Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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In Shocking Move, the Rockies Non-Tender David Dahl

Wednesday’s non-tender deadline saw the Rockies make a puzzling move as they let go of 2019 All-Star David Dahl. Catcher Tony Wolters and right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez were also not tendered contracts, though these moves were somewhat expected.

Across the league, teams have been looking to slash payroll where they can, so some surprises were bound to be linked with Wednesday’s deadline. However, that doesn’t make the Rockies decision any less baffling.

Jeff Bridich, in a rare media appearance following the decision, suggested, “there’s a good number of outfielders we have currently on the roster we hope to get playing time.” Specifically, in Dahl’s case, “there’s financial reasons and then there’s a health part of it, too.”

Understandably so, the Rockies viewed Dahl’s health as too big of a concern. Where it remains head-scratching is that Dahl was projected to make just over $2.5 million in his first bout with arbitration. Was David Dahl really not worth keeping around at that price?

The short answer: not really. Dahl was certainly on the non-tender radar because he was coming off yet another injury-riddled season, though many believed Jon Gray and his estimated $6 million salary was a more likely candidate. The issue to take with Dahl’s non-tendering is the ceiling he brings to a roster year in, year out.

Dahl was taken 10th overall in the 2012 draft as a potential 5-tool center fielder. The Birmingham-born ballplayer lived up to that billing – when healthy. In 1648 minor league plate appearances, Dahl posted an .859 OPS, though he only managed 1 fully healthy season outside of the shortened post-draft MiLB stint. Dahl, in historical fashion, debuted in 2016, getting a hit in his first 17 career games, tying the all-time record he now shares with former Red, Chuck Aleno, who set the bar in 1941.

Unfortunately, injuries continued to hamper Dahl. He suffered an uncommon stress fracture in his rib during 2017 spring training that kept him from swinging. The freak injury lingered with the outfielder for over a year, causing him to miss the entire 2017 season.

Being a tooled-up player or a really technically skilled player doesn’t matter if you can’t stay on the field. So for that reason, it can be understood why the Rockies let go of David Dahl. For every other reason, it does not.

Despite Dahl’s oft unavailability, he ranked 6th among Rockies hitters in fWAR since his debut and was 4th among current Rockies. In 2018 and 2019 his WAR per 500 PAs was 1.8 and 1.7. Though it’s somewhat contradictory to point out what Dahl could do in a full season after bringing up his injury concerns, it shows that Dahl was the Rockies 4th best offensive player. Looking at what Dahl can do contextualizes this move for the Rockies and why it follows the recent organizational precedent of making moves that lack sound reason.

The Rockies are a cellar-dwelling team and will hold a top-10 pick for the 2nd year in a row. Meanwhile, team owner, Dick Monfort penned a letter to season ticket owners pointing to the “uncertainty” this offseason, alluding to a tight payroll. On top of it all, the Rockies had a franchise-worst 76 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) and .716 OPS.

What’s Next for the Outfield?

Without Dahl, the Rockies outfield consists of Charlie Blackmon, Raimel Tapia, Ian Desmond, and Sam Hilliard with Garrett Hampson and Yonathan Daza also in the mix. That group doesn’t offer much promise. Blackmon is a quality hitter but subpar defender in the expansive Coors Field. Tapia is inconsistent offensively and defensively, though worthy of regular playing time. Desmond, a veteran past his prime, has been worth -1.7 fWAR since signing a 5-year, $75 million contract in 2016. Hilliard has flashed promise as a player with tons of raw physical talent, but he struck out 36.8% of the time in 2020. Hampson, given his 99th percentile sprint speed, has flashed promise as a center fielder but his bat was a roller coaster in 2020. His Predictive Weighted on Base Average (pwOBA) was just 0.290. Daza has the ability to be a great defensive center fielder and he’s always had great bat-to-ball skills, given his career .318 minor league average, but he was unable to get any footing during a 100 plate appearance taste of the bigs in 2019.

Outside of Charlie Blackmon, that group has totaled -1.5 WAR in a Rockies uniform. Jeff Bridich seemed to suggest the team wasn’t considering making any significant additions to the outfield, a development that – if it holds true — simply compounds the confusion of this move.

ZiPs Projections foresee Charlie Blackmon worth 1.5 fWAR, Yonathan Daza worth 0.7, Garrett Hampson 0.5, Raimel Tapia 0.4, and Sam Hilliard -0.8. Meanwhile, Dahl is projected at 0.7 fWAR.

Other Moves and Outcomes

Catcher Tony Wolters, also non-tendered, has been Colorado’s main catcher since they claimed him from Cleveland prior to the 2016 season, totaling 1232 plate appearances. Wolters has a career 57 wRC+ along with defense that, outside of his above-average pop time, leaves some to be desired. Wolters may stick somewhere as a backup catcher but he’s better suited as organizational depth and a AAA starter. Serving as, Rockies ace, German Marquez’s main backstop has been one of Wolters’s more notable roles for Colorado. His management of the pitching staff, particularly of Marquez, may be missed.

In the wake of this move, Dom Nuñez, a former top 100 prospect, may get an increased opportunity as Colorado’s backstop along with Elias Diaz. Jose Briceno, originally signed by the Rockies before spending several seasons in the Braves and Angels systems, was signed to a minor league contract in early November and will also have a chance to earn a job with the Rockies.

Before being non-tendered, Chi Chi Gonzalez served as a swingman and, eventually, the Rockies 5th starter in 2020. In 19.2 innings, the former Rangers top prospect was shelled. A 6.86 ERA, 5.53 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), 5.61 xFIP paint a not so pretty picture.

The aforementioned Jon Gray was indeed tendered a contract, though the amount has not been announced yet. Gray is projected to receive about $6 million.

With the future of superstars Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story uncertain, it’s peculiar to not keep Dahl around and hope for a bounce back. Failing to surround the duo with the talent to make the playoffs could ultimately steer both towards departing next winter which would be catastrophic for the franchise.

Tyler Paddor

A proponent of prospect analysis and endurer of Rockies idiocy. Twitter: @RoxDontRake