Early next week the pro baseball world will once again converge on the Winter Meetings, this year in San Diego from Dec. 8-12.
Among the official offseason signifiers, the convention puts a symbolic end to a 2019 season that once held a lot of promise for the Colorado Rockies but, ultimately, ended in a largely disappointing fashion.
This week, 104.3 The Fan caught up with MiLB.com editorial producer Tyler Maun to get his thoughts on the upcoming meetings and where the Rockies are headed into 2020 and beyond.
Johnny Hart, Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan digital content producer: I think most sports fans get the gist of the MLB winter meetings, but exactly what goes does there each off-season?
Tyler Maun, editorial producer for MiLB.com and DU Pioneers play-by-play voice: What most people don’t realize is the Winter Meetings are actually a Minor League Baseball event, not an MLB event, so there are a ton of things that go on that the average fan is probably unaware of.
The meetings are obviously best known as an industry mixer in which a lot of hot stove transactions get done with trades and free agent signings and things like that. MiLB hosts a few events of its own at the meetings, including the Baseball Trade Show, where vendors and manufacturers showcase things for the upcoming season, and the PBEO Job Fair, where prospective MiLB and MLB front office members apply and interview with organizations. It’s basically one giant industry summit.
Hart: You’re probably the go-to person to talk MiLB, at least in the area. What exactly does the Rockies farm system look like heading into 2020?
Maun: It’s definitely down compared to seasons past, but that isn’t necessarily entirely a bad thing. The reason it is that way is because the Rockies have graduated so much of their top-end talent from when they were a consensus top-five system with guys like Trevor Story, David Dahl, Jon Gray, German Marquez, etc. now established at the big-league level.
Brendan Rodgers is still a top talent on virtually every prospect ranking service, but he’s proven a little more divisive as he’s climbed toward the majors. Behind him, things are a lot thinner for the Rockies. Ryan Rolison was their first-round pick in 2018 and was brilliant to start the year at Class A Asheville before some ups and downs at Class A Advanced Lancaster. Colton Welker and Tyler Nevin both took steps back offensively in Double-A, which is to be expected for young guys. Grant Lavigne really struggled at Asheville in his first full season. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Systems can have down years. If all those guys bounce back in 2020 and newer additions, like last year’s first-rounders Michael Toglia and Karl Kauffmann, start strong, the system looks strong again.
Hart: First base has been a problem area for the Rockies basically since a few years before Todd Helton retired. What options do you think Colorado has to improve there this offseason? Would Greg Bird be a fit?
Maun: I love the idea of the Rockies going after Greg Bird. He’s got a ton of local ties as a Grandview High School product, and coming home to Colorado seems like the perfect change of scenery for him. Bird was extremely highly regarded coming up in the Yankees system and has been crushed by injuries so far in his career. If he’s healthy, he could be a terrific fit at Coors Field.
I would’ve loved to see the Rockies snag Jose Abreu, but he re-signed with the White Sox. Eric Thames is another guy who I think a lot of Rockies fans would be excited about seeing in Denver, but I’m not sure he’s in the Rockies’ plans.
Hart: The bullpen, obviously, was a major issue for Colorado in 2019. The Atlanta Braves already gobbled up reliever Will Smith, who seemed like a potential fit for the Rockies. What, if any, hope do you see the club having for turning around their bullpen in 2020 and who might make a good target?
Maun: Dick Monfort and Jeff Bridich have said at varying points since the offseason began that the Rockies aren’t “in a position” to spend big money this offseason and aren’t regarding the bullpen as an especially pressing need. That latter part is somewhat baffling, since the bullpen was historically bad last year, so I can’t imagine that’s the way the organization actually looks at things behind closed doors.
The bullpen is obviously a massive area of needed improvement. I don’t see them throwing a ton of money at relievers because we’ve seen the way that plan has struggled over the last few years with Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw’s struggles. If the Rockies go after anyone outside the organization, I’m assuming it’ll be someone they hope can rebound coming off a down year, like Jeremy Jeffress.
Other than that, I think Colorado is hanging a lot of hope on their own guys bouncing back, like the three mentioned earlier, along with the continued emergence of Scott Oberg.
Hart: Last season, the hype surrounding the Rockies was the highest in recent memory. They fell flat in that aspect. How do they rebound, and will the notoriously gun-shy upper management perhaps turtle at making possibly necessary moves?
Maun: All signs from the front office immediately after the end of the season and into the offseason seem to signal that there won’t be any splashy moves made to improve the roster with outside help.
The Rockies do still have a very talented core group, especially on the position player side, but they need some big pieces to fall into place, like Kyle Freeland returning to form and a young guy like Peter Lambert showing he’s got the ability to be a consistent big-league starter.
(BONUS QUESTION) Hart: What’s your early feeling about this team heading into 2020 and the rest of the field in general?
Maun: The Rockies are difficult to evaluate right now because despite the fact they lost 91 games and finished 35 games out of the division race, they are still just one year removed from the first consecutive playoff appearances in franchise history.
I’d have to say that 2019 appears to be a more accurate reflection of their true talent as constructed right now than the previous two years do, but there are still some reasons for optimism, especially if guys like Freeland can rebound.
What concerns me is that aside from the Dodgers not going anywhere, the D-backs seem to be way further along in their post-Goldschmidt era than most people expected and the Padres are a juggernaut waiting to take off with the absurd amount of talent they have in their system right now.
The Rockies might be in the mix in 2020, but the worrisome part is their window may be closing as others start to open in the division. That’s not a good combination.
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