DENVER — The fresh signing of left-hander Kyle Freeland to a five-year, $64.5 million guarantee with a vesting player option on Tuesday was the Rockies’ latest ingredient in their return to an old formula.
Freeland is the latest signing under new general manager Bill Schmidt, who has run the team since last May. Righty Germán Márquez signed his current five-year deal (with a club option) under previous GM Jeff Bridich, and since the end of last season Schmidt has extended Antonio Senzatela (five years, club option) and Freeland for the rotation.
Extensions for first baseman C.J. Cron and catcher Elias Díaz happened at the end of last season. The extensions and the seven-year, $182 million move for former National League MVP Kris Bryant (and more modest deals for shortstop José Iglesias, reliever Alex Colomé and pitcher Chad Kuhl) were instrumental in convincing third baseman Ryan McMahon to accept a five-year extension. Freeland’s deal, especially after the Rangers outbid the Rockies for pitcher Jon Gray during the offseason, further signaled that players were going for the Rockies’ plan to keep them all together.
But let’s go back a few years.
Dan O’Dowd became GM in 2000. As assistant GM in Cleveland, he was credited with the plan that secured young players under multi-year deals and led to a World Series appearance in ’97. Schmidt was working for Cleveland at that time, and current Rockies manager Bud Black had just retired and was a special front-office assistant.
The Rockies under O’Dowd at first went hard into trades and free agency. But one move that worked was locking up first baseman Todd Helton for 11 years at a total of $151 million. From 2006-09, they signed starting pitchers Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Ubaldo Jiménez, reliever Manuel Corpas, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Brad Hawpe for $117 million guaranteed. Starter Jorge De La Rosa also would sign twice to avert free agency.
Under these deals, the Rockies had one of their most successful periods in their history – a World Series appearance in 2007, a postseason trip in ’09 and a ’10 season that saw them hang in contention until the final weeks. There are no guarantees. Cook and Francis had their highs but also their injuries, and the Rockies did not have a winning season from 2011 until they returned to the postseason in ’17. But for an immediate period, the Rockies had their shot and came close to glory.
“It feels a lot like that,” said Rockies assistant GM Zack Rosenthal, who joined the club as an intern in player development in ’06 and watched the O’Dowd plan flourish. “I feel like there are more in a shorter period of time now. But it’s pretty similar in that those were guys that all came up together. Hopefully, we have the same kind of success they had, because they won quite a bit.”