Carlos Gonzalez has been a member of the Colorado Rockies since 2009 and the subject of trade rumors for at least the past three seasons. He’s still in town, however, and is now entering the final year of a contract extension he signed in January 2011. He’ll earn $20 million in 2017 for his age-31 season, coming off a year in which he hit .298/.350/.505 with 25 home runs. Baseball-Reference valued him at 2.2 WAR, the value of an average major leaguer as opposed to his All-Star-caliber reputation.
After six straight losing seasons – 2016’s 75-87 record was the team’s best since 2010 – the Rockies seem intent on making a playoff push in 2017, believing some of the pitching strides made from the likes of Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, Tyler Anderson and Jeff Hoffman bode well for the team’s best rotation in a decade. Combined with an offense that led the league in runs, there’s the odor of a potential playoff team here.
Pitching depth is always an issue for the Rockies, however, and the bullpen was awful, so there’s also the feeling the roster still needs significant upgrades. After all, they did win just 75 games.
“Are we going to look to improve things in 2017 and add major-league players to our process for 2017? The answer is yes,” Rockies GM Jeff Bridich told MLB.com on Wednesday. “I’m hopeful that doesn’t have to come at the expense of players like Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon.”
Blackmon hit .324/.381/.552 with 29 home runs, worth 4.4 WAR. He’s under team control for two more seasons, although at 30, he’s not that much younger than Gonzalez. With the emergence of David Dahl, who impressed with a .315/.359/.500 line in 63 games as a rookie, the Rockies may think they have the outfield depth to deal from here.
My take is that dealing Gonzalez or Blackmon would be a mistake. Trading either one opens up a hole in the outfield with no obvious in-house candidate. Gerardo Parra isn’t a viable option after a disastrous 2016 in which he was one of the worst hitters in the majors with a .271 OBP. That’s in Coors Field, mind you. Raimel Tapia reached the majors as well for a few games, and while he has been a top-100 prospect he could use more time in Triple-A (he spent most of 2016 at Double-A) to refine his game. He has had good contact skills in the minors, but he doesn’t walk, hasn’t hit for much over-the-fence power, has had poor stolen-base percentages and is still inconsistent on defense. He’s intriguing but also could settle in as a good fourth outfielder.
Anyway, I just don’t think the Rockies would get much in return. Given his $20 million salary and the current cost per WAR on the free-agent market, his contract is probably a little above market value. The Rockies aren’t going to be able to trade away his salary and get a good return in player value as well. You also have to factor in that opposing GMs are always going to be wary of how a Rockies player will perform outside of Colorado (although it’s worth noting that Dexter Fowler has put up similar numbers after leaving the Rockies). Finally, Gonzalez has turned into a player with significant platoon splits, hitting just .237/.257/.400 the past three seasons against lefties. All of that cuts his value.
So they may as well keep him. Plus, the Rockies should consider adding offense, not subtracting it. In the park-adjusted wRC+ at FanGraphs, their offense ranked just 16th in the majors and ninth in the NL (that’s not including pitchers). In fact, with a big hole at first base, the Rockies have discussed signing Gonzalez to an extension and possibly moving him to first base. That’s an interesting idea given the team’s problems there for a long time now. As I wrote in our offseason questions piece for the Rockies, they’ve basically been faking the position for a decade. Here’s the Rockies’ annual ranking among the 30 teams in Wins Above Average at first base. Other than 2014, when Justin Morneau won a batting title, it has been a sorry lot since Todd Helton in 2007:
The Rockies need a first baseman for 2017. While Edwin Encarnacion in Coors Field would be a nice pipe dream, he’ll be priced out of the Rockies’ comfort zone. What about going after MLB home run leader Mark Trumbo? Estimates for him are in the four-year, $60 million range. He did slump in the second half last year and has always been a low OBP guy, but he’s better than the Ben Paulsen-types the Rockies have run out there. Mike Napoli, Kendrys Morales and Brandon Moss are other possible lower-cost options.
With full seasons from Dahl and Trevor Story, this could be a fun lineup:
CF Charlie Blackmon
2B DJ LeMahieu
RF Carlos Gonzalez
1B Mark Trumbo
LF David Dahl
SS Trevor Story
Signing Trumbo would eat up a large chunk of available payroll – barring an increase, of course -- and you haven’t added any rotation or bullpen arms yet. Look, no matter what the Rockies do, the playoffs are probably a long shot unless the starting pitching really breaks out. Trading Gonzalez, however, is unlikely to get you any closer.