ LeMahieu and emergent relief star Adam Ottavino may have been fringe candidates to receive a $17.9MM QO, but instead both will reach the open market free of draft-pick compensation for interested parties.
LeMahieu, 30, has seen his offense tail off since winning a batting title in a brilliant 2016 campaign. He’s followed up that .348/.416/.495 effort with a combined .767 OPS and posted an unspectacular .276/.321/.428 slash in 128 games this season despite his hitter-friendly home setting. This year’s 6.4 percent walk rate was his worst since 2014. However, LeMahieu remains a premium defensive second baseman — arguably the game’s best — and he showed career-best power while proving to be a characteristically difficult strikeout for opposing pitchers. His 2016 season will likely go down as a clear career year and a general outlier, but he should still garner interest on multi-year pacts in free agency.
Ottavino, meanwhile, rebounded from some troubling control issues in 2017 (his first season back from Tommy John surgery) to break out as a dominant late-inning force for skipper Bud Black. In 77 2/3 innings, Ottavino turned in a pristine 2.43 ERA. His 36.3 percent strikeout rate checked in eighth among 151 qualified relievers, though it’s worth noting that his 11.7 percent walk rate was the 21st-highest in that same group. Nonetheless, the right-hander’s ability to miss bats and his strong ratings from fielding-independent metrics like FIP (2.74), xFIP (3.13) and SIERA (2.82) should help him to receive multi-year interest in free agency — perhaps as much as a three-year offering.
The Rockies will decline their $12.5MM club option on outfielder Gerardo Parra in favor of a $1.5MM buyout, per the Associated Press. The 31-year-old will become a free agent when the move is formally completed.
[Related: Colorado Rockies depth chart]
Parra signed a three-year, $27.5MM with the Rox prior to the 2016 season but struggled throughout most of his time with Colorado. Despite playing in one of the game’s best offensive environments over the past three seasons, Parra posted a .727 OPS with just 23 home runs in 1249 plate appearances as a member of the Rockies. His walk rate deteriorated in the first two seasons of the deal before rebounding in 2018, and his once-elite defensive ratings slipped as well, though they still checked in above league average.
Parra and fellow veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez both seem likely to land elsewhere in 2019, leaving cornerstone Charlie Blackmon and young David Dahl as the two locks for the 2019 campaign. Other internal options for the outfield include fleet-footed Raimel Tapia and Noel Cuevas, while Mike Tauchman and Yonathan Daza represent additional depth pieces on the 40-man roster.
Recent comments from right-handed reliever Seunghwan Oh seemingly indicated he was contemplating a return to his native Korea for the 2019 season, despite being under contract with the Rockies after his option vested. The Colorado organization, though, anticipates that Oh will remain with the club, general manager Jeff Bridich tells reporters including Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post.
“Our understanding is that he has every intention of honoring his contract,” said Bridich. He explains that Oh’s camp informed him that the righty’s “comments to the Korean media were not specifically about 2019,” so much as a general preference to pitch again in the KBO before wrapping up his playing career.
Certainly, that news comes as a relief for the Rox, who stand to control Oh for a reasonable $2.5MM salary. The 36-year-old thrived both before and after a mid-season trade sent him to Colorado from the Blue Jays. He ended the season with a 2.63 ERA over 68 1/3 innings, with a healthy combination of 79 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Despite exhibiting a velocity loss of a full tick on his average fastball, Oh managed to post a strong 14.7% swinging-strike rate. He increased the usage of a fourth pitch (a curve) that he used at the expense of his somewhat diminished heater.
Obviously, it’s always a good thing to have a useful ballplayer under contract at a price that lags his value. And there’s little question that Oh would earn more in free agency were he to return to the open market this fall.
But the need is even more acute for a Rockies organization that has poured money into its bullpen without achieving the desired results. Since the 2015-16 winter, the club has signed Wade Davis ($52MM total guarantee), Jake McGee ($27MM), Bryan Shaw ($27MM), Mike Dunn ($19MM), Greg Holland ($7MM guarantee, $14MM ultimate salary owing to incentives), Jason Motte ($10MM), and Chad Qualls ($6MM).
Overall, there’s little question that the club has not received the output it hoped for from this group. Several players — Davis, McGee, Shaw, and Dunn — remain under contract. While a bounceback or two may still not be too much to ask for, it’s critical that the organization get some cost-efficient, quality pieces in the mix. That’s particularly true given that the organization is already sitting with nearly as much cash on the books (around $130MM with arbitration eligibles included at their projected value) as it did to start the 2018 season (a club record of about $136MM).
MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweeted today that the Marlins have announced a press conference for Monday at Marlins Park. No news yet as to the specifics, but with Derek Jeter and President of Baseball Ops Michael Hill planned to be in attendance, speculation is there will be news regarding the Mesa brothers. Still, it’s only speculation as of now, and we’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s press conference to confirm the specifics. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, a couple of other notes…
- Fancred’s Jon Heyman talks to executives around the league about Manny Machado’s upcoming free agency and whether or not his recent antics will adversely affect his earning potential. Machado’s recent character issues trouble many around the league, but his on-field talent continues to speak for itself. One executive suggests the Phillies may be the only team willing to give Machado the monster payday many have expected, but at this stage any specific prediction remains speculative. People close to Machado have suggested he wants to return to the East Coast – specifically the Yankees – but it remains to be seen how exactly the market will shape up for the talented infielder.
- Kyle Newman of the Denver Post suggests the Rockies could push right-handers Yency Almonte and DJ Johnson into bigger roles next season. Newman presuppose the departures of Seunghwan Oh, back to Korea, and Adam Ottavino to free agency, but they’re interesting names to dig into regardless. Baseball America listed the 6’3” Almonte as the 8th best prospect in the Rockies system last season prior to his debut in June, while Johnson is an undrafted 29-year-old rookie having spent time in four organizations. Almonte was a starter in the minors, but a 97-98 mph fastball and power slider certainly play well late in games if that’s how the Rockies choose to deploy him. Johnson’s stuff isn’t as overpowering, but he nevertheless produced a gaudy 13.66 K/9 while pitching in Triple-A this season. That nearly doubles his strikeout rate of the previous two seasons, but he kept it up across 6.1 innings as a September callup (12.79 K/9). Neither Almonte nor Johnson are locks to take on major roles in the Rockies bullpen, but especially in a bullpen with quite a few overpriced, underperforming veterans already on the books, they represent valuable low-cost options that manager Bud Black may turn to in 2019.
The Rockies hold the distinction of making arguably the single most aggressive deployment of the qualifying offer. Back in 2014, they extended one to aging corner outfielder Michael Cuddyer after an injury-limited season. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he declined it — a QO wouldn’t be accepted by anyone until the following offseason — and not long thereafter signed with the Mets, leaving the Rox with a first-round pick for their troubles.
These days, teams are generally less willing to go out on a limb with the QO. For one thing, we’ve seen several players decide they’d rather take the sure payday for one season of work than roll the dice on landing a big, multi-year deal. For another, teams have less to gain for their risk under the modified QO rules.
So, where does that leave the Rockies and free-agent-to-be DJ LeMahieu? The 30-year-old has been a steady presence for the Colorado organization, holding down the second base job on a regular basis for the past five seasons.
Defense has always been the calling card for LeMahieu. He has at times graded as one of the best defenders in the sport. And he did so again in 2018, with both DRS and UZR boosting his scores after three years of merely above-average ratings.
While he has produced at about ten percent below league average with the bat in three of the past four seasons, the outlying campaign (2016) saw LeMahieu post a stellar .348/.416/.495 slash. And he was able to drive a career-high 15 balls out of the yard in 2018.
Though his walk rate fell a bit, and LeMahieu ended with only a .321 OBP, it’s worth noting that he managed only a .298 batting average on balls in play. That’d be normal for most players, but DJLM has a long history of carrying much higher numbers. In the majors, his career BABIP is .343. This does seem tied to his dinger boost, as LeMahieu hit far more flyballs (29.5%) than ever before. It’s fair to wonder, then, whether LeMahieu will ever be able to deliver much power while also delivering his core skill — an abundance of solid contact and a lofty batting average — at the plate.
All things considered, it’s not as if LeMahieu doesn’t have his strengths on offense. He’s fourth in all of baseball in batting average over the past four seasons, after all. And the glove is good enough to support him regardless. If you believe UZR, he’s a 2-win player who topped out at 4.4 fWAR in 2016. By measure of DRS-applying rWAR, however, LeMahieu is more a 3-win annual performer who has topped five WAR at his peak.
The Rockies do have some options to fill in. Garrett Hampson has always hit in the minors and had a nice first taste of the majors in 2018. Ryan McMahon has struggled in the bigs but could also be a factor. And top prospect Brendan Rodgers is nearing MLB readiness even as Trevor Story blocks him at shortstop.
Of course, there are loads of second basemen to be found on the market. That hurts LeMahieu’s outlook and makes it likelier he’d accept. Paying him $17.9MM for a single season may be reasonable, in theory, but it’d also severely constrain the club as it seeks other improvements. While the Rockies could land a first-round pick if he rejects it, that’d only occur if LeMahieu secures at least a $50MM contract.
As ever, the decision boils down to what the Rockies believe LeMahieu thinks of his market. If the team expects he’ll reject the QO, issuing it is a no-brainer. If that’s unclear, the question becomes whether the team finds it palatable to imagine him accepting.
There are a lot of factors, but ultimately it’s a yes/no proposition whether to extend the qualifying offer. What do you think the Rockies ought to do? (Poll link for app users.)
In looking ahead to the future of the Rockies’ outfield, Kyle Newman of the Denver Post suggests that the Rockies are likely to move Charlie Blackmon, whose defensive ratings in center field plummeted in 2018, to left field in favor of David Dahl next season. The two appear to be locks to be in the Colorado outfield next season regardless of alignment, given Dahl’s outstanding finish to the season. The 24-year-old former top prospect hit .273/.325/.534 with 16 homers in 271 plate appearances in the Majors last year, including a ridiculous .287/.330/.655 slash with nine homers in the season’s final month. In a second column looking at the rotation, Newman’s colleague, Patrick Saunders, notes that right-hander Jon Gray drew trade inquiries at the deadline, but the Rockies opted not to sell low on their Opening Day starter. Gray, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft, undeniably has electric raw stuff, but he’s yet to consistently tap into his front-of-the-rotation upside in parts of four big league seasons. He’s controlled through 2021, though, so he’d be an incredibly in-demand commodity in the event that the Rox do at least listen to offers this winter.