The Rockies’ options to replace Trevor Story

Shortstop uncertainty is uncharted territory for the Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki held the position for nearly a decade, including a handful of seasons where he was among the sport’s top players. Colorado traded Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays midway through the 2015 campaign, but they had a much-appreciated replacement waiting in the wings.

Trevor’s Story burst onto the big league scene with six homers in his first four MLB games in April 2016. Essentially from then on, the position was his. Aside from a strike-fueled slump in his second season, Story has offered solid production to more on both sides of the ball throughout his time in Denver. Colorado Opening Day’s latest shortstop isn’t called Tulowitzki or Story? Clint Barmes, in 2006.

For the first time in a long time, the Rox now have a real question mark at shortstop. The story hit free agency. The club marked him with a qualifying offer and expressed some hope in a reunion, but there is no indication that is likely to happen. Assuming Story doesn’t return post-lockdown, where could the Rockies go from here?

Unlike Tulowitzki’s departure, Colorado doesn’t appear to have a minor league replacement ready to step in. Only two of the top ten prospects in the farm system, according to Baseball America, are shortstops. One of them, Ezequiel Tovar, is 20 years old and finished the 2021 campaign in High-A. The other, Adaël Amador, is 18 and has yet to reach the full season prom. So the Rockies will either have to move one of their current big leaguers up the defensive spectrum or replace Story on the outside.

Internal options

  • Brendan Rodgers – Former No. 3 overall and top prospect, Rodgers appeared in the big leagues for three straight seasons but finally got his first extended run in MLB last year. He held his own, hitting .284/.328/.470 in 415 plate appearances, starting just over half of the team’s games in the middle of the infield. The bulk of Rodgers’ work has come at second base, and while that’s partly in deference to Story, it also appears the club thinks him better suited for the keystone. In November, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding wrote that the front office’s “preferred plan is to keep Rodgers…at second base.”
  • Ryan McMahon — McMahon has just had a very good season. He hit a capable .254/.331/.449 on 596 trips to the plate. More impressively, the 27-year-old ranked as a Gold Glove caliber defenseman in a season split between second and third base. After the season, general manager Bill Schmidt expressed his belief that McMahon could handle the rigors of a regular shortstop serve. It’s not without its risks, however. The California native moved to third base in high school and never started a professional game — MLB or minor league — at shortstop. And while McMahon’s move could effectively plug a hole at shortstop, it would leave the team looking for a third base assist (perhaps explaining their interest in Kris Bryant?).
  • Garrett Hampson –If Rodgers and McMahon stay at second and third base, respectively, that would seemingly leave Hampson as the favorite for shortstop playing time among inside candidates. The speedster bounced all around the diamond as a big leaguer. However, he was a primary midfielder through the minors, and would likely be a capable but unspectacular option defensively. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the Rockies are content to live with Hampson’s bat in the lineup on a regular basis. Despite playing his home games at altitude, the 27-year-old is a .240/.298/.383 hitter in just over 1,000 career plate appearances.
  • Alan Trejo – Trejo is the least experienced of the group, with just 28 league games to his name. The 25-year-old is probably better suited for a utility role than regular shortstop work. He has a decent record in the minor leagues, but has never made it to any organizational rankings at BA.

Free Agents

Apart from the story and Carlos Correa, free agency doesn’t offer many solutions at this point. Andrelton Simmons is still an elite defenseman but is coming off of a miserable season at the plate. Jose Iglesias had a decent offensive performance but encountered some unusual issues with the glove. While Jonathan Villar can still moonlight at shortstop, he’s probably best suited for second/third base serve.

Commercial candidates

There are a few shortstops that might be commercially available. The D-Backs would surely listen to offers on Nick Ahmed. The Phillies could find an upgrade on Didi Gregoire. The A’s are likely to try to find a taker for Elvis Andrus. All three players will earn pretty notable salaries in 2022, though, and none are a definite improvement over Colorado’s inside options.

The Rockies could move more aggressively to try to sign a younger, affordable player from teams with greater downfield depth (i.e. the Royals Adalberto Mondesi or Rays Taylor Walls). But that would require parting ways with young talent from a farming system that Baseball America placed in the league’s bottom five in August. After a 74-87 season, that’s probably not the most advisable course of action either.

Understanding the shortstop has likely been a focus this winter for Schmidt and his team. Whether they choose to rely on an in-house option without much MLB experience at the job or seek help outside the organization, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they enter 2022. as confident in their shortstop group as they have been for some time.

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