By Isaac Marks
The Colorado Rockies are still climbing their way out of a seemingly never-ending state of limbo. For six years, they were in that terrible middle ground with not enough talent to compete but just enough talent to give the illusion of competing. There just wasn’t enough pitching and, frankly, there were holes in the lineup that went overlooked because of the uber-talented Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and now Nolan Arenado. Former GM Dan O’Dowd tried gimmick after gimmick (please never bring up the four-man rotation or the dual GM attempt) to solve the Coors Field pitching conundrum, but never had enough talent to transcend the limits of altitude. There’s no control for this experiment; Denver is unlike any other atmosphere at the major league level and there’s no example to follow. The Rockies have to figure it out for themselves. After 15 years, the Rockies cut O’Dowd’s funding. The results weren’t there. They needed new ideas to solve the altitude issue; right now, that’s 38-year-old Jeff Bridich.
Trading Tulo revealed Bridich’s proposed theory to the Coors Conundrum: power arms and lots of them. The Rockies got maligned shortstop Jose Reyes, RHP’s Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman and Jose Tinoco for Tulo, and all but Reyes have been impressive. Those three pitchers join Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson, and Antonio Senzatela as high-end prospects set to hit the big leagues in the next few years, adding to an already impressive list of names. The Rockies farm system has always produced high-level talent — Todd Helton, Tulo, Ubaldo Jimenez, Arenado — but they’ve never been this deep. The Rockies have seven prospects in the MLB.com’s Top 100 list, with a few that just barely missed the cut.
The Rockies have been shopping their three outfielders but haven’t made much progress in a deal for any of them. Each player brings something different to the table: Carlos Gonzalez is a perennial All-Star and potential MVP candidate when healthy; Charlie Blackmon is a solid all-around player who has 20-40 potential; and Corey Dickerson is the youngest of the trio and could wake up and hit on Christmas morning. All players could bring back value right now, but the Rockies are looking for the right deal to maximize the return. Other clubs just aren’t biting to this point.
Gonzalez had one hell of a second half. He belted 30 home runs in 78 games and slashed .302/.350/.667, leading to his second Silver Slugger award. More importantly, Gonzalez played in 153 games, topping his previous high of 145 from 2010 when he finished third in the MVP voting. Only one problem: it was half a season. It’s a hard sell to convince teams that Gonzalez is back to form on half a season’s work and still warrants two top prospects or young, major-league-ready pitching in return — the current reported asking price. Bridich knows he needs high-end talent and power arms to make this experiment work, so don’t expect the asking price to drop. It’s looking less and less likely that teams will give up that kind of haul for a half-season of recent production — especially with Justin Upton and Alex Gordon still available via free agency — but the calls will keep coming on Gonzalez. We’ll see if one side blinks.
The market for Blackmon and Dickerson is less active, but both players are attractive pieces. Blackmon is a .280 hitter with 20 home runs and 40 steals, and he’s defensively solid at all three outfield positions. He’s 28 and just heading into arbitration with three years of team control left. His past two seasons have been statistically similar; the only difference was the 43 steals in 2015 compared to 28 steals in 2014, his lone All-Star year.
Dickerson is a phenomenal hitter that’s dealt with some injuries over his short career. Last year he was on the DL for plantar fasciitis and a broken rib. He’s a career .299/.345/.534 hitter but has been below-average defensively. He’s only 26 and improving his routes in the outfield, but his arm will always be a negative. Dickerson’s value comes with his age and his bat: he’s not a free agent until 2020. The return demand won’t be as high as it will be with Gonzalez, but not by much; both are under team control and cheap for the next four/five years and are younger. The age factor is more applicable to Dickerson, but Blackmon is just entering his prime years while Gonzalez is in the latter years of his.
Blackmon is the most expendable out of the three. He’s managing center field until 2012 first rounder David Dahl is ready. Dahl played in AA New Britain this year and could be ready as soon as 2016. Dahl’s arrival signals the arrival of the next wave of homegrown talent, and the last thing the Rockies want to do is limit his development. Despite Gonzalez’s name recognition and talent, Blackmon is the most likely Rockies outfielder to be traded this offseason.
The asking price is too high on Gonzalez right now and giving up Dickerson would be foolish. Teams want a little more proof that CarGo can keep up his production before shelling out the prospects, and the Rockies shouldn’t give him up for less. If Gonzalez can produce a decent first half in 2016, the Rockies will get their prospects.
This offseason’s market is one of the slowest to develop in recent memory. Never have we seen high-caliber players like Chris Davis, Upton and Gordon go unsigned into the new year, but here we are. This leaves the door open for Bridich and the Rockies to swoop in and get a deal together, but the window is closing quickly. The Bridich Theory relies on getting the best value possible to put as many young, talented and affordable pieces on the roster as possible and the outfielders are the key to acquiring more assets. We’ll just have to wait and see if this experiment works.