Rockies’ First Order of Business: Bullpen Makeover


Colorado Rockies‘ general manager Jeff Bridich faces many challenges in his first season as general manager. The bullpen is at the top of the list.

After a disastrous 2014 season, vast changes need to be made to ensure the Colorado Rockies are competitive come next April.

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Jeff Bridich is no stranger to this organization, having worked in the Rockies’ minor league system for the past 10 seasons and as director of player development for the last four.

He inherits a team that lost 96 games last season, its second-worst record in franchise history. This coming after the Rockies’ payroll jumped from $73.9 million in 2013 to $93.6 million in 2014, the highest team payroll for any Rockies team ever.

Bridich is a smart guy, a Harvard graduate with experience in baseball circles and a knack for analytics. He understands the needs of this team, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. He realizes that he needs to be aggressive this offseason in order for the Rockies to be competitive come next season and not relive the disaster that was 2014.

First order of business: bullpen makeover.

If you watched many Rockies’ games last season, you know that no lead was safe. The bullpen constantly threw gas on the fire in the late innings, dwindling leads away on a nightly basis. No surprise they were ranked 29th in the Major Leagues with a 4.79 ERA and gave-up a ridiculous 298 runs, 30 more than the next closest team, the Houston Astros.

Only making matters worse, manager Walt Weiss constantly found himself between a rock (leaving the starting pitcher in the game) and a hard place (handing the ball over to the bullpen).

It’s fair to say that Weiss struggled when deciding whether or not to run his starter out there while hovering around the 100-pitch mark. Not to say I can blame him, given the results when his relief pitchers came in the game. But Weiss needs to do a better job of giving the bullpen a chance to succeed if things are going to be different next season. Misusing the pitching staff became a regular occurrence in 2014, much to the dismay of the fans.

Rex Brothers, who was the most reliable reliever on the team in 2013, completely fell apart last season. Having saved 19 games two years ago in the absence of the injured Rafael Betancourt, he posted a 1.74 ERA in 72 games. Brothers watched that ERA skyrocket to 5.59 in 2014 as a reliever. It’s possible that he felt more comfortable in the closer role, something the Rockies should consider going into next season.

LaTroy Hawkins was a pleasant surprise in 2014, recording 23 saves with a 3.31 ERA. Hawkins, 41 was signed to a two-year contract last offseason in what looked like a risky move at the time. The Rockies are likely to exercise his $2.25 million option for 2015 but he will have to prove he can still pitch at a high level if he has any plans on closing games next year.

Two key members of last year’s bullpen are slated to become free agents. Matt Belisle and Nick Masset aren’t likely to return in 2015. The 34-year old Belisle is coming off an up-and-down season where he finished with a 4-7 record with a 4.87 ERA in 66 relief appearances. Masset posted an astronomical 5.80 ERA in 51 games in 2014, making his departure inevitable.

Outside Adam Ottavino, there was nobody that could be trusted to get outs late in the game last season. This team desperately needs proven veterans they can depend on to get the game to the 9th with a lead.

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With Michael Cuddyer likely to walk via free agency along with his $10.5 million salary, this seems like a perfect opportunity for Bridich to shop for relievers this winter. Hopefully Bridich understands that he will need to ditch the bargain-bin mentality of the past in order to lure free agents to the unfriendly confines of Coors Field.

Two years ago the Rockies were so set on signing Wilton Lopez, hopeful that he would be the power arm in the back of the bullpen as he had been with Houston. They were so hopeful that they ignored a failed physical administered by the Philadelphia Phillies just weeks prior and signed him anyways. Lopez’s ERA doubled in 2013 and he appeared in just four games last season.

Last offseason, they surprisingly overpaid for Yankees’ reliever Boone Logan, giving him a three-year deal worth $16.5 million, knowing that he was scheduled to have surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow that October. They justified the move by saying they would just give him a little extra time to recover in spring training and he would be fine.

Logan ended up making three trips to the DL and posted a 6.84 ERA in 35 games in his first season with Colorado. He is now scheduled to have surgery again to remove bone chips from his elbow and is owed $5.5 million next year and $6.25 million in 2016.

These are the type of moves that pushed Dan O’Dowd out the door and decimated the Rockies’ chances year after year, along with injuries of course.

Bridich has to be willing to make the tough decisions and go out and make the necessary moves this offseason.

Joba Chamberlain would be a good fit, coming off a good year in Detroit as an effective set-up man. He will most likely be looking for a multi-year deal after signing a one-year deal last winter.

Luke Gregerson is another guy the Rockies should consider. His career numbers are outstanding and he is familiar with the NL West having spent five seasons in San Diego before posting a career-low 2.12 ERA last season with Oakland.

Only time will tell what direction Bridich will take this franchise, but assembling a quality bullpen should be on top of his priority list.