Rockies need to make a splash in upgrading at first base

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October 19, 2016: Edwin Encarnacion (10) of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts in between innings during the 2016 MLB ALCS Game 5 between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photograph by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire)

It’s been seven long years since Huston Street blew the save in game four of the 2009 NLDS, crushing the Colorado Rockies World Series hopes. Since that season, the Rockies haven’t returned to playoffs. In fact, the Rockies have been above .500 just once since that year.

While they have been dwelling in the cellar of their division the last few years, they’ve been steadily building one of the greatest farm systems in baseball, and it’s starting to show at the major league level. Guys like Trevor Story, David Dahl, and Tyler Anderson all were highly-touted prospects, but what they did in 2016 exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. In addition, they have rookies who are still getting their feet wet, such as German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman, and Carlos Estevez, who are all expected to make a significant impact at the major-league level.

A rather glaring issue they need to address is the gap at first base. Yes, they have some internal options such as Jordan Patterson and Ben Paulsen, but those aren’t the kind of guys who push you into October. They also have a outfield logjam that could possibly force a man to first base, such as Gerardo Parra or Carlos Gonzalez. Parra looked below-average manning first base in 19 appearances last season, and the 5-foot-11 height certainly doesn’t help. Gonzalez hasn’t played first base in his career, has arguably the strongest outfield arm in baseball, and you’d hate to see that go to waste.

They amount of young talent on this club is overwhelming, and for the first time in a while the Rockies look like a legitimate contender. Colorado is in the perfect position to launch themselves into the playoffs next year, and Rockies GM Jeff Bridich needs to be aggressive this winter to make that a reality.

The Rockies have the farm to be able to pull off some big trades, but it may make more sense to solely focus on the free-agent market to ensure they have the depth needed for the near future.

There’s a few standout names on the free-agent market, such as Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion, and then a few lower-tier players such as Adam Lind and the possibility of re-signing Mark Reynolds. If the Rockies are serious about contending in 2017, and they should be, they need to not settle for a lower-tier guy. It’s time for this club to make a bold move.

22 August 2016: Baltimore Orioles right fielder Mark Trumbo (45) hits a two run home run against the Washington Nationals at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. (Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

(Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Encarnacion will be one of the highest-paid free agents this offseason, and deservedly so. His track record of the last five seasons contains a .912 OPS and a monstrous 193 home run total. The 33-year-old is coming off a 3.7 WAR season in which he hit 42 homers with a very solid .263/.357/.529 slash line. His ability to play 160 games this season assured possible suitors that health is not a concern, and that will help raise his price tag.

Trumbo, who is coming off of a career-year, will also be trying to land a contract that reflects his performance. He hit a league-leading 47 homers while driving in 108 runs. His slash line is a little worrisome — just a .316 on-base percentage — but still managed to carry an .850 OPS through the season due to his power. Trumbo’s defense is also concerning, but this is mostly due to him starting 96 games in the outfield, where he has a -23 DRS in his career. Compare that to the 12 DRS he has in 371 games at first base, and the Rockies shouldn’t be too worried about him taking over. He’s the cheaper option, sure, but there’s still a lot of reason to believe he can repeat his 2016 season, especially in Colorado.

Given that the Rockies play in Coors Field, free-agent hitters are naturally drawn to Colorado. Throw in the fact the Rockies are nearing contention, and the majority of free agent hitters have got to like the idea of coming to the Rockies this offseason.

Both of these players will likely have a qualifying offer attached to them, but the Rockies are in a place where they can afford to give up a draft pick in order to increase their chances of winning in 2017.

It’s possible this could backfire in the long run, but adding firepower to the already loaded team makes it a risk worth taking.

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Raimel Tapia’s bat has carried him to the majors

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September 21 2016: Colorado Rockies Outfielder, Raimel Tapia (68) during a regular season Major League Baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals at Coors Field in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

Coming into the 2016 season, there were a handful of mixed opinions on what type of player Raimel Tapia could be. His ability to make contact was never in question, but his lanky, 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame and free-swinging approach at the plate were concerns as he moved up levels. Fast forward to September of 2016, and […]

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Brandon Barnes’ approach remains the same through ups and downs

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01 July 2016: Colorado Rockies Outfield Brandon Barnes (1) [5920] walks towards the dugout after striking out during the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

Salt Lake City, UT — In Major League Baseball, there are 750 total players across 30 teams’ active 25-man rosters. With over 5,000 minor league players all trying to find their way into that group, it’s no question that it’s a goal that requires a lot of dedication and hard work to reach. It becomes even […]

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Tom Murphy could be the key to a Rockies playoff push

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March 1, 2015: Catcher Tommy Murphy (70) poses for a portrait during the Colorado Rockies photo day in Scottsdale, AZ.

The Rockies’ starting rotation has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations this year, and the offense has been about as expected. Though every position on the field is just about locked down with a consistent starter, they’ve seen rather weak production from the catcher position. Nick Hundley came into the season as the primary starter, with Tony […]

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Tyler Anderson has made his way into Rockies rotation with authority

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August 03 2016: Colorado Rockies Starting Pitcher, Tyler Anderson (44) during a regular season major league baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

The Rockies had a handful of top pitching prospects heading into the 2016 season ready to make an impact. Jon Gray was ready to get a full season under his belt, Jeff Hoffman was ready to prove he deserved to be called up, and Kyle Freeland was highly thought of as a potential MLB starter […]

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Rockies have intriguing trade chips heading into the deadline

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01 July 2016: Colorado Rockies Catcher Nick Hundley (4) [5939] throws to second base after a warm-up during the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

To this point, the Rockies have been about as expected heading into the All-Star break. They’re sitting eight games under .500, and have prospects in the farm system slowly trickling up to the majors. As usual, the Rockies’ starting rotation and bullpen have been shaky, and the offense has been their strong point.

But with the Rockies eight games back of a wild card spot, and 15.5 games back in the NL West, making the playoffs seems very unlikely. Although Colorado’s’ future looks bright, it ultimately needs to be a seller at the deadline for at least one more season. Luckily for the Rockies, they have a handful of solid trade chips that could bring back beneficial pieces for 2017 and beyond.

  • Mark Reynolds

In his career, Reynolds has been known as a free-swinging power hitter. Obviously with that approach, it led to a large total of home runs — but came with an excess amount of strikeouts. From 2008 to 2011, he led the league in strikeouts with 834 but also hit 141 homers.

So far with the Rockies, he’s had a different outcome. Through 78 games, he’s hitting .290, which is significantly higher than his career average of .233. Surprisingly, it hasn’t led to a noticeable drop in power either, as he’s slugging a solid .465, which is 12 points higher than his career average. His contract is a measly one-year, $2.6 million deal, and he could be the perfect addition to a contending team in need of first base help or he could be simply used as a power bat off the bench.

13 MAY 2016: Colorado Rockies first baseman Mark Reynolds (12) hits an RBI single during a regular season Major League Baseball game between the New York Mets and the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. *****For Editorial Use Only*****

(Icon Sportswire)

  • Jorge De La Rosa

After posting a 4.29 ERA in nine seasons in Colorado — which looks even better after you consider half of his games are at Coors field — the 35-year-old is in his final year of his two-year contract extension. De La Rosa struggled heavily to begin the year, and even spent some time on the disabled list, but has looked like his old self as of late. In his last six games (five starts), he has an ERA of just 2.31 over 35 innings. De La Rosa would be a perfect fifth starter on a contending team, and could even provide quality innings as a long-reliever out of the bullpen.

  • Boone Logan

Before this season, Logan had been an absolute mess for the Rockies. Signed to a three-year deal back in 2014, the left-hander had a 5.37 ERA over two injury-ridden seasons. Fortunately, he’s managed to rebuild some of his value this year. In 22.1 innings, he has a 3.18 ERA with a staggering 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Teams are always looking for bullpen arms heading toward the playoff push, and many teams might be willing to overpay for a proven late-inning left-handed pitcher.

  • Nick Hundley

Hundley, a 32-year-old veteran, put up surprisingly solid numbers in his debut season last year with the Rockies. He slashed .301/.339/.467 over 103 games, and was a strong mentor for the Rockies’ young pitching staff.

Although he’s seen a small drop in offensive production this year, and has spent some time on the disabled list, he’d be a solid backup catcher on just about any contending team. He’s in the final year of a two-year deal, and should be fairly easy to pry from the Rockies, who have Tony Wolters, Dustin Garneau, and Tommy Murphy ready to fill his role.

*****

The Rockies are well-known to be quiet during the trade deadline, but after dealing their franchise player in Troy Tulowitzki last year, there’s really no way of knowing what they will do. If the Rockies continue to lose ground in the playoff race this season, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be active in trade talks with the aforementioned players over the next few weeks.

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The time for the Rockies to call up Jeff Hoffman is now

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February 29, 2016: Pitcher Jeff Hoffman #74 poses for a portrait during the Colorado Rockies photo day in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)

With a record of 33-36 and just 3.5 games back of a wild card spot, the Colorado Rockies have managed to keep themselves afloat heading into the third week of June. To this point, they’ve managed to avoid any major injury to their big stars, and their young talent has slowly started to blossom.

But with a starting rotation that still has its question marks, the Rockies need to make a big move if they want to make a push for the playoffs. Chad Bettis has struggled heavily the last month, Tyler Chatwood is on the disabled list with a back injury, and Jorge De La Rosa has looked mediocre at best since his return to the rotation.

If the Rockies believe they have a legitimate shot at contending late in September, they need to promote top pitching prospect Jeff Hoffman.

The Rockies have already called up a pitching prospect this year in Tyler Anderson, and they did it rather quickly. Anderson had thrown just 29 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year before they gave him the promotion, and he’s been lights out in two starts with a 2.25 ERA.

The Colorado rotation, when completely healthy, consists of Jon Gray, Chatwood, Bettis, De La Rosa, and recently-promoted Anderson. De La Rosa and Bettis have both had substantial struggles this season, and would likely be the first two to lose their spot in the rotation should Hoffman be called up.

Hoffman, a 23-year-old right hander, was acquired last July in the blockbuster Troy Tulowitzki trade from the Blue Jays.

Despite having gone through Tommy John surgery, Hoffman’s arsenal consists of a high-90s fastball and a devastating curveball. His ace potential made him easily the best pitching prospect in the Rockies farm system.

When Hoffman joined the Rockies organization, he picked up where he left off at the Double-A level. After a 1.54 ERA in two starts with the Blue Jays affiliate, he continued his dominance as he carried a 3.22 ERA over seven starts in the Rockies organization. It was no question Hoffman could handle Double-A hitters, and the Rockies agreed, as he started 2016 at Triple-A.`

So far this season, he’s done just about everything right to deserve a call up. He’s seen his K/9 jump up to 8.7 at the highest minor league level and owns a solid 3.53 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. His last start, he really showed that he’s ready for the Show.

In seven innings, Hoffman allowed just five hits and two runs. He struck out 11 batters and walked none while throwing 62 of his 94 pitches for strikes. With weak spots in the major league rotation, there’s no question Hoffman is giving it everything he’s got in Triple-A.

The Rockies bullpen has the fifth-highest ERA in baseball at 4.60, but guys like Jason Motte, Miguel Castro, and Carlos Estevez have provided a very solid back-end, and they expect to get even better with the return of Adam Ottavino after the all-star break.

The offense — as always — continues to thrive.

The only thing that seems to be missing at this point is a strong, front-to-back starting rotation, and Jeff Hoffman could be the answer to the Rockies contending in 2016.

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Rockies have a tough decision to make with Jose Reyes

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28 August 2015: Colorado Rockies Shortstop Jose Reyes (7) during the game between the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pa.

When the Rockies acquired Jose Reyes last summer, his future with the Rockies was immediately in question. He was sent to the Rockies along with three pitching prospects, but didn’t really have a long-term spot, being that the Rockies had two shortstops knocking on the door to the majors.

Reyes, who openly expressed his desire to be traded when he wound up in Colorado, found himself in hot water just a few months later due to physical altercation he had with his wife while on vacation in Hawaii. He ultimately received a 51-game suspension because of the incident. With the emergence of rookie shortstop Trevor Story, Reyes’ future with the Rockies is all but clear.

Reyes is currently on assignment for the Rockies Triple-A team, and the Rockies have until June 15 to make a decision regarding his status with the team. They have a plethora of options, but the Rockies will likely have to pay most if not all of his salary no matter what.

With that in mind, what options do the Rockies have?

Trade Reyes

The first option, which the Rockies will most likely pursue, is a trade. Reyes is currently owed $44 million, which will likely make trade talks a little more complicated. While Reyes has seen a solid decline in defensive ability the last few seasons, he still would be seen as an offensive upgrade to a few teams, such as the Royals, Nationals, and the Tigers.

Although unlikely, the Mets, who just lost third baseman David Wright for an extended period of time, also could be in play for their former shortstop. Regardless, the Rockies will likely have to cover more than half of the salary and take a minor league depth player in return.

Release Reyes

Another option, which is the most likely if they’re unable to work out a trade, would be to just straight up release Reyes. Yes, that would mean the Rockies would eat the entire contract and get nothing in return, but there’s absolutely no reason the Rockies should demote Trevor Story after a stellar start to the season. That would likely only have a negative impact on the 23-year-old and cause more problems than it would fix.

Through 56 games this season, Story has a slash line of .258/.310/.554 with 16 homers and 42 RBI. He does lead the league in strikeouts, but his production at the plate and slightly-above-average defense in the field makes him a lock as the teams’ starting shortstop. In 116 games last season, Reyes slashed a weaker line of .274/.310/.378 with seven home runs and 53 RBI between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rockies.

Plus, one need look only at another NL West team to see such moves can be made; the Dodgers just ate nearly the same amount of money to rid themselves of Carl Crawford.

Keep Reyes

This one is a long-shot, but it’s still technically a possibility. The Rockies could either demote Story to a backup role — a move that would make a lot of people scratch their heads — and have Reyes be the starting shortstop, or they could keep Story as a starter and have a $44 million utility infielder.

Reyes, a 13-year veteran, likely wouldn’t be too thrilled about playing behind a 23-year-old rookie on a mediocre team. This could lead him to again request a trade, eliminating any remaining leverage the Rockies have in the trade market.

With just a few days before the Reyes’ decision has to be made, it’s possible we’ll start to see trade rumors surface any day. All in all, the Rockies don’t have a positive course of action with Reyes, and they will have to accept that.

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