Colorado Rockies News: How many corner bats are too many?

By all accounts, the Colorado Rockies have been active in the young off-season. First, Sam Hilliard was flipped to Atlanta for reliever Dylan Spain before the team re-signed SP José Ureña. An initial wave of outrights then freed up five spots on the 40-man roster. Those spots were quickly filled by the club when they traded for Nolan Jones before selecting the contracts of five prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December.

The finishing touches were made when they claimed Brent Suter off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers before non-tendering long-time utility man Garrett Hampson. On the surface, this seemingly brings the roster closer to a more permanent look, with 39 of the 40 roster spots filled. But when you examine the personnel, it’s hard to ignore how lopsided the construction of the roster is.

Before the 2022 season concluded, GM Bill Schmidt made a note of areas the team can improve – namely in center field and the pitching staff. While the pitching staff has not been entirely neglected, it certainly does not seem demonstrably improved and the rotation looks nearly identical to how it stood at the end of last season with Austin Gomber projected to fill the vacancy left by Chad Kuhl marking the only change of note.

Center field has gone through even less change. Sam Hilliard’s departure removed one existing option from the roster, filled by the selection of Brenton Doyle. That’s all the attention paid to that position so far, leaving Yonathan Daza as still the best option available.

So, with these areas of focus mostly going unattended, what have all these roster moves been for?

More stockpiling.

When you add up the pieces, the Rockies have elected to double-down on corner-only bats…again. 20 of the roster spots are currently occupied by pitchers and the organization is rostering the minimum two catchers again, leaving 17 position players on the roster. Those 17 players are overwhelmingly corner-only profiles, so much so that it leaves just four MLB players that can be reliably played in the middle of the field on a daily basis:

  • Jonathan Daza
  • Brendan Rodgers
  • Alan Trejo
  • Ezequiel Tovar

There is some additional versatility available, with Randal Grichuk able to fill in at CF (to mixed reviews based off his defensive metrics on baseball reference and FanGraphs) and Ryan McMahon being a proven option at 2B. This technical depth comes with a caveat, as McMahon is a stalwart at third while Grichuk got the majority of playing time in RF last season.

The newly acquired Nolan Jones could conceivably fill in at either spot, but there are still questions about his viability of making the Opening Day roster as he only has a modest performance in 28 MLB games to his name with the Cleveland Guardians.

The same sentiment applies to Michael Toglia, but with 1B on his resume instead of the hot corner. Elehuris Montero has both infield corners on his list of talents, but is still a work in progress at third and at the plate. All of this sits ahead of Sean Bouchard and Connor Joe, who can handle the OF corners and slide into the lengthy depth chart at 1B.

Simply put, the Rockies have more corner-only hitters than they know what to do with. The roster is currently shaping up to look much the same as last year with prospects buried under veterans under contract but now with less depth in the middle of the field with the subtraction of Garrett Hampson.

There are obvious moves that can be made to alleviate this situation, starting with a trade of CJ Cron. Grichuk, with one year remaining on his contract at a prorated cost of ~$5MM, could also attract interest from other teams. Additionally, if the club signs multiple players in free agency, they can make room by waiving players who survived the non-tender deadline like Connor Joe.

These moves could open a path for younger players while addressing areas of need in the middle of the field and pitching staff. But that is also a request that has mostly gone unfulfilled for years now, and probably will not sit well with a manager and GM expecting to win as many games as they can.

So we’ll wait and see if the Rockies’ front office executes more moves to build a roster that can challenge for a winning record. But so far, their approach to achieving that goal seems overwhelmingly one-dimensional.

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Along with non-tendering Garrett Hampson and claiming Brent Suter off waivers, the Rockies signed right-hander Tyler Kiley to a three-year extension on Friday. Kinley, who is recovering from elbow surgery last season, is set to make $1.2 million in 2023, $1.3 million in 2024 and $3 million in 2025.

The Rockies will have a $5 million option with a $750,000 buyout for the 2026 season and the contract carries an incentive clause for games finished in the 2025 and 2026 seasons with $500,000 being paid out for reaching 20, 25 and 30 games closed, resulting in a maximum $1.5 million bonus after each season.

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