- Kris Bryant is joining the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate for a pair of minor league rehab games this week, tweets Danielle Allentuck of the Denver Gazette. If all goes well, he could be back in the lineup for the Rox by the weekend. Out since April 26 due to a back injury that the team hoped would require a minimum IL stay, Bryant will instead wind up missing three-plus weeks of action, at least. As Nick Groke of The Athletic writes, Bryant received a cortisone shot last week after an initial period of rest didn’t fully remedy his ailment. Bryant’s return could push the struggling Sam Hilliard to Triple-A, particularly with the out-of-options Yonathan Daza hitting well at the moment and thus giving the team a productive fourth outfield option. Utilityman Garrett Hampson is also capable of playing all three outfield spots, though he’s been primarily used as an infielder in 2022.
The Rockies have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander José Ureña, reports Thomas Harding of MLB.com (Twitter link). He’ll head to the team’s Arizona complex before embarking on an affiliated assignment.
Ureña elected free agency earlier this week after being outrighted by the Brewers. The 30-year-old broke camp with Milwaukee and spent a month on the active roster, appearing in four games out of the bullpen. Ureña tossed 7 2/3 innings of five-run ball, striking out three batters and issuing five walks. The Brew Crew then designated him for assignment on the deadline to trim active rosters from 28 to 26 players; Ureña has enough service time that he couldn’t be optioned to the minors without his consent.
That brief run in Milwaukee marked the eighth consecutive season in which the Dominican Republic native has appeared in the majors. He spent the first six years of his MLB career in Miami, primarily working as a starting pitcher. Ureña’s tenure with the Marlins was up-and-down, but he posted consecutive seasons with an ERA below 4.00 while soaking up a rotation workload from 2017-18. He’s consistently run below-average strikeout and swinging strike numbers, but he typically posts capable ground-ball marks.
Ureña caught on with the Tigers last season but put up a 5.81 ERA in 100 2/3 innings. He managed a personal-best 52% grounder rate last year, though, which is no doubt of interest to the Colorado front office. While his early results with the Brewers weren’t good, he also averaged north of 96 MPH on his fastball in abbreviated stints.
The Rockies have started the year 16-15, although that respectable showing still places them at the bottom of a loaded NL West. Colorado starters have the league’s third-lowest strikeout rate (17.8%), but they’ve been among the five best in terms of generating grounders (47.7%). Ureña fits a similar profile and could be a rotation or long relief depth option.
The Rockies have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander Riley Smith, reports Robert Murray of FanSided (Twitter link). Smith had been released by the division-rival Diamondbacks last month. He’ll report to the Rox’s top affiliate in Albuquerque.
A former 24th-round selection, Smith posted excellent minor league numbers up through Double-A. He struggled in his first crack at Triple-A Reno late in 2019, but the D-Backs nevertheless brought him to the big leagues during the shortened 2020 season. He had a fairly promising debut effort in limited time, working to a 1.47 ERA with slightly better than average strikeout, walk and ground-ball numbers (albeit with a very low swinging strike rate). Smith worked out of the bullpen for all six of his appearances, but he soaked up multiple innings during five of those outings and tallied 18 1/3 frames altogether.
That initial success earned the LSU product a longer look last season, but he couldn’t replicate the results. Smith again served primarily as a long relief option, although he did start six of his 24 appearances. Across 67 1/3 innings, he managed only a 6.01 ERA. Smith rarely handed out free passes, but his grounder rate took a small step back relative to the prior season. More concerning, his strikeout percentage plummeted from 25.7% to 12%. The D-Backs optioned Smith to Triple-A Reno in early August, and he was hit hard across four starts. Outrighted off the 40-man roster at the start of the offseason, he was released before suiting up with the Aces this year.
Smith will try to right the ship in his new environment. His overall MLB track record hasn’t been great to this point, but the 27-year-old has been a fantastic strike-thrower throughout his professional career. He paired that control with plenty of grounders to keep runs off the board against lower-level hitters. He’ll add a non-roster swing option to the upper minors in the Colorado farm system.
After 12 Major League seasons, Gerardo Parra has decided to retire, as reported by MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko during today’s broadcast. Parra will move into a new role as a special assistant in the Nationals front office.
Parra (who celebrated his 35th birthday two days ago) had signed a minor league deal with the Nats in Spring Training, but opted against a Triple-A assignment after not making the Opening Day roster. He’ll now call it a career after 1519 MLB games spread over 12 seasons with the Diamondbacks, Brewers, Orioles, Rockies, Giants, and Nationals, plus 47 games with NPB’s Yomiuri Giants in 2020. For his big league career, Parra batted .275/.322/.403 with 90 home runs over 5290 plate appearances.
An international signing for the D’Backs in 2004, Parra played his first five-plus MLB seasons in Arizona, establishing himself as one of the game’s best defensive outfielders. Parra won two Gold Gloves and a Fielding Bible Award during his time with the D’Backs, and also showed some occasional pop at the plate.
This production (particularly against right-handed pitching) helped Parra keep getting chances after his glovework started to decline. He scored a three-year, $27.5MM free agent deal from Colorado prior to the 2016 season, and while his own performance didn’t quite live up to expectations, Parra at least helped the Rox reach the postseason in both 2017 and 2018.
After signing with the Giants in the 2018-19 offseason, Parra didn’t last long in San Francisco, and caught on with the Nationals in May 2019. That set the table for probably the most memorable moments of Parra’s career, as he quickly became a Washington fan favorite after adopting “Baby Shark” (his young daughter’s favorite song) as his walk-up music.
More importantly, Parra became a clubhouse leader for a Nats team that went onto win the World Series. While he only hit a modest .250/.300/.447 over 204 PA for Washington during the regular season, and then made only seven total PA during the playoffs, Parra’s leadership was widely credited as a key reason why the Nationals were able to turn their season around after an ugly start in the first two months. Parra played in Japan in 2020, and then made one final encore run with the Nats in 2021, playing what would end up being his final 53 Major League games.
We at MLB Trade Rumors congratulate Parra on a tremendous career, and we wish him all the best in his new front office role.
Right-hander Scott Oberg hasn’t pitched since the 2019 season, and while the veteran Rockies reliever hasn’t officially confirmed his retirement, his recent interview with Jack Etkin of Rockies Magazine indicated that Oberg is taking steps towards a post-playing career.
“I’m not really in a rush to pick up a ball again in the near term and give it another go, just in the sense that (I) keep running into the risk of having to go through all of this again,” Oberg said, referring to the recurring blood-clotting issues that have kept him off the field. “Now it’s not really my decision, I don’t feel at this point, really. It’s kind of a family decision just because there’s so much more on the line.”
Between August 2016 and March 2021, Oberg underwent four different procedures to address the blood clots that kept developing in his right forearm. Even after all of these operations, Oberg said that “nobody really has a straight answer on” why the clots keep reappearing, other than “we have a general idea that this is caused by throwing. And every time you have one, you seem to be at a higher risk to have another one.”
It has made for a frustrating and worrisome situation for Oberg and his family, and with seemingly no safe way to get back onto the mound, Oberg has started looking for new paths at age 32. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in sports industry management at Georgetown, and his role as the Rockies’ MLBPA player rep made him very busy given all of baseball’s labor issues over the last two years.
Oberg could also transition into a role with the Rockies, after already unofficially helping the club with some scouting and player analysis work over the last year. Whether this could translate into a player-development job may simply be up to Oberg, as Colorado GM Bill Schmidt seems very open to the idea: “We’ll figure out a role for him. He’s a very bright guy. And I think the world of Scottie and want him involved.”
A 15th-round pick for the Rockies in the 2012 draft, Oberg has spent his entire pro career in the organization, and posted a 3.85 ERA over 257 1/3 relief innings from 2015-19. After beginning as something of a groundball specialist, Oberg’s strikeout rate gradually rose in each of his five Major League seasons, and his best numbers came over his most recent two campaigns. Oberg posted a 2.35 ERA over 114 2/3 innings in 2018-19, somewhat quietly establishing himself as one of baseball’s better relief arms.
“I think that’s kind of the biggest frustration that I might have of all this is that I really felt like I was coming into my prime between what I could do physically and you know learning from all the mistakes that I’d made in the past and all the ups and downs and all the times that I’d failed,” Oberg said. “I definitely put a lot of good things together in 2019. So I was certainly excited about the prospects of the future. Who knows how long of a run I would have been able to make? But in the same respect, to go out on top is I guess maybe the best way to go about it and knowing that something is kind of out of my control. I don’t know if that makes it any better or not.”
Oberg was at least able to land one big payday in the form of a three-year, $13MM extension signed in December 2019. That deal covered the 2020-22 seasons, so Oberg has never thrown a professional pitch during the life of that contract, which locked up Oberg’s final two arbitration-eligible seasons and what would have been his first year of free agency. Colorado holds an $8MM club option on Oberg for 2023 that will surely be declined.
If this is indeed the end for Oberg as a player, we at MLB Trade Rumors congratulate him on a fine career, and we look forward to seeing what’s next in his off-the-field endeavors.
The Rockies are placing Kris Bryant on the 10-day injured list, the team informed reporters (including Nick Groke of the Athletic). Bryant has been dogged by back soreness of late, although Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post tweets that an MRI didn’t reveal any serious issues. That suggests it could be a fairly brief IL stay. To take Bryant’s place on the roster, corner infield prospect Elehuris Montero is being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque.
Bryant hasn’t played since Monday. His IL placement can thus be backdated to April 26; assuming that’s the case, he’d be eligible to return a week from now. Bryant has gotten off to something of a slow start to his Colorado tenure. Signed to a seven-year, $182MM deal over the offseason, he hasn’t connected on a home run through his first 15 games. Bryant owns a .281/.338/.351 line over 65 plate appearances while splitting his time between left field and designated hitter.
The Rox have turned to Connor Joe and Sam Hilliard in left over the past couple days. Joe is off to an excellent .270/.349/.514 start and is an option in the corner outfield, at first base or at DH. Hilliard could see a few more at-bats while Bryant is out, although it’s possible the Rockies use this as an opportunity to give Montero his first run.
Acquired as part of the return from the Cardinals for Nolan Arenado, Montero split the 2021 campaign between Double-A Hartford and Albuquerque. He performed well at both stops, combining for a .278/.360/.529 showing in 500 plate appearances. Montero, whom St. Louis had already selected onto their 40-man roster over the 2019-20 offseason, didn’t get a big league call. He did, however, improve his stock in the eyes of prospect evaluators.
This past winter, both FanGraphs and Baseball America slotted the 23-year-old among the ten most promising prospects in the organization. Both outlets praised his combination of bat-to-ball skills and power, although each raised questions about his defensive acumen at third base and an aggressive approach at the plate. Nevertheless, both outlets suggested he could have enough offensive upside to be an everyday player.
Montero has gotten off to a fine .288/.356/.450 start over 91 Triple-A plate appearances. The Rockies can option him back to the minors, but it stands to reason they’ll want to get a lengthy look at him against big league arms at some point soon. Montero is in his final option year, meaning Colorado will have to carry him on next season’s Opening Day roster if they don’t want to lose him to another club.
The Rays have claimed left-hander Ben Bowden off waivers from the Rockies, the teams announced. Tampa Bay had an open spot on its 40-man roster so no corresponding move is needed. Bowden has been optioned to Triple-A Durham. The Rays’ 40-man roster is now full, while the Rockies’ roster is now at 39 players.
The Rockies never formally designated Bowden for assignment or announced that he’d been placed on waivers, though it’s hardly uncommon for teams to simply try to clear a roster spot in this fashion without first announcing the player’s placement on waivers.
Now 27 years old, Bowden was the No. 45 overall draft pick by the Rockies back in 2016. Praised by scouting reports for a plus changeup, Bowden has regularly missed bats at a high level in the minors (34.4% strikeout rate) but has also yielded too many free passes over the years (11.1% walk rate). Heading into the 2021 season, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote about Bowden’s inconsistent fastball velocity, noting that when he’s in the mid-90s with his heater he looks like a viable big league reliever. However, Bowden doesn’t always maintain that velocity, evidenced by the 92.6 mph he averaged on his heater in last year’s MLB debut.
That 2021 debut wasn’t a pretty one for Bowden, who posted a grisly 6.56 ERA in 35 2/3 innings. True to form, he showed the ability to miss bats (23.7% strikeout rate, 11.4% swinging-strike rate) but also issued far too many walks (11.9%) and was uncharacteristically susceptible to home runs (1.51 HR/9). Bowden had a huge showing at Double-A in 2019 and fired 11 2/3 shutout frames in Triple-A last year. This season in Triple-A, however, he’s been tagged for seven runs on six hits and six walks in just 7 2/3 innings. He’s fanned 11 of the 34 hitters he’s faced, maintaining that impressive strikeout prowess, but he’ll need to improve his command and more consistently get the best out of his heater if he’s to emerge as a legitimate big league bullpen option.
The Rockies have hammered out another extension, announcing agreement with Kyle Freeland on a five-year contract. The deal reportedly guarantees the MSM Sports Management client $64.5MM and comes with a vesting player option for the 2027 campaign. If Freeland tosses 170 innings in 2026, he’ll trigger a $17MM player option for a sixth season.
Freeland had been controllable via arbitration through 2023, so the deal buys out at least three free agents seasons. The southpaw will earn $7MM this year, $10.5MM in 2023, $15MM in 2024, then $16MM in both 2025 and ’26. Were Freeland to finish in the top five in Cy Young award balloting in either of the next two years, he’d earn the right to opt out after the 2024 campaign.
The deal evidently came together quickly, as Freeland told Nick Groke of the Athletic just last week there’d been “no movement” on an extension and that the club hadn’t put forth an offer. Within a few days, he and the team agreed to a long-term deal that figures to keep him around for at least an additional three seasons. It’s a particularly nice development for Freeland, a Denver native and career-long member of the organization.
Colorado selected Freeland with the eighth overall pick of the 2014 draft out of the University of Evansville. He was regarded at the time as a possible mid-rotation starter who could move through the minors quickly based on his polished strike-throwing ability. That projection more or less proved to be the case, as he was in the majors two and a half years later after performing well in the minors.
Freeland stepped immediately into the Colorado rotation, starting 28 of his 33 appearances as a rookie. He posted a 4.10 ERA in 156 innings that season, overcoming a mediocre 15.6% strikeout rate with an excellent 53.9% ground-ball percentage. The southpaw followed that up with a stellar sophomore campaign that has been the best season of his career to date. He made 33 starts and tossed 202 1/3 innings in 2017, posting a 2.85 ERA despite starting 15 games at the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the league. That mark still stands as the lowest single-season ERA for a qualified starter in Rockies’ history, offering plenty of evidence that Freeland could thrive despite the environmental challenges inherent for a Colorado pitcher.
Four years later, the Rox are presumably still placing a lot of emphasis on that showing. Freeland struggled mightily in 2019, allowing a 6.73 ERA. Colorado even optioned him to Triple-A Albuquerque for a month and a half that year. Over the past two seasons, he’s been solid but unspectacular, posting a matching 4.33 ERA in both 2020 and 2021.
Freeland’s general profile — few strikeouts or whiffs offset by plenty of grounders and plus control — hasn’t much changed throughout his time in the majors. Yet since his excellent 2018 showing, he owns a 5.32 ERA in 304 2/3 innings (including two starts thus far in 2022). Colorado surely considers the 2019 season an outlier, but even going back to the start of 2020, Freeland’s 200 1/3 innings of 4.58 ERA/4.65 FIP ball are more fine than exceptional.
The Rockies clearly believe the 28-year-old (29 next month) is capable of a return to something more closely approximating his early-career form. It’s the continuation of a pattern for general manager Bill Schmidt and his staff, who have worked diligently to keep many of the team’s veterans around for the long haul. Within the past eight months, Colorado has worked out multi-year extensions with Antonio Senzatela, Elias Díaz, C.J. Cron, Ryan McMahon and now Freeland. Those players join marquee free agent pickup Kris Bryant and staff ace Germán Márquez as the long-term core in Denver.
Márquez, Senzatela and Freeland are each under club control through at least 2024, leading a rotation the Rox envision as the backbone of the club. Senzatela’s October extension — a five-year, $50.5MM guarantee that contains a 2027 club option — is the most recent deal for a starter with between four and five years of service time. Freeland’s contract tops that of his teammate even though he’s nearly two years older and has been less effective over the past couple seasons. Freeland and Senzatela are similar pitchers stylistically, but the former has been a bit more home run prone and had an ERA about two tenths of a run higher (4.33 for Freeland, 4.11 for Senzatela) between 2020-21.
That’s not to say Senzatela fared poorly. His deal was generally regarded as a player-friendly pact at the time it was signed. Setting aside Jacob deGrom, the previous pitcher to sign an extension in that bucket was Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks. He signed a four-year, $55.5MM pact in March 2019. Like Freeland, Hendricks was headed into his age-29 season and thrived on his control and ground-ball propensity. The Cubs’ starter had posted five straight sub-4.00 ERA campaigns to open his big league career, though, making him a safer long-term bet than either of Colorado’s pitchers.
The Hendricks comparison makes the Rockies’ decision to commit $64.5MM to Freeland puzzling, although it’s not especially surprising. Colorado brass has shown repeatedly they value their own players more than many outside the organization might. While it has been some time since Freeland’s excellent first two seasons, he has shown himself capable of thriving despite the unique challenges the Rockies face at Coors Field. That’s no doubt of appeal to team brass, and the extension comes with the ancillary benefit of avoiding the hassle of an arbitration hearing.
Prior to today’s agreement, the team and player were set for a hearing next month to determine his 2022 salary. Freeland had filed at $7.8MM; the Rockies had countered at $6.425MM. They’ll settle a bit shy of the midpoint for this season and price in a raise for what would’ve been his final year of arbitration-eligibility before paying $15-16MM annually for what would’ve been his three free agent seasons.
The Rockies’ 2022 payroll isn’t much affected by today’s extension, but they’ll add another notable salary to the books for next season and beyond. Colorado’s 2023 player tab now checks in around $110MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, while Freeland ($15MM), Bryant ($28MM), McMahon ($12MM) and Senzatela ($12MM) all have notable 2024 salaries. Márquez has a $16MM club option that year. The Rockies have never eclipsed $150MM in Opening Day payroll, but they might be headed towards that mark in the next couple seasons. They’ll hope to build around the core in which they’ve invested in an ever-competitive NL West.
Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the Rockies and Freeland had agreed to a five-year, $64.5MM deal, as well as the sixth-year option. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported it was a $17MM vesting option, which Danielle Allentuck of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported Freeland needs 170 innings pitched in 2026 to trigger. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported Freeland could opt out after 2024 with a top-five Cy Young finish in either of the next two seasons. Thomas Harding of MLB.com was first with the full breakdown of terms.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
Hampson has only appeared in three of Colorado’s games on the season thus far, stepping to the plate 12 times. He has a slash line of .111/.273/.111 in what is obviously a very small sample. The 27-year-old now have at least ten days to rest his hand and perhaps head out on a rehab assignment to try and get into a better groove at the plate.
Welker had been shelved during Spring Training with an eye infection, per Danielle Allentuck of The Denver Gazette. (Twitter links) He made his MLB debut last year and didn’t hit much, slashling .189/.250/.216, though in a small sample of just 40 plate appearances. In 98 Triple-A plate appearances last year, he hit .286/.378/.476, 114 wRC+. He’d been off to a great start in Triple-A this year, hitting .375/.447/.594 in 38 trips to the plate. As a corner infielder, the 24-year-old could give third baseman Ryan McMahon or first baseman C.J. Cron the occasional day off, or slot into the DH mix.
- Kyle Freeland’s arbitration hearing is set for May 24, and Freeland tells The Athletic’s Nick Groke that the Rockies hasn’t yet discussed a long-term extension. The left-hander is scheduled to reach free agency after the 2023 season, and while Freeland has battled his share of injuries and inconsistency, he has been a generally solid pitcher over his five-plus MLB seasons — a career 4.28 ERA and 48.7% grounder rate over 663 innings, all with Colorado. Rockies GM Bill Schmidt sounded open to the idea of eventually discussing an extension, saying “Nothing’s out of the question but we need to see what happens. We love [Freeland] and we hope he’s here for a long time.”