Pitching injuries defined the Rockies’ 103-loss 2023 season, as the team had a seemingly endless string of hurlers missing time with both minor and major ailments. The top of the rotation was hit particularly hard, with German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela both undergoing Tommy John surgeries that will stretch their time on the injured list into 2024.
Rockies GM Bill Schmidt provided some updates (to Patrick Lyons and other reporters) on the two right-handers at the team’s Fan Fest event this weekend. The club is hopeful Marquez can return sometime after the All-Star break, which fits the normal TJ recovery timeline given that Marquez underwent his procedure last May.
Unfortunately, that same timeline puts Senzatela’s entire 2024 season in doubt. Senzatela had his surgery in July, and thus Schmidt doesn’t “anticipate [him] up here” on Colorado’s active roster. If all goes well, Senzatela will be able to pitch for the Rockies’ Triple-A team near the end of the minor league season, with an eye towards the righty banking some innings and gaining some peace of mind ahead of a more normal offseason.
Colorado has invested heavily in both pitchers as part of its eternal search for rotation stability. Marquez signed a five-year, $43MM extension that covered the 2019-23 seasons, and also included a $16MM club option for 2024. Rather than buy out that option for $2.5MM in the wake of Marquez’s TJ surgery, the Rox instead worked out a new two-year extension that will pay Marquez $20MM over the next two seasons, with another $10MM available in bonuses based on roster time and innings pitched.
Senzatela inked a five-year, $50.5MM extension in October 2021 that also included a club option ($14MM in 2027). Senzatela was already under arbitration control through 2023, so had that deal not been signed, the righty might’ve been in free agency right now and facing an uncertain near future as he recovered from his surgery. The Rockies haven’t gotten much return on their investment since Senzatela has thrown only 100 innings over the last two seasons — his 2022 campaign was also cut short by a torn ACL.
Since it remains to be seen how much Marquez or Senzatela will factor into the 2024 season, the Rockies face an even greater pressure to fill innings. The Rox signed Dakota Hudson and acquired Cal Quantrill in a trade with the Guardians, but they’ll also be relying on in-house options to contribute, none moreso than de facto staff ace Kyle Freeland. However, it has been some time since Freeland has looked like a true frontline pitcher — after finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2018, the southpaw has battled injuries while posting a 4.96 ERA over 626 innings from 2019-23.
That includes a 5.03 ERA in 155 2/3 frames last season, as Freeland missed time with a separated shoulder and then an oblique strain that ultimately ended his season. The good news is that Freeland is now feeling recovered from more than just his 2023 injury woes.
“I told [manager Bud Black] and a couple of our other coaches how my arm and my body really hasn’t felt this good since 2021,” Freeland told reporters at Fan Fest, including Luke Zahlmann of the Denver Gazette. “It’s very exciting for me. We discussed my velocity last year, and one thing I really tried to work on this offseason is trying to get that back — doing stuff for my shoulder and stuff like that to make sure that I’m as healthy as possible going into camp.”
Kris Bryant is looking to avoid the injured list and tally his first full season in a Colorado uniform. Since signing his seven-year, $182MM contract during the 2021-22 offseason, Bryant has played in just 122 of 324 games due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, a bruised left heel, and a fractured finger.
“I feel fortunate that I’m healthy right now and the offseason has been great,” Bryant told the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders. In terms of his frustration over the last two seasons, Bryant said that “when I’m not performing to my standard it eats at me….When you play this game this long, certain things are going to happen, but I know that there are much better days ahead in my future.”
It remains to be seen if Bryant can ever regain his old MVP form, and while Bryant’s numbers haven’t been good over the last two years, the injuries provide a natural context for his struggles. Bryant hit .306/.376/.475 over 181 plate appearances in 2022, but then only .233/.313/.367 in 335 PA last season. Looking ahead to 2024, the Rockies intend to use Bryant primarily as a first baseman in order to help keep him healthy, but he’ll also get some work as a DH and right fielder. Bryant might possibly also see the odd game in left field when a left-hander is on the mound, but Nolan Jones is slated to take the bulk of work as Colorado’s regular left fielder.