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Colorado Rockies are Finally Rebuilding, But Which Outfielder Will They Trade First?

When outfielder Carlos Gonzalez landed with the Colorado Rockies in time for the 2009 season, the organization had a grand vision for the future. He and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki would be the team’s cornerstone players on their way to being frequent postseason participants.

They reached October in 2009, but ran into the Philadelphia Phillies, who bounced them from the NLDS. Even though 2010 didn’t include the postseason, Colorado at least mustered an 83-79 record.

Since then, nothing has gone according to plan. In the midst of what became the organization’s fifth consecutive losing season in 2015, the front office finally did what many times was deemed unthinkable: they traded Tulowitzki for Jose Reyes and a bunch of pitching prospects (Jeff HoffmanMiguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco).

Finally, after years of resisting what really was inevitable, Colorado started the process of rebuilding by infusing some minor league talent into its farm system.

With Spring Training right around the corner, the Rockies are reportedly interested in trading one of their three outfielders: Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson and/or Charlie Blackmon. And they should be – if they’re fully committed to putting a winning team on the field in the long run, they can’t go halfway with this.

Judging from how the free agent market has panned out so far, the Rockies could have a tough time finding trade partners after waiting longer than necessary to pull the trigger on this rebuild.

The future is in safe hands with Nolan Arenado as the only untouchable player (although I’d be cool with keeping DJ LeMahieu with him, as well). So, making players like Dickerson and Blackmon available shouldn’t be too surprising. However, Colorado may end up holding onto both of them once the 2016 regular season starts.

They’re interesting trade candidates considering their current situations: both are under team control for at least the next three years and have shown they can produce at a high level with the bat. With those things in mind, it may be hard for Colorado to get another interested team willing to pay a steep price, especially since they come with some red flags.

Dickerson has put up big numbers over the past two seasons, but is fresh off an injury-plagued 2015 in which he only appeared in 65 games. He’s spent parts of three seasons in the majors, so showing he’s healthy and productive over the course of a 162-game schedule again in 2016 will help justify what Colorado wants in return.

Blackmon has posted All-Star caliber numbers over the past two years (he was one in 2014) and has stolen more than 70 bases during that time. Similar to Dickerson, he has a small sample size, which could make teams hesitant in giving up a bunch of top prospects.

But why wouldn’t they, right? With skyrocketing contracts in free agency these days, it’d behoove teams to jump on either one of these two while they’re still incredibly affordable.

Well, it’s partly because of the Coors Field effect.

Players on the Rockies will always perform better at home than on the road – that’s just a fact of life when their home park is one of the most hitter-friendly venues in baseball. This falls in line with what Dickerson (.355/.410/.675 at home, .249/.286/.410 on the road) and Blackmon (.334/.386/.501 at home, .241/.283/.370 on the road) have done thus far in their young careers.

However, those splits are so extreme (more Blackmon than Dickerson) that teams have to wonder whether they’ll be able to adjust in an entirely new environment. It’s probably best for Colorado to retain both for the time being. By next winter, they’d still have at least two years of team control left, which should still make them hot commodities if they continue performing at a high level and stay healthy.

The best time to deal them could be at the non-waiver trade deadline, when opposing teams must think quickly and could be more apt to let go of bigger prospect packages in an effort to make the playoffs.

With all that said, the best offseason trade chip Colorado is currently in control of is Tulo’s old cornerstone mate, Cargo. Some may say the Rockies should’ve cashed in on a ridiculous month of July Gonzalez had last season, but he’s still an ideal “win-now” candidate for potential contenders.

The Hot Stove has produced quite a few big-money free agent deals this winter, but there’s still plenty of player movement to happen. Top players like Chris Davis Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon (and even Ian Desmond, to a degree), are still looking for new homes.

The longer they stay on the open market, the lower their asking price may become, but it could take a while for deals to form. After all, Cespedes’ market is just now starting to take shape, with a number of others still in the dark at the moment.

It doesn’t really matter what the prices of these free agents drop to because they won’t come as cheap as Gonzalez does. He played in a career-high 153 games last season (his most since 2010), while posting a .271/.325/.540 triple slash with 40 homers (another career-high) and 97 RBI. That all was made possible after he shook off a rough start and finished 2015 with a .975 OPS following the All-Star break.

Best of all? He’d be a multi-year commitment – which would justify giving up noteworthy prospects – but only to the tune of two years and $37 million. That’s not exactly cheap, but when current free agents are looking for 5-7 years and $100-plus million, it’s not so bad. Especially with a less-than-inspiring free agent market set to be available next offseason.

While the financial commitment isn’t nearly as high as other available sluggers, there’s still some more risk involved than normal.

The Rockies are looking for prospects (mostly pitchers) and a lot of them. Although Cargo is a great player and has a more proven track record than his fellow outfielders, some teams may hesitate to give up a huge prospect haul for the 30-year-old.

He’s been rather injury-prone during his time in Colorado, playing in 130-plus games just three times in seven seasons. The Coors Field question will always be there, but one would assume he knows himself enough by now to make the necessary adjustments in a new setting.

What could make others scratch their heads is how badly he struggled against left-handed pitchers in 2015. Throughout his career, he’s performed decent in that situation, but dipped down to an abysmal .195/.222/.308 line in 159 at-bats last year. Is that an aberration? Judging from his entire body of work, it very well could be, but that’s another point of consideration for teams.

Gonzalez’s on-field ability shouldn’t come into question for those interested in acquiring him, but it’s the other factors that could prevent the Rockies from getting the kind of prospects they desire this winter.

Was it a mistake for Colorado to not trade him in July at the deadline in the midst of an insane hot streak? Possibly. However, given the rising cost of acquiring power in the MLB, there’s a team out there that will eventually take the risk – it’s just a matter of when, and it’ll likely be closer to spring training when other free agents are off the board. If not this winter, they should trade him away during 2016 if he follows up last season with more of the same production.

The opportunity to get peak value for Cargo may have passed, but the Rockies can still make decent progress in their rebuild by dealing him sooner rather than later and receiving more prospects to further infuse the farm system. Even if they’re not the top quality ones they’d really like to get.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter so we can get through a winter without baseball together: @mmusico8.