Nobody likes to hear about a company valued at more than $1 billion being handcuffed by budget constraints; it’s a little off-putting, to say the least. But that’s the reality when it comes to the Rockies.
As a mid-market team, Colorado can’t buy its way out of mistakes. In New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other places, franchises can simply spend more money on other free agents when dollars given to previous players on the open market go up in smoke.
The Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and others can just keep writing checks until they eventually get it right. The Rockies, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury.
As a result, Jeff Bridich has to be very careful in free agency. He has to assume he’ll be saddled with a player and his contract for the entire duration, unable to replace them in the lineup until the deal eventually experiences.
In recent years, Colorado’s general manager has learned this lesson the hard way. After giving Ian Desmond a five-year, $70 million contract prior to the 2017 season, Bridich has had to grit his teeth and watch Bud Black write the veteran’s name on the lineup card during some horrendous slumps. He’s also been forced to watch his skipper repeatedly call upon a high-priced bullpen to close out games, only to watch victories turn into losses way more often than they should.
Unfortunately for Bridich, his most recent moves haven’t panned out. Desmond has been mediocre at best, while Daniel Murphy has largely been a disappointment. And Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw have been varying degrees of a hot mess on the mound. Given that those are five of the Rockies seven highest-paid players, it leaves Black without a lot of options.
The Rockies total payroll for 2019 is respectable. At a little more than $148 million, Colorado sits 12th in Major League Baseball in terms of money spent on players this season, behind only the big-market clubs.
However, the way Bridich has decided to arrive at that total is the issue. His roster building, which is extremely top heavy, has blown up in his face because his high-dollar players aren’t performing as expected. As a result, the Rockies have been forced to rely upon a bunch of players earning next to nothing to produce, which they haven’t been able to do on a consistent basis.
When Desmond and Murphy struggle, Colorado can’t turn them into expensive bench players and add new pieces. Instead, they have to suffer through the slumps or turn to the likes of Garrett Hampson as a replacement.
When Davis, McGee and Shaw implode, Bridich can’t drop more dough on other relievers. He’s forced to hope they work through their issues or give the ball to pitchers like Harrison Musgrave out of the bullpen.
That’s the situation. And it doesn’t figure to get any better soon.
Desmond is inked through the 2021 season, while Murphy is signed through 2020. And Davis will be throwing glorified BP at Coors Field until the end of next year, as will McGee and Shaw.
In other words, the Rockies of 2019 are going to be the Rockies of 2020. Go ahead and feel a little queasy at the notion.
However, there is perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a chance, albeit remote, that Bridich can rid Colorado of these bad contracts, providing the franchise a chance to hit the reset button during the upcoming offseason.
How? The general manager is going to have to be a bit of a salesman. He has until 2:00 p.m. today to pull off a deal or two that would earn him a lifetime supply of coffee from Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross.
It’s time for Bridich to be a closer.
Desmond was terrific in June and July, hitting .319 and .329 in those months, while also driving in 29 runs and belting eight homers. A veteran with postseason experience, who has shown a flair for the dramatic in recent days, would be a great addition for a playoff-bound team looking for a veteran bat to put in the lineup in a variety of positions.
Davis has some ugly numbers next to his name in 2019, but a deeper dive into those stats show that he’s primarily been a disaster at Coors Field. A contender could really benefit from a closer who has a 0.68 ERA away from Denver this season. That’s right, Davis has only surrendered one earned run in 13.0 innings of work on the road this season. Get him away to sea level and he’s still one of the best in the game.
McGee has had a rough July, but that’s largely due to one bad outing. Yes, he gave up five earned runs in 0.1 innings of work on July 6 against the Reds, but that was a Coors Field aberration. In his other nine appearances this month, McGee has only surrendered a grand total of three runs. And in June, he was even better, giving up just three runs in 12 innings. So throw out the one outlier performance, and look at the other 20 efforts, and he’s been a pretty steady arm in relief.
Moving those three players would clear $41.5 million off of the books for next season. That’s a lot of money for Bridich to reapply during the offseason, giving a mulligan in free agency to try again.
And it’s doable. The arguments are there to be made. The general manager just has to find the right buyer, a team in need of what the Rockies have to offer.
The clock is ticking, however. If Bridich can’t sell his way out of this mess, it’s going to be hard to imagine 2020 being any better than 2019.
It’s time to be a salesman. The near future depends on it.
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