The Rockies insist they are not rebuilding. But if they want to avoid their fifth consecutive losing season and escape the National League West basement in 2023, they’re going to have to retool.
Because there’s a lot that needs fixing. A rundown:
— An anemic road offense that ranks among the worst in baseball and through Friday had hit only 41 home runs away from Coors Field, the worst in the majors. Colorado’s .624 OPS ranked 29th.
— A bruised, battered and injured starting rotation that turned out to be a weakness rather than the team strength it was expected to be. The Rockies entered the weekend with a 5.06 ERA, tied with Washington for the worst in the majors.
— A bullpen that has some solid arms but lacks quality depth. Its 4.72 ERA is the worst in baseball.
— A defense that entered the weekend ranked 25th in the majors with a .983 fielding percentage.
There are some promising position players in place for 2023, but promise does not equate to proven performance. Corner infielder Elehuris Montero and first baseman/right fielder Michael Toglia have already debuted, and there is a chance hot-shot shortstop prospect Ezequiel Tovar could get called up during the final three weeks of the season. Tovar came off a three-month stint on the injured list on Friday and played his first game for Triple-A Albuquerque. All three will have to win jobs in spring training.
Outfielder Zac Veen, now at Double-A Hartford, could also make his debut at some point next season.
As the Rockies edge toward the offseason, they have two priorities: starting pitching and a leadoff hitter who can play center field.
Following is a projection of what the Rockies’ roster will look like on opening day 2023:
This looks like a real trouble spot unless the Rockies can swing a trade for an established starter or coerce a free agent to pitch at Coors Field. (Good luck with that).
As it stands, the Rockies’ only two, healthy, established starters are left-hander Kyle Freeland and right-hander German Marquez, who’s gone from potential ace to mercurial question mark.
Right-hander Antonio Senzatela tore his ACL on Aug. 18 and required season-ending knee surgery. In the best-case scenario, he could be pitching for the big-league club next spring, but that’s far from a given.
Injuries to left-hander Ryan Rolison (shoulder) and right-hander Peter Lambert (elbow) wiped out both of their seasons and reduced Colorado’s starting pitching depth. Although the Rockies are hopeful the duo can return next season, they can’t be counted on.
Lefty Austin Gomber, who pitched well in 2021, has struggled to a 5.68 ERA this season and finds himself in the bullpen. Manager Bud Black still hopes Gomber can rediscover his command and be a starter.
Rookie right-hander Ryan Feltner (6.12 ERA) has flashed promise but suffered through growing pains this season. He could be the fourth or fifth starter or might open the season at Triple-A.
Veteran right-handers Jose Urena and Chad Kuhl will be free agents and it’s no sure thing that the Rockies will even attempt to re-sign them. It’s also far from a sure thing that they will be able to get a big-league deal somewhere else.
Finally, there isn’t much immediate help down on the farm, leaving the starting rotation as a huge question mark.
Quality depth is a problem, but then, that’s true for a lot of teams. In right-hander Daniel Bard, the Rockies have a steady closer and he’s locked in through 2024. He’s 37 but is pitching better than he ever has.
Power right-hander Carlos Estevez has emerged as a reliable late-game reliever. Since the All-Star break, he’s 1-0 with one save, a 1.25 ERA, 25 strikeouts and just six walks in 22 appearances. The problem is, Estevez is scheduled to become a free agent and if he gets a chance to be a closer somewhere else, or gets a solid offer, he could be gone.
The Rockies thought they had an up-and-coming, late-game lefty in Lucas Gilbreath but he’s been lost for the season with an elbow injury. The hope is Gilbreath can avoid Tommy John surgery and return early next season. The same goes for talented right-hander Tyler Kinley, who suffered an injury similar to Gilbreath’s.
The Rockies are giving hard-throwing right-hander Dinelson Lamet a tryout now to see if he’s part of their future plans. They’re hopeful right-handers Justin Lawrence and Jake Bird will continue to develop. Still, the Rockies will need to find some bullpen help, especially if Estevez departs.
Drew Romo, who shined at High-A Spokane this season, is the catcher of the future but likely won’t debut until 2024. That means veteran Eliaz Diaz and rookie Brian Serven will likely be the Rockies’ duo behind the plate next season.
After a breakout second half last season, Diaz has been hit-and-miss this year with only nine homers after hitting 18 last year. Serven has hit six homers in 56 games but he’s still got a lot to learn behind the plate.
There are a lot of moving parts as Colorado looks toward 2023 and a lot of decisions to make.
With Tovar projected to be Colorado’s next great shortstop, it’s doubtful the Rockies attempt to re-sign veteran Jose Iglesias, even though Iglesias has been the club’s most consistent offensive performer.
And what of first baseman C.J. Cron? The Rockies’ lone All-Star leads the team with 28 home runs and 97 RBIs. Plus, he’ll cost the team only $7.25 million next season. But if the Rockies are confident in Montero and Toglia, could Cron be on the trading block this offseason, perhaps for pitchers? Maybe, but it would be risky to take Cron’s power out of the lineup.
Ryan McMahon, despite his major league-most 17 errors and streaky performance at the plate, will be back as the third baseman, while Brendan Rodgers, whom the Rockies believe has All-Star potential, will handle second base. As for depth, Alan Trejo’s recent performance likely earned him a spot on the roster.
The Rockies’ outfield is crowded and tough decisions will have to be made regarding the futures of Garrett Hampson, Connor Joe and Sam Hilliard (now playing at Triple-A).
The plan — the hope — is that left fielder Kris Bryant can still be a star. Injuries have limited him to just 42 games after he signed a seven-year, $182 million contract.
Veteran Charlie Blackmon, 36, who plans to pick up his $18.3 million option in the final year of his contract, will play right field and be a designated hitter. Randal Grichuk has played solid defense in both center and right, but his 15 homers, 64 RBIs and .727 OPS have come up short of what the Rockies hoped for when they traded Raimel Tapia to Toronto to acquire Grichuk.
Yonathan Daza, who’s been playing terrific baseball since coming back from the injured list Sept. 6, is Colorado’s best defensive outfielder and is proving to be a reliable hitter. He looks like a lock to be the fourth outfielder next season.
2023 Opening Day Roster
A lot can change between now and when the Rockies open the 2023 season at San Diego on March 30, but here’s the projected roster:
Starting pitcher: LHP Kyle Freeland
Catcher: Elias Diaz
First base: C.J. Cron
Second base: Brendan Rodgers
Third base: Ryan McMahon
Shortstop: Ezequiel Tovar
Left field: Kris Bryant
Center field: Randal Grichuk
Right field: Michael Toglia
Designated hitter: Charlie Blackmon
Bullpen: RHP Daniel Bard (closer), RHP Justin Lawrence, RHP Greg Bird and RHP Dinelson Lamet. The remainder of the bullpen is to be determined.
Starting rotation: No. 1 LHP Kyle Freeland, No. 2 RHP German Marquez, No. 3 RHP Ryan Feltner, No. 4 LHP Austin Gomber, No. 5 TBD.
— Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post
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