Wise baseball people often say that MLB teams committing millions of dollars to their bullpen can be a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately for the 2018 Colorado Rockies, they’ve provided enough evidence to support that theory that it may no longer be open for debate.
Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich was the exception to the rule during this past winter’s glacial-paced free agency. While the majority of his counterparts waited out the market, to the point where the players, their union and the fans grew both impatient and concerned by the lack of activity, Bridich came out aggressively.
Bridich started his offseason by inking free-agent reliever Bryan Shaw and re-signing veteran left-hander Jake McGree to the same three-year, $27M deal. He later completed his bullpen renovations by signing former Royals and Cubs closer Wade Davis to a three-year, $52M deal. In doing so, Bridich also forfeited a draft pick.
The signings added up to $106M in new commitments to Colorado’s bullpen over the next three seasons. Colorado also previously signed left-handed reliever Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19M deal before 2017.
The committed money makes Colorado’s bullpen one of the most expensive in MLB history.
Based on the early returns, it might also be among the worst ever.
How bad has the Rockies bullpen been?
From a pure numbers standpoint, it’s the worst in baseball this season. Colorado’s bullpen entered play with a collective 5.75 ERA, which is the highest among all 30 MLB teams.
With the exception of Adam Ottavino, no one has been immune to the struggles. Davis, McGee and Shaw especially have contributed to the issue, posing a collective 5.90 ERA. That’s nearly three full runs higher than their collective career ERA (3.29) over 1,644.1 career innings before this season. As for Dunn, he’s posted a 9.00 ERA in 23 appearances this season and is currently on the disabled list.
The issues have really set in during the month of June. Up until that point, Colorado looked like a potential contender thanks largely to its young and talented starting rotation. The bullpen was doing enough to help them secure first place in the NL West for two weeks in May, but it’s completely unraveled since. The Rockies have sunk in the standings as a result, falling to fourth place.
The last week has included numerous bullpen meltdowns. Sunday in Texas, Rockies relievers combined to allow eight earned runs over the final three innings. That included Davis blowing a three-run ninth-inning save chance after walking four batters. Upon their return to Coors Field Monday night, Rockies relievers allowed nine earned runs in 3.2 innings in a 12-2 loss to the Mets.
Even an eight-run lead against the Mets on Tuesday wasn’t safe. Colorado held on to win 10-8, but not before the bullpen allowed another six runs in three innings.
Even for a Rockies team that’s always battling the Coors Field element, the results have been unfathomable. When you factor in the money spent, it’s absurd.
Why were the Rockies so aggressive adding to the bullpen?
The Rockies won 87 games in 2017, the third highest win total in franchise history. After a bullpen meltdown cost them a chance to advance past the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card Game, Bridich decided to build a super bullpen and hope that would get them over the top.
It’s not uncommon for GMs to formulate such plans. Especially ones who oversee teams that don’t traditionally spend a lot of money or have extended windows to compete. The Rockies fall into that category, and with franchise player Nolan Arenado still not locked up long term, the window might only be open another year or two.
With a young rotation that won’t demand big money for a few years yet, Bridich went big in the bullpen. Now the window might be closing sooner than expected. Unless of course the Rockies find a way to mix it.
Can the Rockies actually fix this mess?
The only way this mess sorts itself out is if the pitchers themselves get it turned around. It’s a possibility given the track record of the players involved, but it’s a scary proposition given how unpredictable relief pitcher performance can be.
If the pitchers get back on track collectively, the Rockies might finally have a semblance of the bullpen they pictured over the winter, or at least the bullpen that kept them competitive early this season. If it happens individually, at least Bridich might have a window to get out from under a massive contract.
As it stands right now, none of those options are on the table. The Rockies just have to hope it gets better, all the while hoping it couldn’t possibly get any worse.
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