For the seventh straight season and the 19th time in the last 21 seasons, the Colorado Rockies will not being going to the playoffs this year. They’re still mathematically alive, but with an eight-game deficit in the wild-card race and only 14 games to play, their fate is all but sealed.

Despite another postseason-less year, the Rockies seem to be heading in the right direction. They have a bona fide MVP candidate in Nolan Arenado , a dynamite middle infield duo in DJ LeMahieu and Trevor Story , the underrated Charlie Blackmon , and some young pitching. Jon Gray stuck out 16 on Saturday and others like Tyler Anderson and Jeff Hoffman look mighty promising too.

The big question the Rockies are facing now is the future of Carlos Gonzalez , their second-longest tenured player behind Jorge De La Rosa and a middle of the lineup fixture for the better part of a decade. CarGo is hitting .298/.348/.517 (112 OPS+) with 38 doubles and 25 homers this season. It’s his sixth season of 20-plus home runs in the last seven years.

The soon-to-be 31-year-old Gonzalez has only one year remaining on his contract. The Rockies owe him $20 million in 2017, and after that, he’ll become a free agent for the first time in his career. Colorado has to soon figure out what to do with him going forward. They have three options.

1. Let him leave as a free agent

usatsi9400259.jpgWhat will the Rockies do with Carlos Gonzalez before he becomes a free agent? USATSI

This is probably the least appealing option. The Rockies can make Gonzalez the qualifying offer after next season and receive a draft pick should he sign elsewhere as a free agent — that assumes the upcoming collective bargaining agreement doesn’t wipe out the qualifying offer system — so they wouldn’t be letting him walk for nothing. But still, a supplemental first-round pick isn’t that great. You’d like to get more in return, if at all possible.

2. Trade him

CarGo has been a mainstay in trade rumors over the years. Every trade deadline and every offseason we hear about him possibly being on the market. Earlier this year it was reported Gonzalez, who does not have any no-trade protection, would be open to a deal, though that was later shot down. With the Rockies trading Troy Tulowitzki last year, it stands to reason they wouldn’t hesitate to deal CarGo either.

It’s difficult to gauge Gonzalez’s trade value the same way it was difficult to gauge Tulowitzki. Like Tulowitzki, CarGo is very productive but has had some injury problems over the years, plus there are questions about exactly how much he’ll hit outside Coors Field. Check it out:

2014-16 at home715.315/.367/.6094747
2014-16 on road751.237/.290/.4173129

Pretty huge difference there, huh? I don’t think you can point to Gonzalez’s road numbers and assume that’s the real him. It’s not that simple. After all, there are three big-time pitcher’s parks in the NL West that he visits frequently, though there’s no doubt his offensive numbers have been inflated by the thin mountain air over the last few years.

The real CarGo is somewhere in the middle of his home and road numbers and that mystery is going to scare teams. We have no idea how much he will produce in a full season at sea level. That’s going to come into play during trade talks. Even if clubs are supremely confident Gonzalez will hit outside Coors Field, they’re going to use his home/road splits to try to get the Rockies to drop their asking price.

3. Sign him to an extension

Because of his Coors Field numbers and the fact he’s a fan favorite in Colorado, it’s entirely possible Gonzalez is most valuable to the Rockies as a player on their roster than as a trade chip. Signing him to an extension beyond 2017 is certainly worth exploring. It costs nothing to listen, after all.

For what it’s worth, in a recent mailbag column Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post said he asked CarGo about the possibility of signing an extension with the Rockies. Here’s what Saunders had to say:

Tony, I asked CarGo that question just last week in the wake of reports that the Rockies had reached out to Gonzalez to begin extension talks. CarGo denied it and told me he still would like to look as his options as a free agent.

Having said that, I think Gonzalez genuinely likes playing in Colorado and he’s excited about the young talent the Rockies have on their roster. Could that persuade him to re-up with Colorado? Yes. But it also would not shock me to see him get traded this winter.

Gonzalez already took one team friendly long-term contract to remain with the Rockies, so I don’t begrudge him for wanting to see what free agency has to offer. Next offseason will almost certainly be his last chance to score a big contract, after all.

The upcoming free agent class is pretty deep with outfielders and that will help set the market for Gonzalez next offseason. Jose Bautista and Yoenis Cespedes are the big names this winter, plus others like Ian Desmond , Michael Saunders , Dexter Fowler , Carlos Beltran , and Mark Trumbo will be on the market as well. Those players will give us (and the Rockies) and idea of what it’ll cost to keep CarGo long-term.

For the first time in a long time, the Rockies look like a team on the rise. They have a legitimate franchise cornerstone player in Arenado, some promising young pitching, and they’re strong up the middle with LeMahieu, Story, and Blackmon. The ingredients for the next postseason-bound Rockies team are in place.

Will CarGo be part of that next contending Rockies team? It’s very possible. Keeping him on a long-term contract could be the best move going forward if the trade offers aren’t enticing. Gonzalez is a legitimate middle-of-the-order thumper who is not yet at the age where you worry about a drastic age-related decline. The clock is ticking though. His impending free agency means the Rockies will have to make a decision about his future sooner rather than later.

Source: CBS Sports / The Rockies will soon have to make a decision about Carlos Gonzalez’s future