Chuck Nazty is staying home.
Charlie Blackmon and the Colorado Rockies have agreed on a six-year contract that will keep him with the Rockies through 2023 if Blackmon exercises two player options. The new deal replaces his 2018 contract, with Ken Rosenthal reporting the first four seasons valued at $75 million (including the previous 2018 salary of $12 million). The option years are $21 million for 2022 and $10 million for 2023 (with an additional $8 million in possible escalators).
Three immediate takeaways:
1. The Rockies lock up a valuable asset, although given that Blackmon turns 32 in July, he’s probably a center fielder only for 2018 and maybe 2019. Since 2000, only 10 players have played at least 100 games in center field at age 34 or older (and only Andres Torres in 2012 and Coco Crisp in 2014 since 2010).
2. It seem likely this past offseason free-agent market affected Blackmon’s willingness to test free agency. Given that the market was not kind to older players, that any Blackmon contract would be affected by a qualifying offer and the resulting draft-pick compensation, and that there may be concern about his ability to remain in center field (corner outfielders are less desirable), it’s understandable why he took the long-term contract from the Rockies.
3. I don’t think this should have any influence on the team’s ability to sign third baseman Nolan Arenado when he hits free agency after the 2019 season. If anything, signing Blackmon is good for the win column and that could help keep Arenado in Colorado. There’s enough money in the Rockies’ piggy bank to afford both.
Blackmon is a classic late bloomer who didn’t the reach the majors until he was nearly 25 and didn’t get a full-time shot in the lineup until he was 27. He has continued to improve, posting 4.5 WAR in 2016 and 6.0 WAR in 2018, when he finished fifth in the MVP voting. He’s off to a great start with four home runs on the road in the Rockies’ first five games.
I like his odds of aging well. He’s athletic, having once swiped 43 bases. He’s been durable, averaging 153 games in his four seasons as a regular. Like a lot of players these days, he has learned to lift the ball, which is why he ripped out 86 extra-base hits last season. His walk rate has steadily improved as well.
While he’s been adequate in center field (minus-5 defensive runs saved in 2017 and minus-15 over his career), the Rockies could move Blackmon to a corner slot in 2019 where he may be a plus defender. At some point, they have to see if Raimel Tapia can play and if David Dahl can ever get healthy.
There are always concerns over whether a Colorado player's numbers are inflated, but in Blackmon’s case, he’s been good on the road as well -- hitting .294/.351/.517 since 2016. Still, front-office executives may view his numbers with some skepticism.
The bigger-picture impact is whether the so-called greatest free-agent class ever will take notice and ink more deals while it can. Most players don’t like to negotiate during the season, so any such deals likely would come in the next week or two. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick just wrote about this class, and while what happened over this past winter has zero effect on Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Clayton Kershaw (if he opts out), it should make some of the older free agents think about what’s coming -- guys like Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Brian Dozier and Daniel Murphy. While Donaldson and McCutchen obviously will head into free agency, Jones and Dozier are interesting candidates to remain with their teams given their long histories with the Orioles and Twins.
Blackmon himself told Crasnick during spring training that he was “upset with how things went” in free agency this past offseason. “I'm a little let down by the outcome, and I'm still concerned about a lot of players who I feel are good players. And I think there's a disconnect in the market. I'm not sure why. I have my reasons and theories. I'm not going to tell you what they are."
Whatever the cause, one big free agent is off the board.