The 2019 season was a big one for members of the Colorado Rockies. Not current members of the Rockies mind you — they went 71-91 and ended up in fourth place in the NL West. No, it was a big season for Colorado Rockies acquired by the New York Yankees during the 2019 calendar year.
DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, and Mike Tauchman all entered January 2019 having most recently played with Colorado. That changed on January 14 for LeMahieu, and for Ottavino ten days later, as the two signed contracts with the Yankees. The Yankees finished assembling their three-headed former-Rockies monster on March 23 when they flipped Phillip Diehl for Tauchman. The three of them played pivotal roles for the Yankees in 2019, combining for 11.8 bWAR and 9.3 fWAR, and without them, the Yankees likely fall short of their first divisional title since 2012.
There’s still a few weeks left in 2019, however, and that means Brian Cashman still has a bit of time to add another Rockie or two before the year ends. But who to inquire about?
The Free Agent Pool
While the Yankees made their biggest splashes from the Rockies via free agency in January, the pool of Rockies free agents this winter is, to put it plainly, lacking. Yonder Alonso is their biggest free agent — a guy who posted a 68 OPS+ last season between the Rockies and White Sox and who can only play first base. Thirty-five year-old backup catcher Drew Butera would be a serious downgrade, as not only can he not hit (career 51 OPS+), but he is also a terrible pitch framer.
If there’s any free agent the Yankees might be able to find value in, it would be pitcher Chad Bettis. 2019 was a season to forget for him, as he posted a 6.08 ERA in 39 appearances while giving up hard contact at a 41% clip and striking out just 14.6% of batters. That said, there are positive signs — his cutter and curveball, for example, have 107% and 23% more horizontal movement than average (the 19th and 72nd best, respectively, or roughly comparable to Jake Odorizzi’s cutter and Justin Verlander’s curveball). That’s not to say that he can pitch like either of them; it does show, however, that with a good pitching coach with an understanding of analytics, there may be some talent there that can be unleashed.
Wheeling and Dealing
More significantly, with the Rockies owner claiming a lack of roster flexibility due to payroll constraints, perhaps it’s possible that the Yankees could swing a deal for one of the Rockies players. While the Rockies likely will not trade either Trevor Story or Jon Gray, there are numerous players the Yankees could look to pry from the Rockies.
If Cashman is looking for additional catching depth and does not want to roll with Kyle Higashioka, for example, they could try rolling the dice that Tony Wolters’ below-average pitch-framing performance in 2019 (-9 framing runs) was a fluke, and that his 2016 and 2018 performances (+7, +8, respectively) represent his true ability more. Similarly, if the Rockies are gun-shy about Kyle Freeland and are looking to cut their losses, the Yankees may be able to get the lefty’s career back on track. While his Statcast measures and outlying metrics suggest he’s likely not as good as his 2018 season, he might be able to reinvent himself as a sinker/changeup pitcher, as his sinker actually had more vertical movement than Zack Britton’s (29.3 inches vs. 23.9 inches).
On the other end of the spectrum, the Yankees could gamble that Wade Davis’s weak 2019 was a result of the juiced ball and not the result of a decline, although his rising walk rate and falling strikeout rate the last three seasons would argue against that. Considering he would almost certainly not hit the 30 games finished required for his 2021 mutual option to turn into a player option, it would be a one-year experiment, and the Yankees might be able to “buy” a younger player with higher upside by taking on his contract in the same way that the Mets “bought” Edwin Diaz by taking on Robinson Cano.
Ultimately, likely none of this happens, and the three Rockies that donned the pinstripes for the first time in 2019 will be the only ones to put them on again them in 2020. Nonetheless, it’s a fun exercise, and a good way to get acquainted with some of the players we might not be completely familiar with, as they play in another league.
Because who knows? They just might be Yankees one day.