The Colorado Rockies won 87 games in 2017, the third highest win total in franchise history. Now the could be seem poised to build on that number and perhaps even challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West in things break right in 2018.
The added optimism came immediately after Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported the Rockies locked up former Royals and Cubs closer Wade Davis on a three-year, $52 million deal. The Rockies have since confirmed the signing and the financial details.
Davis’ signing is the final piece of the puzzle that makes general manager Jeff Bridach’s vision of a super bullpen a reality. Bridach’s bullpen plan really started in 2015, when he acquired Jake McGee in a trade and signed veterans Jason Motte and Chad Qualls. Though the latter two signings never panned out, he remained aggressive last winter, bringing in veteran left-hander Mike Dunn on a multi-year deal and former closer Greg Holland, who was coming off Tommy John surgery.
Those moves did work. As a result, the Rockies looked like a different team in 2017. New manager Bud Black had multiple late-inning relievers he could rely on, including Holland, Dunn, McGee, Pat Neshek, who was acquired at the trade deadline, and Rockies holdover Adam Ottavino. That was a far cry from the Rockies norm, which typically meant trotting out journeymen or unprepared young pitchers to hopefully bridge a gap to whoever Colorado’s hottest relief pitcher was at the time.
Though the Rockies are obviously moving on now from Holland, who was an All-Star in his lone season in Denver, they’re set to be even better and deeper in the bullpen. Davis, who will earn the richest per season salary ever for a reliever at $17.3 million, is among the game’s elite closers. Based on his bullpen numbers — a career 1.65 ERA as a reliever, the lowest in baseball history among pitchers with at least 250 relief appearances — he’ll give the Rockies continued ninth inning stability.
As important to the plan, the Rockies re-signed Jake McGee and added veteran Bryan Shaw on matching three-year, $27 million deals. Those deals could potentially give the Rockies the most expensive bullpen in MLB history.
Among Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, the Rockies now have guaranteed $106M to relief pitchers this winter. Add in Mike Dunn and Adam Ottavino, and they may have the most expensive bullpen in baseball history — upward of $50M this season.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 29, 2017
There’s definitely some concerning downside in investing so much money on relievers. Each of Colorado’s core five relievers is between the ages of 30 and 32. Given their recent workloads, each could be considered a threat to see their productivity fall off. The value of a relief pitcher has been known to dry up quickly, which is why most teams don’t go all-in on the bullpen like Colorado has here. But it seems like a risk worth taking considering the Rockies position.
Bridich basically saying that because of young starters and relative youth in the lineup that they've been able to spend big in the bullpen.
— Jake Shapiro (@Shapalicious) December 29, 2017
As Bridach explained Friday, the Rockies are in a good spot financially to make such bold moves. Beyond that, their window to compete might be limited to the life of these contracts anyway with Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado nearing free agency. If they only have a year or two to make a run, it makes some sense to throw a lot of the money into fixing a long-standing weakness.
Now the question is: Will these moves be enough to position the Rockies as real threats to the Dodgers and even the Arizona Diamondbacks? Los Angeles remains the clear favorite, but Colorado’s pitching and defense will give them a chance. Even with an offense that’s actually not consideraed a powerhouse, it’s easy to see them keeping the pressure on Los Angeles and Arizona in 2018. Beyond 2018, they might have to go back to the drawing board.
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