Uncertainty at shortstop is unfamiliar territory for the Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki held down the position for almost a decade, including a handful of seasons in which he was among the best position players in the sport. Colorado traded Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays midway through the 2015 campaign, but the Rockies had a highly regarded replacement waiting in the wings.
Trevor Story burst onto the big league scene with six home runs in his first four MLB games in April 2016. Essentially from that point forward, the position was his. Aside from a strikeout-fueled slump in his sophomore season, Story offered solid-to-plus production on both sides of the ball throughout his time in Denver. The most recent Colorado Opening Day shortstop not named 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. Story hit free agency. The club tagged him with a qualifying offer and has expressed some hope in a reunion, but there’s no indication that’s likely to happen. Assuming Story doesn’t return after the lockout, where could the Rockies go from here?
Unlike after Tulowitzki’s departure, Colorado wouldn’t appear to have a minor league replacement ready to step in. Only two of the top 10 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, Adael Amador, is 18 and has yet to advance to full season ball. So the Rockies will either need to move one of their current big leaguers up the defensive spectrum or replace Story externally.
- Brendan Rodgers — A former No. 3 overall draftee and top prospect, Rodgers has appeared in the big leagues in three consecutive seasons but finally got his first extended MLB run last year. He held his own, hitting .284/.328/.470 across 415 plate appearances, starting a bit more than half the team’s games in the middle infield. The bulk of Rodgers’ work came at second base, and while that was partially in deference to Story, it also seems the club believes him better suited for the keystone. In November, Thomas Harding of MLB.com wrote that the front office’s “preferred plan is to keep Rodgers … at second base.”
- Ryan McMahon — McMahon is coming off a very nice season. He hit a capable .254/.331/.449 over 596 trips to the plate. More impressively, the 27-year-old rated as a Gold Glove-caliber defender during a season split between second and third base. After the season, general manager Bill Schmidt expressed his belief McMahon could handle the rigors of regular shortstop duty. That’s not without risks, though. The California native moved to third base in high school and has never started a professional game — MLB or minor league — at shortstop. And while moving McMahon might effectively plug a hole at shortstop, it’d leave the team searching for third base help (perhaps explaining their interest in Kris Bryant?).
- Garrett Hampson — If Rodgers and McMahon stay put at second and third base, respectively, that’d seemingly leave Hampson as the favorite for shortstop playing time among internal candidates. The speedster has bounced all around the diamond as a big leaguer. He was a primary middle infielder coming up through the minors, though, and he’d likely be a capable if unspectacular option defensively. The bigger question may be whether the Rockies are content to live with Hampson’s bat in the lineup regularly. Despite playing his home games at altitude, the 27-year-old is a .240/.298/.383 hitter in a bit more than 1,000 career plate appearances.
- Alan Trejo — Trejo is the least experienced of the bunch, with only 28 big league games under his belt. The 25-year-old is probably better-suited for a utility role than the regular shortstop job. He has a decent minor league track record but has never appeared on an organizational ranking at BA.
Aside from Story and Carlos Correa, free agency doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions at this point. Andrelton Simmons is still an elite defender but coming off a miserable season at the plate. José Iglesias had a decent offensive showing but ran into uncharacteristic troubles with the glove. While Jonathan Villar can still moonlight at shortstop, he’s probably better-suited for second/third base duty.
There are a few shortstops who might be available in trade. The D-backs would surely listen to offers on Nick Ahmed. The Phillies might find an upgrade over Didi Gregorius. The A’s are likely to try to find a taker for Elvis Andrus. All three players will make fairly notable salaries in 2022, though, and none are definitive improvements over Colorado’s internal options.
The Rockies could act more aggressively in an attempt to land a younger, affordable player from teams with greater infield depth (i.e. the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi or the Rays’ Taylor Walls). But that would require parting with young talent from a farm system that Baseball America placed among the league’s bottom five in August. Coming off a 74-87 season, that’s probably not the most advisable course of action either.
Figuring out shortstop has likely been a point of emphasis this winter for Schmidt and his staff. Whether they elect to rely on an internal option without much MLB experience at the position or look outside the organization for help, it’s hard to envision a scenario where they enter 2022 as confident in their shortstop group as they’ve been for quite some time.