2015 Preview: Colorado Rockies

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up. The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Do the Rockies have a direction?

I have written the Rockies season preview pieces for the previous two seasons and it’s always the same thing. “If Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy, this team could be frisky.” Or something to that effect. It feels silly to say it again at this point, because we just can’t count on it. Tulowitzki was arguably the best player in the game prior to undergoing hip surgery last year, but he has averaged just 106 games over the past five seasons. Meanwhile, CarGo has averaged 110 games over the past four seasons and dealt with all sorts of physical issues last year before having knee surgery. Both players are healthy at the moment, but it’s worth asking at this point whether the Rockies will ever win with them on their roster. Or whether it was wise to even build around them. Coming off three straight seasons with at least 88 losses, it’s time to make some difficult decisions about where this franchise is headed.

Longtime general manager Dan O’Dowd and Bill Geivett both stepped down after last season, so the man tasked with making those decisions will be new general manager Jeff Bridich. While some clamored for an outside voice to take over, Bridich isn’t exactly that. He was previously the senior director of player development and has been with the organization since 2006. Still, the change doesn’t come without some hope. Geivett created an awkward atmosphere by having an office in the clubhouse and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently wrote that he regularly “butted heads” with manager Walt Weiss and others in the organization. Less drama would be a nice start. The Harvard-educated Bridich is currently the youngest GM in the majors at age 37 and his front office includes three others who are 36 or younger. This is a results-based business, so they still have to prove their doubters wrong, but it should be an interesting situation to follow.

After finishing last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA last season, pitching coach Jim Wright and bullpen coach Bo McLaughlin were both let go. Steve Foster, a former special assistant and pitching coordinator for the Royals, is now in place as pitching coach. Meanwhile, Darren Holmes, who was a part of the Rockies’ inaugural roster in 1993, has replaced McLaughlin. There’s optimism with these new hires, but solving Coors Field is a tremendous challenge and this pitching staff doesn’t inspire much in the way of confidence.

Jorge De La Rosa is currently dealing with a groin injury, so offseason addition Kyle Kendrick will be the Opening Day starter. Get excited? There is some youth and upside in this rotation with names like Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, Jon Gray, and Eddie Butler, but ups and downs are to be expected. Butler recently had a recurrence of a shoulder issue, which isn’t a good sign. The Rockies are going to score runs because that’s what they do, but it’s likely going to be another ugly year on the pitching side.

What else is going on?

  • One positive for the pitching staff is that Wilin Rosario’s days as a regular catcher are likely behind him. The decision is long overdue, as he has struggled with pretty much everything behind the plate and needs to find a new position. Bridich didn’t do much in his first winter as GM, but he brought in Nick Hundley on a two-year, $6.25 million contract. He figures to carry most of the load along with Michael McKenry. They might not post the flashy power numbers like Rosario, but this is a net positive for the Rockies.
  • Some scratched their heads when the Rockies made a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer to Michael Cuddyer last fall, but it worked out great for them, as he declined in favor of a two-year deal with the Mets. The Rockies will now get a compensatory draft pick in this June’s draft and they still have plenty of talent in their outfield. CarGo is a known quantity when healthy while Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson are coming off breakout seasons. Drew Stubbs had a nice year in 2014 (though he did most of his damage at Coors Field) and is a perfectly-respectable platoon option with his ability to play all three outfield positions.
  • The move to Coors Field was exactly what the doctor ordered for Justin Morneau. After struggling through concussion issues dating back to 2010, the 33-year-old won the National League batting crown last season by putting up a .319/.364/.496 batting line with 17 home runs and 82 RBI over 135 games. Who knows what he has in store for a follow-up, but it’s nice to see his career get back on track.
  • LaTroy Hawkins saved 23 games last season as a 41-year-old and is set to enter this season as the Rockies’ closer. His low strikeout rate (5.3 K/9) is dangerous for someone who calls Coors Field home, so he’s no sure thing to keep the job, but he could climb into the all-time top-10 list for games pitched this season if he can stay healthy.
  • I was saving the best for last here. While Tulowitzki and Gonzalez have long been the faces of this team, Nolan Arenado is fixing to change that. He has won Gold Glove Awards in each of his first two seasons in the majors and took a big step forward offensively last season by batting .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI across 111 games. He doesn’t turn 24 until later this month and is the biggest reason for long-term hope with this franchise.

Prediction: If things break right, this roster is more talented that the Diamondbacks, so I’ll give them Fourth Place, NL West for now. But they could fall to last behind the Diamondbacks if Tulo and CarGo each miss significant time again or one or both of them are traded.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.