Sunday, November 30, 2014

Long-Term Plan for the Rockies

This plan is basically about not winning much next year and setting the team up for 2016-2020.
This plan acknowledges that the team has a lot of strengths and a lot of holes and we probably aren’t likely to fix things just by doing nothing or by hoping for health.
This plan acknowledges that there is a wave of MiLB talent set up to arrive around 2016 & 2017.
This plan is centered on signing Jason Heyward.

Jason Heyward will be a free agent at the end of 2015. Jason Heyward will also be one of the youngest free agents we’ve seen in a long time (and possibly for a while given the trend of extensions for young players). He won’t be cheap to sign at all and we (or any team) will have to spend a lot of money to get Heyward. His expected annual salary will start somewhere around 20 mill give or take some based on the exact contract structure. This would pay Heyward like he’s a 4-win player per year, which he basically is.

Why does Jason Heyward make sense for us? Well there are a few reasons:
  1. He bats left handed and Coors favors lefties.
  2. He is elite defensively in RF and in a home park like Coors where more balls are put into play, we’d likely benefit more from his defense than any other team.
  3. He is extremely young. He’ll turn 26 after the All-star break next year.
  4. He’s so good defensively in RF that he could also play CF for teams. I wouldn’t sign him expecting him to be a CF but that flexibility could come in handy.
  5. He’s not necessarily a power hitter but he’s shown flashes of it and is young enough where he could add some power.
  6. He does something not many of our players do: get on base. He could be excellent batting leadoff or second for us.
  7. Adding him allows us to trade CarGo and basically swapping Heyward for CarGo gives us another LHB outfielder who is younger and will still be in his prime when Dahl/Tapia arrive.
Risks with Heyward:
  1.  He’s been inconsistent. He can pretty much be guaranteed to play awesome defense but his hitting has been between average to fringe-elite. Any team signing him is dreaming on his upside but may come away with a player who despite justifying his salary appears somewhat disappointing.
  2.  He’s not entirely injury-free. He’s had his share of injuries but still seems like a strong bet to play 140 games a year. He’s averaged 136 games a season for his career.
      The first part of the plan involves signing Jason Heyward to a contract that probably looks completely ridiculous at the outset. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs suggests that contracts for Heyward will start at something like 10 years and 200 million. Cameron mentions this isn’t crazy compared to what Stanton got or what Cano got one year ago. A contract like that is justifiable based on Heyward’s performance and especially his age. 

I don’t care about the specific years or dollar amount of the contract. I’d give Heyward whatever he wants overall: 10 years, 200 million, 11 years 240, whatever. It doesn’t matter because any deal I’m signing Heyward to allows him to opt-out after 4 years. Essentially, what makes Heyward such an appealing signing is the almost guaranteed lack of long-term risk. A deal that involves an opt-out after 4 seasons means Heyward will play for us from 2016-2020 and more importantly he’ll be 26-27 during the first season and 29-30 for the last season. I’d even add a second player opt-out after the 6th year to protect him from the risk of him having an injury-riddled year in his opt-out year and then still allowing him to hit the FA market at 32. Ultimately, whatever the final terms of the contract are, I’d realistically pencil him in to be making 20-24 million a year for 4 years and to then leave.

The Rest of The Plan:

Signing Heyward after 2015 gives us one year to have CarGo rebuild his value on the field. This also makes CarGo that much closer to free agency. Teams looking to acquire CarGo may like acquiring him for fewer years because for a guy with his injury history, a strong rebound in performance + less long-term risk for any acquiring team may merge into a nice return package for CarGo. So if he does stay healthy, trade CarGo for a pitcher. Any strong pitcher/pitching prospect with a strong fastball and a slider as their out-pitch should be the return we’re looking for. Trading CarGo also basically means adding Heyward is an even swap salary-wise and Heyward + a strong pitcher/pitching prospect > CarGo.

Over the next few years then a few things can and would need to happen such as trading Wilin, Blackmon, and Morneau at certain points for relievers, a catcher, a 2b, etc. Dickerson would start taking reps at 1b to create flexibility. Giving Dickerson that flexibility means a few things over this 2016-2020 timeline:
  1. It means we’re not relying entirely on both Dahl and Tapia working out. Only one of them can work out and we’d still have an extremely strong outfield.
  2. If both of them work out then Dickerson can play 1b.
  3. Dickerson’s flexibility means that we can keep our eyes open during this window to add either an OF or a 1b. This creates a nice alternative to being dead-set on hoping a strong 1b comes around or banking on both Dahl AND Tapia not only reaching the bigs sooner rather than later but also being positive contributors sooner rather than later.
    1.  If you think about it, Tapia probably wouldn’t reach the majors until somewhere in 2017 and if he needs a year or so to adjust won’t really be a positive contributor until 2019. It’s also possible he needs more than a year to adjust and wouldn't be a factor at all during this period. The same holds true for Dahl though my guess is that one of them (with Dahl being the more likely one) does work out during this timespan.
So in 2017...
Our outfield would be:
Dickerson or someone else | Dahl | Heyward

Our infield would be:
Arenado | Tulo | 2b or DJ | Dickerson or someone else

Our rotation would be (in no particular order):
Matzek | Gray | the return from trading CarGo | and then a number of other options:
  1. Lyles will be in his last year of arbitration
  2. Tyler Anderson and/or Kyle Freeland will be either in the MLB or close.
  3. Tyler Chatwood will be in his last year of arbitration
  4.  Eddie Butler will also be eligible though I’ve saved him for last because so far, he seems like a guy that I personally would give the CJ Wilson/Lance Lynn treatment. He would pitch out of the bullpen for a year or two, adjust to the majors, limit his innings and see how his health is. If he still seems fragile then he’s probably destined for the bullpen, but if not he could still step in and be dynamite.
The bullpen can’t really be speculated upon this far out and I wouldn’t expect anyone we currently have in the bullpen to be around in 2017 given reliever volatility and turnover. Nevertheless, the following facts/guesses can still provide some info:
  1. Both Ottavino and Brothers would be in their last year of arb (and would be cheaper since neither of them are projected to close games in 2015 at all).
  2. Someone like Kahnle would still be making the league minimum.
  3. Trades of guys like Blackmon, Wilin, and Morneau could net another 1-2 arms.
  4. Whichever starters don’t make the rotation early could be bullpen arms.
  5. Possibly someone like Daniel Winkler, who has never really looked like a real SP option for Coors/the Rockies may be back from TJ, effective, and a legit bullpen option.
  6. There would be 2 seasons for us to find scrap-heap guys or rule V guys that can contribute like Ottavino and Kahnle, respectively.
Basically the plan then works as follows:
  1. Sign Heyward
  2. Trade CarGo for a legit SP
  3. Give ourselves about 2 years of development for prospects
    1. There’s been zero mention of Trevor Story, Ryan McMahon, Kevin Padlo, Tom Murphy, etc. because all of these prospects simultaneously look like guys who have bright MLB futures ahead of them or no chance of really being an impact player. It’s entirely possible that Story can be our 2b of the future or that McMahon can play 1b for us… or not. I’m not comfortable guaranteeing a MLB spot for any of our prospects other than Dahl and Gray. It would enter too much risk into this exercise to start building plans around our non-Dahl/-Gray prospects.
  4. Give ourselves about 2 years to build our rotation and bullpen and find a strong defensive catcher.
Lastly, this plan appears financially workable. It’s mostly built around having Heyward and Tulo be the only really expensive players signed to a contract. Beyond them there will be a ton of guys either pre-arbitration or in their early years of arbitration. By trading CarGo and Morneau as well as having JDLR leave via free agency or trade, there should be some flexibility to sign guys apart from Heyward throughout this window. This slack money could obviously be used for whatever - signing free agents or signing Arenado/Dickerson to extensions or acquiring players in trades.

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