Let’s imagine this scenario unfolding over the next two months:
The Colorado Rockies’ rookie-laden rotation holds up well, bolstered by the impending return of Jon Gray. Greg Holland keeps his Comeback Player of the Year-type rebound going, leading a deeper-than-usual bullpen. The National League’s haves-and-have-nots mixture — six teams with winning records and nine with losing records — remains intact, and the Rockies are dead-serious playoff contenders before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Then the question might be asked: Would the Rockies — with a real chance at their first playoff appearance since 2009 — trade top prospect Brendan Rodgers for the immediate help they may need?
The “go-for-it-now” Rockies-as-buyers case gains even more merit when considering where they are in terms of roster construction and payroll structure. This is a franchise similar to the Kansas City Royals before 2014 — one with a window of opportunity to win before the inevitable reality of a mid-market payroll closes it.
The Rockies already sit with a franchise-record payroll of $127 million for 2017, up over $50 million from as recently as 2013. Look at who could hit free agency in the near future:
- Carlos Gonzalez and Holland (if he doesn’t exercise his side of a mutual option) after this season
- Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu after the 2018 season
- Nolan Arenado after the 2019 season
They can’t keep all of them. (We’ll assume they’ll choose Arenado as the long-term face of the franchise, but that’s for another column.) Therefore, the Rockies must capitalize on their glut of talent while they can.
The Cubs traded Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman — and it must be said that the N.L. pennant rarely has seemed to be more winnable than this season, with even the elite teams weakened by obvious flaws.
That said, the long-term Rockies’ picture says no, don’t part with Rodgers. This isn’t just any first-round pick. This is the team’s No. 1 prospect — rated No. 10 overall by MLB.com — and the highest position player picked in franchise history. Yep, he’s even higher than Todd Helton (eighth in 1995) and Troy Tulowitzki (seventh in 2005), two college picks. Rodgers was the first high-school player picked in the 2015 draft, and he signed for $5.5-million.
He is currently tearing up the Cal League for the Lancaster RedHawks. He has twice been named Player of Week already, with a .390/.411/.686 slash line, 9 HR, 37 RBI and 31 runs in 168 plate appearances. His big-league arrival date figures to be late 2018 — not that far off.
While it appears as though the Rockies are in great shape up the middle with LeMahieu and Trevor Story, the former can leave through free agency, and some scouts think Rodgers may be best suited to play second base.
Other high-level prospects could be dealt for stretch-run pitching reinforcements — OF Raimel Tapia, 1B/3B Ryan McMahon, and further-down-the-line Riley Pint, whose fastball has hit 100 mph, all come to mind. Dealing Rodgers would be a higher risk-reward endeavor.
By Tony DeMarco