The Rockies signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $10 million deal, one of those arbitration-avoidance specials that have become all the rage the past few years. It's little wonder when guys are getting $10 million for a single season in arbitration -- when they lose. Keenly Dan O'Dowd has managed to attach team options to the deal that could potentially keep Jimenez in Colorado past his first winter on the free agent market. If he can stay healthy. In the past, whenever the Rockies sign a young pitcher to a multiyear deal he has almost immediately gotten injured. Jimenez, who has inefficient mechanics and tends to react to adversity by throwing harder (which any veteran sinkerballer will tell you is pure foolishness), seems a good bet to hold true to form. If I had to quote odds, I would say the chances of his missing a half-season or more sometime during the length of this deal are rather more than 1 in 1. He'll definitely get hurt once, and he'll probably get hurt a second time.
Speaking of pitchers the Rockies extended who almost instantaneously become either ineffective or unable to pitch or both, Jeff Francis won't be able to make it for Opening Day this year. Oh well, little bother, neither will I. I decided to get rid of my Rockies tickets, which I've gotten every year since I moved to Colorado in 2005. I'm completely disgusted by the organization and their utter contempt for their fans. They didn't care enough to set it up so Rockies fans, instead of scalpers, would get the majority of the 2007 World Series tickets. The didn't even remotely make an effort of getting fair value, or in fact any value at all, for their perennial MVP candidate and face of the franchise. My '07 tickets came in a lovely embossed box with a useful tin and a wristwatch. My '08 seats, after the team had its best year ever and boosted season ticket sales hugely, came in a manila envelope with a cheap pin -- after they pushed me out of my aisle seat because somebody richer had sprung for a full-season plan. This organization doesn't deserve to succeed.
I'm not really fed up with just the Rockies, I think I'm just fed up with baseball. I've been watching a lot of basketball and even though my team (the Bulls) sucks out loud I feel like the NBA is delivering a vastly superior product to MLB right now. There are exciting players on nearly every team. Everybody is only one lucky draft pick or two lopsided trades away from contending. And the system is deliberately set up so that if a star player wants to bolt from the team he got his start with, he has to give up money to do so. LeBron James and Chris Bosh can flee Cleveland and Toronto if they want but they're going to have to sacrifice guaranteed years and guaranteed money to do so. I usually get both he MLB Extra Innings and the NBA League Pass cable packages but as part of my required belt-tightening this year I'm going to chuck the MLB. What's the point? The only five teams that matter are on ESPN constantly anyway. League Pass seems to present me with at least one and often two games I want to watch every night. Baseball? What's the point any more? To see the guys the Yankees are going to overpay in three years' time today? I don't want the Cubs to win any longer because it would make me, as an apostate, look pretty bad. And I know for a fact the Rockies aren't going to contend again so long as this ownership/management regime holds sway.
I do want to make a bit of a rational argument against the Rockies being any good this year, since I've read a few people chiding my pessimism in the comments. We've long since made the mental adjustment when it comes to individual Rockies players' stats, but sometimes we forget to correct for the team as a whole. Colorado was 8th in the National League in OPS last season. That's before any kind of park adjustment at all. So, with the assistance of the most skewed offense-creating stadium in the history of the major league game, they were able to be perfectly mediocre -- 8th of 16 teams. Looking to Baseball Prospectus's adjusted statistics, they don't take that much of a dip in pure rank -- they fall down to ninth going by VORP rather than OPS. But combine that with a pitching staff, last year ranked 14th in the league in VORP, that hasn't gotten any better, and the crippling loss of Matt Holliday and there's absolutely no two ways about it -- the 2009 Rockies are going to suck.
How good was Holliday last year? If you cut him in half down the middle, one half would have been the Rockies' best offensive player and the other would have been their second-best. People still have this weird idea that the Rockies have a good lineup because they play at Coors and they made it to the World Series, but it was pitching that drove the playoff run. Holliday at 61.7 VORP was the only excellent offensive player Colorado had; then you go down to Chris Iannetta, a very pleasant surprise at 30.3, Brad Hawpe, who still struggles against lefties, at 29.5, and then you plunge all the way down to Clint Barmes at 19.0. Sure, Willy Taveras (538 plate appearances for a sparkling 1.8 VORP) is gone and that's a boost in and of itself. But the fact of the matter is that to even be as good as they were last year (74 wins, in a terrible division) they're going to have to pull off an outright miracle to replace Holliday's production.
How on earth could that happen? Well, Dexter Fowler could pull a Freddy Lynn. O'Dowd might be able to find a taker for the rapidly diminishing Garrett Atkins so that Ian Stewart could play every day. Iannetta could get even better, although with a .390 OBP you'd have to think he's bumping up against his ceiling as it is. Troy Tulowitzki would have to have a big bounceback year offensively, although his numbers there from his rookie year weren't anything to write home about. They'd have to get a freaky, out-of-nowhere performance from somebody we haven't even considered yet.
Oh... and also Francis would have to come back quickly and be good, Aaron Cook would have to be as good or better than he was last year, the bullpen would have to not resemble an improperly dressed wound, Clint Hurdle would have to spontaneously develop the capacity for original thought, and absolutely nobody could get hurt. Oh, right, and Todd Helton has to decrease the rate of his ongoing decline dramatically.
Some of these things may happen. All of them will almost certainly not happen together. What's more, Colorado has had horrible Aprils three seasons in a row -- if they have yet another one and still don't fire anybody, my criticisms here will appear gentle. If O'Dowd goes, and I don't understand why he'd even want to stay in this horrible job when his owners fear success so much, a fire sale will probably follow, not that the Rockies really have a whole lot of assets to go around. It'd be cool to see Aaron Cook get to pitch in the playoffs for a real team after his missing out on the '07 run until it was literally all but over (he came back from injury to pitch Game 4 of the World Series). Taylor Buchholz is going to be pitching meaningful pressure innings somewhere eventually. Sadly, pretty much everybody the Rockies have to trade past Atkins would be perceived as a bench player or a platoon guy on one of those teams that tries to win.
I guess Huston Street's around. I keep forgetting about that. Even though Street is overrated and mostly coasting on name recognition by now, he's a player with a profile, and guys like that leave Denver, they don't come here. That's why I'm almost certain, nearly as certain as I am that the Rockies will lose 90 games this year, that Street will never throw a pitch in a Rockies uniform.
This may or may not be the last Bad Altitude post ever. If it is, you can read my ongoing TV and film writing (including my third year of "American Idol" handicapping) at this new page. Thanks to everybody who read, commented, e-mailed, and especially to Ken and the other Toaster-ers who gave me the opportunity to speak my mind.