The Colorado Rockies have been tough to figure out during the Jeff Bridich era. When Bridich was hired following the resignation of Dan O’Dowd, he inherited a team that had suffered four consecutive losing seasons. From 2011-2014, the Rockies were a combined 277-371, while finishing no higher than fourth in the NL West.
In a sense, Bridich has experienced some success at the helm of the Rockies. After 68 and 75 win seasons in 2015 and 2016, the Rockies returned to the postseason in 2017. Before a wild card loss to the Diamondbacks, the Rockies had won 87 regular-season games, outperforming their PECOTA projection by 11 wins. Heading into 2018, PECOTA held a similarly pessimistic view of the team, projecting the Rockies for 78 wins. However, 91 wins later, the Rockies pushed the Los Angeles Dodgers into a tiebreaker game for the NL West division title. After a tiebreaker loss and wild card win, the Rockies were then swept by the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS.
Since that point in time, things have taken a serious turn for the worse in Denver. After signing franchise icon Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million extension, the Rockies won just 71 games in 2019. Then, the front office’s relationship with Arenado quickly soured. Next, the Rockies struggled down the stretch in 2020 and missed an expanded playoff field. They did this while trading prospects in return for Kevin Pillar and Mychal Givens at the trade deadline. Finally, they had to eat $50 million in order to rid themselves of Arenado’s negative surplus-value contract.
Among the failures that have led to their current position is their awful spending on free agency. Since Bridich took control of baseball operations, he has handed out eight contracts that exceeded $10 million. That list consists of Gerardo Parra, Jason Motte, Ian Desmond, Mike Dunn, Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Daniel Murphy. The $256.5 million spent on those eight players has yielded an on-field return of minus 5.0 fWAR. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s almost unfathomable to believe.
On top of the acquisition failures, there have been PR nightmares, communication failures, and an exodus from their research and development department. Ken Rosenthal and Nick Groke of The Athletic recently did an excellent in-depth piece on the ineptitude of the Rockies’ organization. The point of this particular article, though, is not to harp on the front office failures of the past. The Rockies must accept the position their franchise is in and focus on a rebuild that will help put them in a better position moving forward.
As seen in the graphics, the Rockies won’t be competitive in 2021. In 10,000 simulations of the upcoming season, FanGraphs projects the Rockies to make the playoffs zero times. It would take an absolute miracle for them to even sniff October. Simply put, the NL West is brutally competitive and the Rockies’ roster is poor.
Teams deciding whether to rebuild usually decide if decreasing their current playoff odds by shedding current assets for future assets is worth the potential future payoff. The Rockies, though, can shed current assets without impacting their current day playoff odds. There is no way to decrease their playoff odds below 0.0%. This means that there should be no decision to make regarding a rebuild. The decision has been made for them. Any current asset on the roster doesn’t have much ability to contribute to a trip to the playoffs. So, current assets should be moved for future assets as soon as possible.
Story is not the Rockies’ most valuable trade chip, but he’s the one with the most urgent situation. He’ll be a free agent after this season after compiling 17.9 fWAR in his first five seasons in Colorado. The Rockies have already bungled their chances of getting the maximum return possible for Story. If they had put him on the market earlier this offseason, Colorado could have fetched a return similar to what Cleveland fetched for Francisco Lindor. Baseball Trade Values lists Story’s surplus-value at $30.8 million, while Lindor had a $32.8 million surplus-value entering his final year of arbitration.
The issue for Colorado is that opening day is quickly approaching. This is troubling for two very important reasons in relation to Story’s trade value. The first reason is that there are really no teams left with a remaining need at shortstop. The supply of plausible trade partners before opening day is nearly zero, leaving Colorado without many destinations for Story.
The second troubling reason is that Story’s trade value decreases by roughly $9 million dollars immediately after opening day. If Story is traded during the season, the acquiring team will be unable to offer him the qualifying offer. This means they will be unable to receive the draft pick compensation (roughly $9 million in value) that would come from him rejecting the qualifying offer and leaving in free agency. So, this leaves Colorado with two less than ideal options. They can either trade Story midseason for a value that will start at roughly $21 million and decrease as the season moves along or they can hold onto him and recoup the $9 million QO draft pick compensation. Colorado has already missed their opportunity to capitalize on Story’s maximum trade value, but they still need to trade him sooner rather than later.
Gray, like Story, will be a free agent after the 2021 season. He’s endured an up and down career in Colorado, including a stint in the minor leagues in 2018. In 2020, he made eight mostly forgettable starts on his way to a 5.06 FIP, 6.69 ERA, and 5.08 K/9. However, Gray holds a career 3.84 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, and has amassed 13.5 fWAR through six seasons in Colorado. He could be a very useful starter for a contender this year down the stretch run. He has no use for Colorado this year and every start Gray makes risks an injury that could immediately wipe out his $7.2 million trade value.
Story and Gray are nice rental pieces that can net Colorado a bit of trade value in return. However, they won’t fetch franchise-altering packages like Colorado could get for German Marquez. Marquez is clearly Colorado’s best chance at changing the direction of the franchise. He owns a career 3.85 FIP, 3.61 xFIP, and has compiled 12.4 fWAR through 634.1 innings for Colorado. He’s controllable for four more seasons at a projected salary of $50.4 million, with a projected on-field value of roughly $106.4 million. This leaves him with a surplus-value of roughly $67.2 million.
Colorado may view Marquez as a piece to build around for the future. Yet, it’s highly unlikely the Rockies will be competitive in Marquez’s most valuable years in terms of surplus-value. It would be much better for Colorado to trade Marquez for a huge return now rather than waiting to deal him in a few years when his trade value has diminished.
Colorado has bottomed out without really trying to. They’ve been due for a complete teardown now for a few years. They’ve already taken the first step on that path by eating salary to send their franchise icon, Arenado, to St. Louis. Now, they sit in a position with north of $100 million of current trade assets on their roster. They also sit in a position with a projected 2021 win total of 64.8 and a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs. Trading their current assets can only accelerate a long-overdue rebuild and give them a better chance to pick first in the 2022 MLB draft. Colorado has historically been a directionless franchise. They have a chance, though, to make a few decisions that could positively alter the course of their future for many years to come.