This is the second in a series of under-the-radar options for the Red Sox to target in trade talks this offseason. We’re looking for players whose teams may be looking to unload for various reasons, and for whom the Red Sox won’t need to empty the farm system to acquire. This week’s target is Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Germán Márquez.
Try to guess the player (yes, whose name is in the title of this article): Over the 30-year existence of his franchise, this pitcher has two of the top ten single-seasons in ERA, two of the top three seasons in WHIP, the single-season record for most strikeouts, highest K/9, and lowest BB/9, and who once has led the entire National League in Innings Pitched and was an all-star as recently as 2021. He hasn’t missed a start due to injury since 2019 and is entering his 28-year-old season with one year remaining on his contract ($15M), with a club option for a second year ($16M).
If this was the ace of any other franchise, he would be a coveted trade target, requiring a return of multiple top prospects and, thereafter, would probably be offered a long-term deal. However, we’re talking about the ace of the Colorado Rockies, and it’s always complicated when it comes to Rockies pitchers. The player is Germán Márquez and his accomplishments over the 30-year history of the team do not get the deserved recognition because they occurred at the high altitude that is Coors Field. Marquez has a career 4.41 ERA and is coming off a down year in which he allowed the highest ERA, most home runs, and lowest strikeout rate of his six-year career.
In The Air Tonight:
To determine how Márquez would look outside of Colorado, the obvious question to ask is “How does he fare away from Coors Field?” The answer is, of course, much better!
Over his six-year career, Márquez has a 3.77 road ERA and allows a .235/.295/.404 slash line, compared to a 5.08 and .278/.332/.458 \ at home. In 2022, the difference in his splits bordered on outrageous.
Márquez allowed three and a quarter runs per game more at home this past season, and nearly a half-baserunner more per inning. Batters hit .317 against him at Coors Field and .204 on the road. As mentioned earlier, Márquez had arguably his worst season as a pro in 2022, but isolating only his away numbers, his 3.43 road ERA in 2022 was actually better than his 3.77 career road ERA.
The Next Chapter, After Coors Field:
For obvious reasons, the Rockies have had their struggles enticing pitchers over the years. It’s difficult for them to sign free agents, with the overpay of Mike Hampton (8-years, $121 million) resulting in one of the great free agent busts of all time. It’s difficult for to retain pitchers once they reach free agency, such as Jon Gray who ran for the hills once he reached free agency last November. It is even difficult to evaluate pitching prospects who pitch at Triple-A Albuquerque, part of the Pacific Coast League, where the stats look like the entire league plays at Coors Field, or the moon. Former Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis, a good friend of Dustin Pedroia, was quoted in the Denver Post as saying, “I always got the sense that no pitchers wanted to come to Denver. Once I left Colorado, I talked with other players and a lot of guys dreaded that one weekend they had to pitch at Coors Field. And they sure didn’t want to have a career there.”
So, how do pitchers fare once they finally get out of Coors? There has been plenty of research on how much of a bump hitters get at Coors, as we debate things like “Is Larry Walker a Hall of Famer?”, or “Will Nolan Arenado nosedive in St. Louis?” But from the pitching perspective, the topic just hasn’t had the same juice. I pulled a list of all Rockies pitchers from the previous ten seasons and, in doing so, found a hodgepodge of former Cy Young contenders who ended their career there, such as Jamie Moyer in 2012 at the age of 49(!!!), as well as Roy Oswalt in 2013 at 35 years old. Coors Field: where good pitchers go to die.
In those ten years (2012-2021), I filtered down to those who had a minimum of 8 starts with Colorado and then pitched elsewhere in the next season (2013-2022) to see how much improvement there was. That left us with 11 pitchers, an illustrious list of Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francis, Franklin Morales, Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, Brett Anderson, Jorge De La Rosa, Eddie Butler, Tyler Chatwood, Jon Gray, and Chi Chi Gonzalez. You can see the individual results here:
(Note: Jeremy Guthrie pitched the first half of 2012 for Colorado and the second half for Kansas City. To stay consistent, I only used his 2013 Kansas City stats for this comparison. However, his 6.35 Colorado ERA in 15 starts vs. 3.16 Kansas City ERA in 14 starts in 2012 might just be the perfect example.)
Taking the cumulative stats of the 11 pitchers and averaging them together (to account for varying innings counts), the pitchers had an improvement the following season of 1.33 ERA, 0.149 WHIP, 1.22 H/9, and 0.48 HR/9. Walks and strikeouts were fairly negligible, with strikeouts actually ticking down a bit in the new venue. Only two of the 11 starters, Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson, failed to show improvement after they left with Coors, with Anderson’s short 43-inning sample in 2014 for Colorado narrowly outperforming the 180 innings he threw with the Dodgers the year after.
Marquez and the Future of the Rockies:
By taking Márquez’s career Coors Field numbers and averaging them with anything close to the kind of improvements that have occurred for departing pitchers in the past, you don’t have to squint to see a number two starting pitcher — or better. Sure, Marquez has never pitched in the AL East, but playing 76 games against the Dodgers, Padres, Giants, and Diamondbacks in the NL West hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk over the past seven years.
Márquez’s batted ball data in 2022 was not good. While Colorado pitchers are rarely in good standing in these metrics, Marquez fell from the middle of the pack to the bottom 10th percentile in Average Exit Velocity and Hard Hit%. He fell from 86th to 52nd percentile in barrel rate. The fastball velocity stayed consistent though, right around the 95 MPH that he’s always thrown, suggesting that one of the most durable pitchers in the league was not pitching through an injury.
After finishing 68-94 in 2022, the Rockies’ competitive window will not start in 2023, no matter what their management may tell you. They have not been interested to listen to deals for their young pitcher in years past, but with one guaranteed year remaining, I would expect them to be more willing this offseason. It’s possible that, coming off a subpar season, the team would move Márquez and his $15-million salary for lesser prospects just to get his money off the books and sign some players that might help in 2024 and beyond. Might they take on $4-5 million of his salary in return for a decent prospect or two? How many home runs would Bobby Dalbec hit in Coors Field if he could start making contact again?
The Fit in Boston:
Looking at the guaranteed contracts in the Red Sox rotation right now, the word that comes to mind is “risk”. Chris Sale has thrown less than 50 innings combined since 2019 and cannot be relied upon until we see him succeed again for an extended stretch. Garrett Whitlock seems likely to move to the rotation, but he also has not been a consistent starter since 2019, with his first attempt this year being unsuccessful due to both injury and bullpen-need. Brayan Bello finished the season strong despite a 153-inning combined minors and majors workload, but with only 11 career major league starts under his belt, he is far from a sure thing. The only reliable “every fifth-day” starter under contract is Nick Pivetta, and with a 5.02 career ERA entering his age-30 season, he should be considered a #4 or #5 starter at this point.
The team needs two reliable starters to enter the season with six arms for five spots. Qualifying offers to Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha are an option, but, with only a fourth-round pick for compensation due to luxury tax penalties, the offers should only be extended if the team believes they are worth $19.65-million for one year.
I wholeheartedly believe that a number one starter is the most important priority after the Devers and Bogaerts efforts. Beyond that, it’s a toss-up of the best path toward finding an additional starting pitcher arm. Chaim Bloom seems to like the lottery ticket approach for one starter, with Garrett Richards being a minor fail in 2021 and James Paxton being a complete fail in 2022. If Márquez pitches well here next season, the $16-million 2024 option would be a no-brainer and 20% less than a qualifying offer. As someone who has always selfishly wondered what Germán Márquez would look like outside of Coors, I think he would be the perfect under-the-radar pitching target as the Red Sox number two starter in 2023.