LAS VEGAS – The Rockies are looking to regain their offensive touch -- but not at all costs.
They did hire Dave Magadan, a veteran hitting coach who spent the last three seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And they did kick some tires, which led to bizarre rumors floating around the winter meetings, including the idea that they had interest in Edwin Encarnacion to fill that spot, even though he is a DH with marginal, at best, defensive ability, turns 36 in January, started only 22 games at first base last year, and not only carries a $21.667 million salary for 2019, but has a $5 million buyout on a $20 million option for 2020.
Now, the Rockies will continue to make inquiries about the likes of free agents Daniel Murphy and Josh Harrison, both of whom have the type of versatility to move around if they don’t play first base, and there remains the option of Ryan McMahon, who also is discussed as a possibility at second base, or keeping Ian Desmond at first.
Truth be told, if the veteran set-up men in the bullpen rebound from the struggles of a year ago, the Rockies’ off-season needs are minimal, and given the inconsistent nature of relief pitchers that is quite possible.
Think about it.
At this time a year ago, the Rockies’ headache, in the mind of the general public, was being stuck with another year on the contract of Adam Ottavino, who was coming off a 2017 season in which he had a 5.06 ERA, allowing 91 baserunners in 53 1/3 innings. Today, fans are ruing the free-agent departure of Ottavino, who was the stable set-up man in the bullpen in 2018 when he had a 2.43 ERA, and allowed only 77 base runners in 77 1/3 innings.
And the Rockies do have a solid foundation for the bullpen with closer Wade Davis, the emergence last season of Scott Oberg, and late July addition of Seunghwan Oh.
With the dismantling of the Diamondbacks, who fell into a financial trap because of the $105 million due Zack Greinke in the next three seasons that led them to deal Paul Goldschmidt, the Rockies have reason to feel the NL West is going to be a two-team battle with the Rockies and Dodgers.
They want to take advantage of that opportunity, but also don’t want to overthink the route to rebound from last season’s sub-par offensive effort when they set a franchise record for lowest batting average (.258), hit .225 on the road, and didn’t have a player hit .300.
That is why Magadan is coming to town, and Duane Espy, the hitting coach the last two years, is no longer with the organization. Now, that’s not to say Magadan will have all the answers, but he is a fresh voice to try and get the Rockies back on line offensively.
Being a hitting coach, after all, is arguably the most tenuous job in Major League Baseball. Consider that since the end of the season, the Diamondbacks fired Magadan as the hitting coach, Tim Laker as the assistant hitting coach and Robert Van Scoyoc as the hitting strategist. Not only did the Rockies hire Magadan, but Laker is now the hitting coach in Seattle, and Van Scoyoc is the hitting coach with the Dodgers.
And the Rockies do have options form within.
To begin with, odds are both Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon will return to the world of a .300 average in 2019, which begins to provide an offensive revival.
And the Rockies have in-house options that they need to evaluate before they make deals that could block one of their younger players from stepping into a job – potential first baseman/second baseman Ryan McMahon, second baseman Garrett Hampton and outfielder David Dahl. If McMahon steps in at first base, Desmond could return to left field, which could lead to Dahl getting a shot in center and Charlie Blackmon moving to right field.
The catching situation is an area of concern. Chris Iannetta and Tony Wolters both fell short of the offensive expectations of last year.
One looming possibility would be the Rockies re- sign free agent Jonathan Lucroy, who spent the final two months of 2017 with the Rockies, and was offered a three-year, $18 million deal to stay but left for better opportunities only to find himself limited to a one-year, $6.5 million deal in Oakland.
The underlying fact, however, is that Opening Day remains more than three months away.
There is still plenty of time to adjust and adapt.