The bad news: the Rockies’ 2020 bullpen was a disaster, posting the worst ERA (6.77) in franchise history.
The good news: a plethora of relievers will be available, some at bargain-basement prices, during the offseason.
Consider this: Left-hander Brad Hand has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past five seasons, posting a 2.70 ERA with 104 saves and making three all-star appearances during his time with San Diego and Cleveland. Hand, however, became a free agent last week after the Indians declined to pick up his $10 million club option. Cleveland passed Hand through waivers, thinking some team would claim him and pick up Hand’s $1 million buyout. No club made the move.
Hand’s experience is emblematic of a shaky free-agent market that’s emerging in the wake of a 60-game season with no fans in the stands, the result of the coronavirus pandemic that is already casting uncertainty about the 2021 season.
The Rockies do have a few bullpen building blocks lined up. Right-hander Daniel Bard, who overcame the yips and was named comeback player of the year by the MLB Players Association, finished the season as a solid closer (6-for-6 on saves, 3.65 ERA). If right-hander Scott Oberg successfully recovers from surgery to prevent blood clots from reoccurring in his right arm, he would be a huge addition to the ’21 pen.
In right-handers Michael Givens (acquired in a trade from Baltimore), up-and-coming Yency Almonte (2.93 ERA. 1.12 WHIP) and Tyler Kinley (.167 batting average against), there is promise. On Monday, the Rockies signed right-hander Dereck Rodriguez to a minor-league contract with an invitation to major league spring training, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, entered the pro ranks as a sixth-round pick from Minnesota in 2011, didn’t make the majors until 2018 and has had an up-and-down big-league career (4.27 ERA).
The Rockies most need a quality left-hander, as well as more depth. There will be plenty of options, and the number of relievers on the market will increase at the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline when teams must decide whether to offer their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players a contract for 2021.
Following is a capsule look at some of the best relievers available and why they might, or might not, fit in Colorado:
LHP Brad Hand — Generally acknowledged as the best reliever on the market, he might be looking for a two-year deal for about $15 million. Given that the Rockies just finished paying off the $106 million they paid over three years for the disappointing trio of Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee, it’s difficult to see Hand landing in Colorado.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal — The former Cardinals closer bounced back from injuries and had an excellent 2020 season, first in Kansas City and then with San Diego. Like Hand, he’s seeking at least a two-year deal. His 98 mph fastball and strikeout ability would help Colorado but he’s likely out of its price range.
RHP Mark Melancon — Yes, he’s 35, and his velocity and strikeout ability don’t match up to other relievers. However, Melancon is a quintessential groundball pitcher, making him a good fit for Coors Field. The 6-foot-1 righty posted a 2.78 ERA to go along with 11 saves for the Braves this season and pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. The Colorado native and Golden High School graduate will likely get a one-year deal for more than $5 million. The Rockies’ experience with Shaw could make them gunshy about Melancon, who has logged a lot of innings in recent years.
RHP Shane Green — The 31-year-old had 55 saves for Detroit in 2018-19 and then pitched primarily pitched in the seventh and eighth for the Braves in 2020, posting a 2.60 ERA in 28 appearances. He isn’t a hard thrower and his strikeout rate dropped to 6.8 per nine innings this season, but he’s got late-game experience. He might be an affordable fit for the Rockies.
LHP Jose Alvarez — The Rockies need a lefty and Alverez might fit the bill. He turns 32 next May and coming off a strong, albeit short season for Philadelphia. He appeared in only eight games, posting a 1.42 ERA before his season ended when he suffered a “testicular contusion” after a 105 MPH line drive hit him in the groin area.
RHP Trevor May — He’s been a stalwart in Minnesota’s bullpen over the last two seasons, and since the start of the 2018 season, he’s posted a 3.19 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He’s averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings vs. only three walks. He’d look good in Rockies purple, but the problem is, he might be looking for a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $14 million.