The Colorado Rockies went further than most people expected them to in 2017. After their wild-card game loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, it was clear that the team would have to make a few offseason moves to keep going in the right direction. The Rockies already had Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon locked down, but they would need to make more moves to keep pace with their National League West rivals, the Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The first order of business was addressing the changes to their bullpen, which had a ton of moving parts once the season ended. Their 2017 closer, Greg Holland, rejected a qualifying offer and became a free agent along with trade deadline acquisition Pat Neshek and Jake McGee. Neshek signed a two-year, $16.25M deal to rejoin Philadelphia while McGee re-signed with the Rockies for three years and $27M. McGee was 0-2 with three saves and a 3.61 ERA in 62 relief appearances last season. Holland is still looking to sign somewhere.
One big move the Rockies made was signing free-agent reliever and former Indian set-up man Bryan Shaw to a three-year, $27M contract earlier this month. Shaw went 4-6 with a 3.52 ERA and appeared in a league-high 79 games last season. Then, on Friday, the Rockies announced another big move for another big-name free-agent reliever, perhaps the biggest one available this offseason.
Wade Davis, who saved 32 games with the Cubs last season, was looking for a three-year deal, but the Cubs weren’t willing to go for more than two, so Colorado stepped in and offered Davis three years. The contract, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, has a vesting player option that can increase the value to four years and $66 million if Davis finishes 30 games in 2020. The contract makes Davis the highest-paid reliever in baseball, topping Aroldis Chapman’s deal with the Yankees in average annual value.
Now the Rockies have a strong bullpen thanks to signing Davis, Shaw and McGee, and thanks to returnees such as Mike Dunn, Adam Ottavino and Chris Rusin. It’s also, thanks to Davis’s contract, possibly the most expensive bullpen in the National League according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, which puts them up there with the mighty New York Yankees and their vaunted bullpen.
What does this all mean for the Rockies in 2018? It stands to reason that Davis, who set a career-high in saves and pitched to a 2.30 ERA in 2017, will replace Holland in the ninth. This means Shaw could be the setup man as he was in Cleveland, or he and McGee, who was the setup man last season for the Rockies, could both pitch the eighth inning depending on whom they’re facing since McGee’s a lefty and Shaw’s a righty. Even Ottavino has experience pitching in high-leverage situations, so Rockies manager Bud Black will have many options in a deep bullpen with Dunn, Rusin and even Scott Oberg waiting in the wings.
Depth is a luxury to have over the course of a 162-game season. Baseball fans saw what can happen to a tired bullpen in the playoffs when the normally reliable Kenley Jansen ran out of gas in the World Series. There are only so many turns that an arm can make; the Dodgers and their fans found out the hard way and on the world’s biggest stage.
These moves also show everyone around baseball that Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich is in “win-now” mode. It may also make Arenado and Blackmon see that the club is serious about contending with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. After getting a taste of the playoffs in the up-and-down National League wild-card game this past October, the Rockies want more. Who can blame them?
There may be some questions about the Rockies’ starting rotation, but they are hoping that by stocking their bullpen with even more reliable arms, they will go farther in 2018 than they did in 2017, and that they will surpass the Diamondbacks and Dodgers in the standings.
By Stacey Gotsulius