You must know by now, since we mention it a couple times a week, that the Rockies need to look outside the system for a center fielder this offseason. The franchise is loaded in the infield, has options at the outfield corners, has a not-awful pair of catchers, and its next wave of prospects are mostly pitchers. However, they don't have anybody who can play center field any better than Cory Sullivan, who has been measured for two years and been found wanting. With an operational understanding that under this management regime there is no chance in hell the Rockies will land a Carlos Beltran, Andruw Jones, or Torii Hunter, could the team do a lot worse than veteran Dave Roberts, whose agent is now in "serious" discussions with Dealin' Dan O'Dowd?
I'm usually of the strong opinion that for a team as cash-poor as Colorado, the signings of role-playing free agent veterans in their decline phase is a waste of resources. The last major outfield signing the team brought in, Dustan Mohr, was a huge waste of both money and playing time. My initial knee-jerk reaction to reading the news about Roberts was to try and find an argument against it, since that's my default stance for pretty much any player over 30 with whom the Rockies' name is mentioned in conjunction. In this case, though, I am hard-pressed to find many objections against a reasonably-structured deal with Roberts. He's 35, which is old but not too old, and this instance it kind of works in our favor since Colorado is unlikely to offer him anything beyond a two-year deal. He's a little undervalued since he hasn't quite played full-time the last few seasons and mostly in pitchers' parks besides. He has also played a lot of left field, where his power numbers are unacceptable, but that's not to say he can't play center anymore. It just happens that the Padres had a guy who was both a better defensive centerfielder and a power hitter in Mike Cameron last year. Colorado will get power from left, right, third, and (hopefully) first, so that's less of a concern here.
What is a concern is Roberts' defense. Coors Field is not a friendly place for any flavor of outfielder. Any objective observation of Sullivan's play last year could not have come to any other conclusion than that Cory was at least above average and perhaps even a Gold Glove-level performer in center. However, most modern defensive metrics rate Sullivan at a tick above replacement level at best. That is what those 400-foot alleys will do to a guy. Whether you favor the opinions of the scouts or the statheads, Roberts isn't a good glove in center by anyone's estimation. How much does it matter? Well, refer to what I wrote above re: the Rockies and the Carlos Beltrans of the world. Not here, not now. Genuine two-way centerfielders are about as common as flamethrowing lefty starters, and equally as expensive. The Rockies tried going the all-glove, no-hit approach last season and it didn't get them anywhere. Roberts can get on base, something Sullivan was almost pathologically incapable at, and at the very least he knows the layout of the parks in the NL West. This is no small thing in the division of Coors and its fierce baseball-eating scoreboard, Death Valley in right-center in San Francisco, and Triple Town in right in San Diego. With the Rockies' largely groundball-oriented pitching staff, I think giving up some defense in order to get some OBP and speed injected into the top of the lineup would be a net positive. Of course Roberts is bumping right up against the point where many players who play speed-based games lose a step and completely fall off a cliff. For something like two years, $7 million that's an acceptable risk. I think Coco Crisp would be better, but why not both?
This post was brought to you by ESPN's all-LeBron-commercial SportsCenter. I can't remember the last time I watched TV while completely ignoring the scheduled programming and perking up for the advertisements. Must have been the Super Bowl.