Roster, payroll flexibility have Bridich optimistic

Roster, payroll flexibility have Bridich optimistic

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich embraces his task: Build upon the hiring of Bud Black as new manager and a 2016 season that saw Colorado remain relevant in the standings until the final month.

To do so, Bridich has a key element -- a payroll increase beyond the club-record $120.56 million the Rox spent in 2016. Bridich, heading into his third year as GM after the team went 75-87 under Walt Weiss in 2016, can address holes at first base and in the bullpen without feeling limited.

And the optimism with which Bridich attacks setting his 2017 roster is even higher than the payroll.

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"I do believe that there is a groundswell of internal belief here that is real," Bridich said. "Our next step in addition to that, or with that groundswell, is actually being consistent and being competitive for six-plus months of the season and being a winning organization."

The two areas of need are tangible areas to improve. Both showed up during a fade that saw the Rockies go 23-34 from Aug. 1.

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The bullpen finished the year with a Majors-worst 5.13 ERA that was 5.80 after Aug. 1. And although the Rockies' offense led the NL overall with a .794 on-base plus slugging percentage, their first basemen finished 10th at .751. A huge chunk of the issue at first was because Mark Reynolds (now a free agent) played in just 12 games after Aug. 1 because of two separate broken bones in his left hand.

"If we can add an impactful bat at first base -- we still have not solved the post-Todd Helton era, large shoes to fill -- that's certainly on our mind," Bridich said. "And how can we upgrade the bullpen? I don't think it's going to be a bullpen overhaul in our future, but we're going to be strategic."

The Rockies won't be unlimited in their spending. It's likely that the team's biggest payroll item will be Mets infielder Jose Reyes, whom the Rockies released last year. Much of the payroll increase will be arbitration-induced in the form of lefty reliever Jake McGee (fourth year of arbitration), NL batting champion DJ LeMahieu, righty starter Tyler Chatwood (third years), and star third baseman Nolan Arenado and center fielder Charlie Blackmon (second years).

But Bridich will be looking for smart ways to spend money to fill holes.

Black on young Rockies pitching

The GM said he isn't necessarily looking for an established closer -- with righty Adam Ottavino an attractive internal option -- but he is keeping an open mind. Much of the improvement will hinge on returns to health by McGee (left knee) and last year's free-agent signings, Jason Motte (shoulder) and Chad Qualls (colitis), as well as younger relievers such as Carlos Estevez improving from a year's experience.

Bridich said he has spoken to lefty Boone Logan, who had a solid 2016 after battling injury the previous two years, but Logan will be testing the free-agent market.

At first base, Bridich said he is not limiting the search to right-handed hitters, even though the roster -- especially the outfield -- is lefty dominant, since talent is more important than left-right balance.

Other areas to watch will be catcher and the bench. Veteran Nick Hundley is a free agent that Bridich is fond of, but he expressed comfort with 2016 rookies Tony Wolters, Tom Murphy and Dustin Garneau. Bridich also complimented the contributions of two other free agents -- lefty-hitting utility man Daniel Descalso and righty outfielder Ryan Raburn -- but whether they'll be re-signed is uncertain.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.