Is 2017 Tyler Chatwood’s Goodbye With the Colorado Rockies?

The future looks bright for the Colorado Rockies and their young starting pitching staff. But is Tyler Chatwood going to be a part of it?

Tyler Chatwood has fewer than 100 MLB starts (and exactly 500 innings) under his belt. In some rotations, that would make him the youngster of the group. For the 2017 Colorado Rockies, that’s likely going to make him the grizzled veteran.

Colorado acquired Chatwood in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels during the 2011 offseason, and after starting out in the bullpen, he cracked the starting rotation in August of 2012. The next season, Chatwood went 8-5 with a sparkling 3.15 ERA. His last start of the year was his best, as he threw seven shutout innings at home against the Boston Red Sox.

The positive momentum from 2013 was short-lived though. Chatwood left an April start early after experiencing tightness in his pitching elbow, and in July he underwent Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him not just for the rest of that season, but all of 2015 as well.

Sep 28, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood (32) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

By the start of the 2016 season, the Rockies were hopeful Chatwood could contribute, but no one knew for sure what to expect from him.

If Chatwood was negatively affected by the layoff though, it didn’t show in his numbers last season. He set career highs in starts (27), innings pitched (158.0), and wins (12).

Heading in to the 2017 season, the Rockies have perhaps the deepest and most talented collection of starting pitching talent in franchise history. Between the breakout success of Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson and the promise of young prospects like Gonzalez Germen, Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland and Riley Pint, it’s easy to forget about the steady, if unspectacular, work that Chatwood has given Colorado.

This offseason, Chatwood is arbitration-eligible for the third and final time. MLBTradeRumors.com is projecting that he’ll earn $4.8M in 2017, a salary that’s more than fair for a mid-rotation kind of starting pitcher like Chatwood. After that, however, things get murky.

One of the most drastic changes in MLB over the last decade or so has been the disappearance of the star-studded free agency class. The number of franchise-altering players available on the open market seems to shrink every offseason, and at no position is this more clear than starting pitcher.

If your team is looking to bring in starting pitching help this offseason, your top option is probably Rich Hill. Hill is a good pitcher. He’s also a 37-year-old with 38 wins in 12 MLB seasons and a lengthy injury history. So what is that worth? Well, the early estimates put it around $50M over three seasons (about $16.7M per year).

That’s a problem if the Rockies are intent on keeping Chatwood. If an injury-plagued pitcher who’s closing in on 40 and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks less than two years ago can make that kind of money on the open market, what will a guy over a decade younger with a more consistent track record fetch? The short answer is a lot.

Big-market teams with deep pockets can afford to take risks on guys like Hill because one bad contract doesn’t prohibit their ability to make moves in the way it would for a team with less spending power. The Los Angeles Dodgers spent nearly $30M last season on known injury risks in Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy because they had the flexibility to make more moves when they eventually did get hurt.

This puts the Rockies in a tough spot. If Chatwood stays healthy and pitches the way he’s capable of, there’s a good chance he’ll be outside of Colorado’s price range by the end of 2017. If he gets hurt again, he’ll be cheaper, but the Rockies would have to be hesitant about investing in a guy with that many medical red flags.

If the Rockies were desperate for pitching options, there might be more incentive to make sure Chatwood stays in Colorado. But as we previously established, the franchise is flush with younger, cheaper pitching talent. Whether Hoffman or Germen is better than Chatwood isn’t really the point. If the two of them combined are making less in a season than Chatwood is making in a month, the Rockies will probably likely decide to go with the young duo.

Watching Chatwood pitch in another uniform in the 2018 season might be painful to think about for Rockies fans, especially if he can finally reach his potential next season. In the long run though, it’s probably best for all parties involved if this is Chatwood’s final season in Denver.

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