Two weeks ago, the day after returning to Colorado from the Baseball Winter Meetings, where the Rockies announced the signing of free agent relievers Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich didn’t hesitate in responding to the question about whether he felt the Rockies were World Series worthy.
“Yes,” he said.
Fourteen days later, Bridich reinforced his reasons for believing. He added a final touch to a rebuild of the bullpen that converted an NL-best 77 percent of its save opportunities last season. The Rockies on Friday completed their must-do-list for the off-season, signing free agent closer Wade Davis to a three-year deal with a relief pitcher record-setting annual average value of $17.3 million.
The contract calls for salaries of $16 million 2018, $18 million in 2019, and $17 million in 2020 with a $1 million buyout on a $15 million vesting player option for 2021, which kicks in if Davis finished 30 games in 2020.
Highest AAV for a Relief Pitcher in MLB History
|Pitcher||Team||1st yr||Contract||Annual Avg.|
|Wade Davis||Rockies||2018||3 yrs, $52 million||$17.3 million|
|Aroldis Chapman||Yankees||2017||5 yrs, $86 million||$17.2 million|
|Kenley Jansen||Dodgers||2017||5 yrs, $80 million||$16 million|
|Mark Melancon||Giants||2017||4 yrs, $62 million||$15.5 million|
|Jonathan Papelbon||Phillies||2012||4 yrs, $50 million||$12.5 million|
|David Robertson||White Sox||2015||4 yrs, $46 million||$11.5 million|
|Francisco Cordero||Reds||2008||4 yrs, $46 million||$11.5 million|
The Rockies have recognized the importance of a deep bullpen, particularly at Coors Field, and in light of a young rotation with a workload that is monitored closely.
That’s apparent by the fact that with the signing of Davis, Shaw and McGee to go with the return of Mike Dunn, Adam Ottavino and Chris Rusin the projected top six relievers will carry a $46.5 million payday. Shaw and McGee, both signed three-year, $27 million deals that call for a $7.5 million salary in 2018. Dunn and Ottavino already were signed to deals that call for $7.0 million salaries in the coming season. Rusin is arbitration eligible and projections are he will wind up with a salary around$1.5 million.
The Rockies earned the second NL wild-card berth in 2017, their first post-season appearance since 2009, and it was brief. They were eliminated in the wild-card match-up with the Diamondbacks.
But with a young group of starting pitchers carrying the bulk of the regular-season load, an impactful lineup, and bullpen depth the Rockies were convinced that unlike their three previous post-season appearances this team is built for continued success on the field, and is in position to make back-to-back post-season appearances for the first time in franchise history.
That has been reinforced by the off-season approach, underscored by a Bridich mentality that he isn’t going to be strung along by agents of free agents, and get left empty-handed because the nucleus of this team is too good to waste.
So it was earlier this month, after seeing no progress being made in attempts to retain catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Bridich signed free agent Chris Iannetta, the one other free-agent catcher the organization felt could help not only in the maturing of the pitching staff but also the development of catching prospect Tom Murphy. Murphy was projected as the Rockies Opening Day catcher prior to last spring, but his career was put on hold in spring training when on a throw to second base he hit the bat of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Murphy suffered a broken right forearm.
And then, on Friday, after not feeling the talks were progressing in an effort to retain free agent closer Greg Holland, Bridich finished up a deal with Davis, the other free-agent reliever with an established track record as a closer.
The heavy lifting of the off-season has been completed.
Now that doesn’t mean the Rockies won’t kick the tires of a corner bat – for either first base or left field with Ian Desmond filling whichever role is open. It could be possible return of Carlos Gonzalez, who is a free agent but might decide he could be best-served to return to the Rockies for one more year to try and rebuild value.
It could be the re-signing of Mark Reynolds, a lot like last year when he initially turned down a multi-year offer from the Rockies but in the final days before spring camps opened agreed to an invite to big-league camp and wound up emerging as the Rockies primary first baseman, in part because Desmond suffered a broken hand when he was hit by a pitch in a spring, an ominous start to his first season with the Rockies that saw him on the disabled list for the first three times in his career.
There is, however, no sense of panic. The Rockies, after all, are excited about the potential of Ryan McMahon, who is coming off an impact season which he opened at Double-A Hartford and then finished up at Triple-A Albuquerque before a September glimpse at the big leagues.
It’s not out of the question that the Rockies could decide McMahon, who turned 23 on Dec. 14, could be eased in, which could be done with a platoon of sorts with either Desmond or Reynolds, both right-handed hitters, or in the spring he could follow the path of Trevor Story in March of 2016 and force his way into an everyday role.
Given their overall lineup depth the Rockies aren’t going to lose sleep over that, unlike the situation they faced this off-season with their bullpen, which saw McGee, Holland and Pat Neshek file for free agency. Holland remains on the market. Neshek signed with the Phillies.
The Rockies did, however, get McGee to return, and then filled the voids of Holland with the signing of Davis and Neshek with Shaw.
And they have done all of this with what projects to be a 25-man roster that opens the season with a $134.25 million payroll, roughly $13 million below last year’s season-ending payroll, and includes only a $4 million payout to Jose Reyes, $16 million less than the Rockies paid for him to play with the Mets a year ago.
That means Bridich still has some flexibility if the right deal comes along.
Or it could mean that Bridich has the room to take a preemptive move to get third baseman Nolan Arenado signed to a multi-year deal two years ahead of when he could become a free agent. A five-time Gold Glove winner and three-time Silver Slugger honoree for defensive and offensively excellence at third base, Arenado does not turn 26 until April 16, which lessens some of the gamble of a lengthy guarantee.
“Right now,” Bridich said, “our focus is on getting ready for spring training.”
And that comes with an eye on next October, where the Rockies are expecting to be a part of the post-season competitors.