The Rockies Are Shopping for Outfield Power. Which Free Agent Is the Best Fit?
The choices are intriguing.
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Now that the 2021 season is officially over, it’s time to start planning for 2022 (and ignoring the looming lockout). This is always a fun time of year for baseball fans as they browse through the rosters of free agents and tanking teams. Think of it as an early holiday shopping season that extends into spring.
Since Rockies don’t do rebuilds, their brand is one of cheery optimism: They always “just need a few pieces.” Bill Schmidt has been clear that the Rockies are in the market for power. “All I’ve got to tell you is our lineup needs to get more offensive,” Schmidt said recently. “Is that something that gets done this winter, or does it get done over the course of time?” Based on recent history the Rockies would be best served by acting sooner rather than later. Their outfield was woefully unproductive in 2021, earning a league worst wRC+ of 82. The Rockies need their presents now.
As a reminder, here’s just how bad the Rockies’ outfield was offensively:
Only Connor Joe had an above-average wRC+ — and he’s a utility player with the fewest games in the outfield. Four of the outfielders weren’t even close to average at Coors Field, the hitters’ park. Something has to change.
When it’s free-agent season, I watch for the players Thomas Harding is focused on because he’s often right in his assessments. Earlier in the week, he speculated about possible outfield free agents for the Rockies. Here’s his list of potential outfielders, and I’ve added Kiley McDaniel’s projected salaries:
Kyle Schwarber (Age: 28; LF; L/R; 3 yrs @ $45 million)
Kris Bryant (Age: 29; OF; R/R; 5 yrs @ $90 million)
Jorge Solar (Age: 29; RF; R/R; 3 yrs @ $36 million)
Nick Castellanos (Age: 29; RF; R/R; 3 yrs @ $54 million)
Michael Conforto (Age: 28; OF; L/R; 3 yrs @ $51 million)
Let’s do some comparison shopping and start with FanGraphs. These are the numbers from 2021.
Looking at just wRC+, any of these players marks an improvement over the Rockies’ outfielders, save Connor Joe, and even then, three players have a higher wRC+ than Joe did in 2021. (For comparison, CJ Cron’s wRC+ was 127.) Even Soler, who only had a league-average year in 2021, outperformed most of the Rockies’ outfield.
Now, consider 2019-2021 to provide a larger sample size.
All five are consistently good hitters. Bryant is the most consistently valuable (and costly) while Castellanos is the best masher. Soler is clearly the weakest of this field.
Of course, Coors Field giveth, and Coors Field taketh away. These players would also be playing defense in one of baseball’s most demanding ballparks. With that in mind, I returned to FanGraphs and my favorite defensive stat, DRS. Here’s 2021:
Suddenly, Charlie Blackmon’s DRS of -3 in 137 innings doesn’t look so bad. None of these players is especially good defensively, but Soler is substantially worse.
Here are the numbers from 2019-2021:
It wasn’t just one year: Soler is consistently ineffective defensively, and despite all that power, Castellanos is a defensively liability. Again, Kris Bryant emerges as the best defender though he’s played fewer innings in the outfield. Conforto is the middle path: Very good (though less good than the others) offensively and marginal (though less marginal than the others) defensively. Schwarber is more extreme: better offensively and worse defensively.
My Best Guess
Given what we know about the Rockies’ spending plans, I suspect Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, and Michael Conforto are too pricey. Soler’s defense takes him out of the running, especially with that salary.
Based on this, Kyle Schwarber seems the best fit. After overcoming injuries, he has shown he can still hit for power — like, a lot of power. He’s also shown himself to be a willing (if not-so-good) first baseman. See for yourself.
Schwarber’s got a solid offensive profile — well, he had an OPS+ of 148 in 2021, so better than solid. He’s only slightly worse than Charlie Blackmon defensively; and his projected contract of 3 years/$45 million seems something the Rockies would pay for. Kyle Schwarber’s defensive highlights are not plentiful, but here’s one:
It’s easy to see him taking Raimel Tapia’s place in left.
Of course, this assumes any of these players would be willing to join an organization that is baseball’s Mile High Mystery. Most likely, I think, the Rockies will put together a package of young players (e.g., Raimel Tapia, Colton Welker, and Ryan Vilade) and make a trade to one of the tanking/rebuilding teams.
It’s the Rockies, so who knows? But I’ve become a fan of Kyle Schwarber: Colorado Rockie.
There’s good news on Scott Oberg, who’s attempting a return:
The irrepressible Chris Owings is back in action before he heads to the Dominican Republic to join Ryan Rolison with the Tigres de Licey:Chris Owings (@cowings5) getting dialed in for winter ball in the #LIDOM for the @TigresdelLicey! #gswing #tigres
Down on the Farm
Baseball Prospectus has released its rankings of the Rockies’ prospects. (Spoiler: They are not impressed.)
As the Arizona Fall League winds down, Michael Toglia needs fans’ help.
What I’m Reading, Watching, and Listening To
Thomas Harding’s “How Psychology Prepped Scott for Rox Role” (Rockies.com) — Bill Schmidt has been discussing devoting resources to helping players develop mental skills. Harding has more information.
Dan Szymborski’s “Elegy for 2021: Recapping the NL West Team by Team” (FanGraphs) — Szymborski always brings unique insight when writing about the Rockies.
Renee Dechert‘s “Jon Gray Stands at a Crossroads” (Purple Row) — This is my assessment of Gray’s 2021 season.
While we wait for news, enjoy some of Kyle Schwarber’s walk-up music:
Thanks for reading —