Yesterday rumors popped up about the Colorado Rockies being interested in some of the top tier outfield free agents including Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, and Seiya Suzuki.
The addition of any of these free agents will certainly make the Colorado Rockies’ outfield stronger, but what does it mean for the current roster?
First off, each player is an immediate upgrade offensively based off what FanGraphs (ZiPS) projects for their wRC+:
Kris Bryant – 121
Nick Castellanos – 124
Michael Conforto – 119
Seiya Suzuki – 124
No one on the Colorado Rockies’ current roster that’s set to be an outfielder (Charlie Blackmon, Sam Hilliard, Connor Joe, Raimel Tapia, Garrett Hampson, and Yonathan Daza) is projected to have a wRC+ above 100, so any of these free agents would be an immediate upgrade. We’re likely going to see Blackmon moved to the designated hitter role, so who of the other three (Tapia, Joe, Hilliard) will see less playing time?
We probably won’t see any changes in center field. Castellanos and Conforto spent most of their time in 2021 in right field, signaling further that Blackmon’s moving to DH. Bryant, while all over the field, didn’t spend a large majority of his time in center field and instead stuck to the corners. Suzuki is also slated to be a corner outfielder, so it would appear that center field is a spot that won’t have much change.
This means it’s likely a battle between Hampson and Hilliard in center field. Hilliard is projected to have a higher fWAR than Hampson, so we can probably expect that he’d land that starting spot while Hampson stays in a bit of a utility role and still gains a decent amount of time in center. Hampson did have better fielding stats than Hilliard in center in 2021 (UZR/150 of 3.5 for Hampson, 0.0 for Hilliard), so we probably see a bit of a split there still.
So it’s the corner outfield spots that are up for grabs. With any of these free agents, they’re likely sliding directly into right field, so the battle comes to who gets time in left field. We’re positioned for a likely battle between Raimel Tapia and Connor Joe.
Tapia dominated the playing time in left field last year but, when he was out with injury, Connor Joe really came on strong and made a great impression. He also took Tapia’s spot in the batting order at the leadoff spot, hitting for a wRC+ of 111 in that span and was the Rockies’ second-best hitter in that span (with at least 50 PAs).
By the numbers, it’s hard to say that Tapia should be starting over Joe in left field. Joe is projected to be better than Tapia in quite a few key areas (wRC+, fWAR), but the gap isn’t extremely wide between the two. Last season we also saw Bud Black stay very committed to Tapia even though the advanced stats were unfavorable to him, which tells me that Tapia’s likely not going anywhere. I can very easily see Joe and Tapia splitting time in left field next season, or even potentially seeing Tapia get time in right field when one of these free agents come in. Or, if the Rockies don’t land one of them, Tapia could be more permanently in right. If I had it my way, Joe would be the starter in left in 2022.
All of this will depend on if the Rockies are able to sign one of the top tier free agents. I highly doubt they’re in the running for Suzuki (most outlets don’t have them as a leading candidate while plenty of other teams are listed), and I doubt Bryant truly wants to sign here, so it comes down to Castellanos and Conforto (in which scenario I see Conforto as the much more likely signee). Here’s how I’d see the outfield in that scenario:
If the Rockies don’t sign one of the top four free agents (which is still very likely), here’s how I see it looking:
What do you think the Colorado Rockies outfield will look like next season?