Monthly archives: November 2006
If It Doesn't Have Water in It, It's Not a River: Again Contemplating Arizona
I hate people who complain about the weather. When I was in college in the Bay Area, nothing made me more frothing-at-the-mouth mad than Southern Californians who would complain about the cold. I remember waiting for the bus as a junior high kid winters in Illinois where it would regularly hit like minus-40 with the wind chill. When you finally got inside from the cold, you could actually feel your face loosening. But I wouldn't complain then, and I'm not complaining now. For a person who actually enjoys the change of seasons and is subliminally unsettled by winters without snow, Colorado is actually a really nice place to live. The summers are very mild, it's sunny all the time, the air is clear, and it's pretty common to get a freak 70-degree day in the middle of winter, which I assure you does not happen in the midwest.
Still, this morning as I was trying to figure out where my hiking boots were so I could fight my way through two feet of snow to get to the 7-11 for staple items, I couldn't help thinking about spring training. It's not so far off! For several years running, my father and I have made the trip down to Arizona around the last week of March, when there are more games on the schedule and the stars play into the middle innings. As an added bonus, if the timing works out we often get to take in an exhibition game or two at Bank One Ballpark/Chase Field, home of the most expensive McDonald's in the U.S. Yes, even more than at airports. Why does an "extra value meal" taste better when it costs eleven dollars? I don't know, but it does.
So when I returned home with my staples (Diet Coke, corn chips, SweetTarts), visions of $6 Big Macs dancing in my head, I was mildly surprised to see today's one obligatory Post cursory Rockies article bearing the alarmist headline "Spring training in Tucson now concern for team." What does that mean exactly? Well, the White Sox are trying to move to Glendale, joining the Dodgers, Coyotes, and (football) Cardinals. On the whole, I am in favor of the whole plan for a new joint stadium for Chicago and Los Angeles in Glendale, which is one of the mass of central AZ municipalities arbitrarily given separate names (Glendale, Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Peoria, Surprise) even though they're all basically just metro Phoenix. The more teams in greater Phoenix, the more games Dad and I can jam into each action-packed late March trip. Plus having every NL West team in the Cactus League will be nice for scouting purposes. If the cost of yet still more Phoenix teams is no more spring baseball in Tucson, though, I'm against it.
Every team in the Cactus League plays in the Phoenix cluster except for the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and White Sox, who all play in Tucson, which is an actual separate distinct city about two hours and one creepy plane graveyard south of Phoetempmesurpeordale. I don't know, to tell you the truth, whether having only two teams in Tucson would be logistically unworkable or not. Traditionally, teams don't start travelling until a few weeks into the spring, scheduling various informal scrimmages with the other neighborhood teams until then. With more than fifty guys to a team on those early spring rosters, would playing nobody but other Rockies and Diamondbacks for a fortnight be the absolute end of the world? I get kind of bored seeing the Diamondbacks 18 times a year during the regular season, so I can see some weight to that argument. I doubt that overly familiar competition is really the problem, though. The catch is attendance. Two teams might not be enough critical mass to get people to schedule a day or two down south on their Cactus League visits. And look at which two teams would be left. The Diamondbacks play in Arizona all summer anyway -- no real urgency to go see them in March. And the Rockies don't have any fans, besides me, and I only go to one home game every spring. (I'm sorry if that makes me a bad fan. Going down to Tucson usually means missing a second game at night in Phoenix, and the whole beauty of spring training is quantity over quality, eight games in five days or whatever. Also, one round trip through the scary plane graveyard is plenty.) No doubt about it, the White Sox are the big draw in Tucson, if only because of the great unwashed masses of hooting Cubs fans who descend on the state every spring and can't possibly all get tickets to every game at HoHoKam.
If a new team can't be enticed to come a little ways south or an extremely long ways west, the Rockies and Diamondbacks will probably be forced to accept the inevitable and find new homes in the greater Phoenix area. That would be a shame. Phoenix is an odd, rootless, strip mall-jungle kind of place and whatever its spring ballparks provide in convenience they lack in character. Sure, there are a couple of neighborhood-y joints up north, like the Giants' little nook in Scottsdale and and the Brewers' criminally underattended gem in Maryvale, but the signature Phoenix spring yards are jr.-sized mallparks like the shared Padres/Mariners and Rangers/Royals complexes in Peoria and Surprise. The new DodgerSox home base in Glendale will surely be along the same lines. The other Phoenix teams (A's, Cubs, Angels) have older, generic minor league parks about which I am wholly neutral. Hi Corbett Field, spring training home of your Colorado Rockies, provides a unique experience. It gives you something that no other Cactus League park can offer. Hi Corbett has free parking.
Seriously, though, if the rest of Arizona spring training gives fans the idea of what it used to be like to go to regular season games, Hi Corbett gives fans the experience of what it used to be like to go to spring training games. It's in the middle of a slummy, brown-grassed public park. Almost all of the seats are bleachers. It's the only park where I can remember arriving for a game and seeing top prospects just hanging out in front of the box office in their uniform pants and undershirts. Players wander into the stands during games. The whole joint has an amateurish, who-really-cares vibe that's utterly unique in pro sports. In a good way! It's my kind of place, even though I persistently get so sunburned there that I am stiff through mid-April. It has history, too, having been built in the 30's and serving as the spring home of the Indians for many years.
As I understand it, under the terms of the lease the White Sox have with Tucson's monumentally less grungy other spring training ballpark, they can't leave without providing a substitute major league tenant until 2012. For scheduling purposes, things would be much more convenient for the Cactus League if a second Florida team besides the Dodgers moved west at the same time. I'm sure they'll probably get one. Houston, maybe? I would have to do more research into the inner workings of the Grapefruit League, which I have only visited once and know next to nothing about, to be sure. But the writing may be on the wall for spring baseball in Tucson, as the next team paired with the D-Backs at the Electric Park will probably have a much more favorable lease. I'm certain there's another Phoenix suburb desperate to get its own ballpark. For sure, I am going to relish my one game at Hi Corbett this spring with extra fervor.
Update: The Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales covers the story of that tricky lease from a White Sox perspective. Gonzales notes that both the Diamondbacks and the Rockies would prefer for the third team in Tucson to be an AL squad. Named as options are Baltimore and Cleveland, who already played in Arizona (at Hi Corbett) from 1947 to 1992.
I suppose that I spoke too soon when I wrote yesterday that nothing had happened on the Rockies beat while I was in Chicago for the holiday. Yes, they didn't sign or trade anybody, but elsewhere in the baseball world a few signings went down that have a ripple effect on Colorado.
First of all, outfielder Dave Roberts has signed (or in any event will sign) with the Giants. How about that San Francisco youth movement? I gave a lukewarm endorsement to the Rockies' rumored pursuit of Roberts earlier on this offseason, but the team's interest in signing free agent regulars declined pretty sharply after the hard numbers involved started circulating. Colorado must still look to add some more possibilities in center field, but at this point any roster changes are far more likely to come about by means of trade. Roberts is an okay player as steady unspectacular veterans go, and the Giants locked him up for three years, $16 million at least according to this report. That's certainly more years and probably more money than the Rockies ever would have ponied up, and the Giants are a better fit for Roberts anyway. In three years' time Colorado certainly would hope the only role for a guy as venerable as Roberts would be as a bench player; in the notoriously hitting prospect-poor San Francisco system, Roberts is the young guy pushing the vets for more playing time. He's 34.
Whenever I write about an outfielder perceived as a good glove in the NL West, I feel compelled to mention how weird the parks in this division are, as I did the last time I wrote about Roberts. I mean, seriously, even leaving Coors out of the equation, Petco, Chase Field, and AT&T Park all have some seriously demented outfield layouts. Dodger Stadium is the only yard in the division designed with an eye towards geometric normality, and that in and of itself has made it maybe the biggest rarity of all in this day and age. Remember when all of the parks in baseball, except the clunky old landmark stadiums, were 400 to center and symmetrical, with the power alleys and the foul lines the same distance from home on either side? Remember when outfield fences made it all the way from one corner to the other without drastically changing height and composition every 20 feet? As far as the true impact of having a guy who has been around the division a couple of times and knows all the bounces, I don't imagine it's significant enough to even be measurable. Even with the unbalanced schedule. Especially if the only claim to fame the player has is his work afield, which certainly isn't true of Roberts, a good OBP guy and the creator of the most famous stolen base in this era of baseball history. Seriously, though, trying to figure out in my head how many times a season a strict defensive replacement type would run into a situation where playing on the road in his division a ball was hit somewhere only a fielder with established local knowledge would be able to turn into a difference-making play is making me go all cross-eyed. I think not a lot.
Ah, let's see, what else was there? The current local news has it that the Rockies aren't going to trade Brad Hawpe (linked, however briefly, with Pittsburgh and lefty Paul Maholm), Jason Jennings, or anybody else, for the time being. Signings higher up on the free agent food chain (specifically Kip Wells to St. Louis) have increased the chances that Colorado will retain Josh Fogg, to whom they must decide whether to offer arbitration by December 12th. If Fogg comes back and Jennings does not end up getting dealt, that means that the Rockies will return their entire five-man starting staff from last season (rounded out by Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, and the already re-upped Byung-Hyun Kim). I feel pretty confident that this would be the first time in franchise history that an entire five-man staff had returned for an encore season. Entering the hot stove season the two biggest positions Colorado had to fill were the last spot in the rotation and center field; it's looking increasingly possible that both of last year's incumbents, Fogg and Cory Sullivan, will be holding on to their roles for lack of better options. This puts further pressure on next season's presumptive first-year starters, Iannetta, Tulowitzki, and Baker, plus two guys the Rockies are privately counting on to bounce back huge in '07, Clint Barmes and Kaz Matsui.
A final decision on whether Fogg stays or goes may be made for the Rockies by where the market lands on a new deal for Tomo Ohka, lately of the Brewers. Ohka's is a free agent name much bandied about in connection with the Rockies, Pirates, and Nationals of the world (by which I mean, the po' teams) because of an injury-plagued 2006 and an underwhelming career won-loss record rather out of line with his peripherals. Ohka would probably be a better option than Fogg for Colorado, but given his rather unhappy history with run support issues, he might be better suited for a different landing place. Not Washington or Pittsburgh, either.
Waiting for the Market to Develop (I Guess)
Normally I would feel bad about myself after taking an entire week off from Bad Altitude to eat Chex Mix and take naps on my parents' sofa in suburban Chicago, but what can you honestly say I missed? The Rockies haven't made any news this week, as a few more of the big-ticket free agents and several more midrangers signed their names on the dotted line. No representatives from either group will be reporting to Tucson next February to play with Colorado, at least as of this writing. Don't expect many breakthroughs here.
Rockies management does seem to be taking a more-aggressive-than-usual approach towards keeping the current horses in the stable. Garrett Atkins is a long way still from free agency ('06 was just his second full year), but Colorado wants to lock him up in the same fashion they have Jeff Francis. It remains to be seen how well that will go, given the extensions third basemen like David Wright and Aramis Ramirez have signed in this past year. There's no downside to Dan O'Dowd being overambitious in Atkins' case, however. Concerns over Garrett's first-year arbitration figure are not going to force the Rockies into a bad trade this year. The negotiations with Jason Jennings, as we've written, are much more fraught with peril. Management figures and beat reporters alike have been very circumspect reporting on the status of a possible Jennings extension. We do our best to read between whatever lines present themselves, and it seems to me as if the odds in favor of a new Jennings contract are better than you might think. The tone Jennings and his agent seem to be taking is "we want to be here, we just don't want to get ripped off," which is a long way away from "we're going to see what the market is." "We're going to see what the market is" basically means "we're leaving," unless there turns out not to be a market, which obviously wouldn't be the case for a durable and efficient starter like Jason Jennings. We'll continue to monitor it, but if all parties are amenable to continuing negotiations even into the 2007 season, which they are, that's what's probably going to happen.
More interesting still, if you believe the Post and the redoubtable Troy E. Renck, is word that the Rockies will make at least a token effort to retain Brian Fuentes' services beyond 2007. This comes as a bit of a surprise given the hysterical overvaluation of relief pitchers in general, left-handed relievers in particular, and left-handed relievers with multiple double-digit save seasons in extra particular. I don't know how serious these talks are; it may well just be common courtesy on Dan O'Dowd's part. If we do begin to see more market-level extensions given veteran Rockies players, it may be the first welcome sign of a shift from a "rebuilding" economic model to a "contending" profile.
Rockies Extend Francis
Jeff Francis has signed an arbitration-avoidance special at four years, $13.25 million. It's good to see Colorado act sooner rather than later on this kind of deal, and a club option is included for a fifth year that will potentially keep Francis around for a season past potential free agency at what will then be a way-below-market $7 or $8 million. Signing your young stars to deals like this one is just good business, and it shouldn't come as any surprise that the models for Francis's contract were deals given Dan Haren and Cliff Lee by Oakland and Cleveland.
Francis doesn't have the pure stuff of either of those guys, but he does relish pitching at Coors Field more than any other starter ever. From a PR standpoint it would look very bad indeed if the Rockies let a homegrown starter walk, since their whole philosophy (these days) is that Coors starters must be made, not bought. So that's one down, anyway. Is there a secret hidden clause in Francis's new deal that says he has to hang on Jason Jennings' shoulder in the bullpen and try and wear him down to re-sign all year? That would be great.
JF: C'mon, re-sign, it'll be fun.
JF: But, c'mon. I want you to.
Firstings and Lastings
Every baseball writer told us to expect silly digits on the contracts, once they started getting signed, but even though we were warned, the one-two punch of the Matsuzaka posting fee and the Alfonso Soriano deal still gets you in the gut. Fiscal prudence, hah! It's getting to the point where a pessimist can see things escalating to a NHL level. The hockey owners were so financially incontinent that they had to shoot themselves in the head (strike) to save their own lives, like Edward Norton at the end of Fight Club. Will baseball meet the same fate? The TV ratings are certainly trending in the same direction. And yet all you read is these stories about how every team in baseball is just flush with cash. Except the Rockies. If you believe the story ownership is presently shovelling, MLB debt rules compel the Rockies to keep their payroll at Royals/Rays/Pirates/Marlins level, heretofore to be known as the sub-Daisuke zone. (My parents used to have a Subdaisuke. Silver, manual transmission. Great gas mileage.)
Not to further cement my reputation as the Janus of the baseball blogsphere, but allow me to present yet another one of my famous "on the other hand..." paragraphs. Not having any money to spend means not having any money to waste. It means that the Rockies aren't going to be handing out any of those charming modern free agent contracts that immediately seem like bad ideas. Like, say, I dunno, 8 years/$136 million for Alfonso Soriano. Oh, sure, the Cubs have money to spend, and would have a really nasty situation developing if they hired Lou Piniella and didn't give him the players he wanted, and they might be for sale, and the White Sox are eating away at their market share, and a hundred other little things. Here's the big thing, though. If you're going to give a guy the fifth-biggest (by total dollar figure) free agent contract in history, shouldn't he be better than the 33rd best offensive player in the game? In a career year? Soriano wasn't the best hitter on his own team (Nick Johnson). He wasn't as good as two guys on the Rockies (Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday). He's 31. Oh, sure, as we've often connected to Colorado's own problems in team construction, it's hard to get up-the-middle players with game-changing bats. But Soriano isn't an up-the-middle player; the Cubs are going to be sorely disappointed if they try to play him in center and he's sure not going back to second base (where he was terrible) any time soon. The Cubs have been a hideous OBP team for many years running and Soriano has a career .325 OBP.
For us Subdaisuke drivers, there's not much more to root for in the offseason than signings like this one. When a bad rich team takes a player like Soriano away from a good rich team (like the Dodgers, for whom a reasonably priced Alfonso would have been useful), the Rockies benefit. Maybe that's grasping at straws a little bit.
As has been elsewhere discussed (here via here), the Rockies have been connected with the name of AAA Mets prospect Lastings Milledge, presumably in a Jason Jennings deal. Hard to get an early read on this. As I just said, centerfielders with sticks don't grow on trees. But neither do 200-inning starters. Milledge's luster is such that the Mets wouldn't deal him for Barry Zito at the deadline, but he also didn't do himself any favors with a series of rather unprofessional actions during his cameos with the big club last season. I'm not the sort of person who makes a big deal out of character issues, but the very fact that the Mets have allowed themselves to be affected by them is a dead giveaway that Milledge's production last year (in the minors and majors) wasn't quite good enough to lay them to rest. I would be ecstatic if Colorado had a player with Milledge's reputation starting in center next year, but not at the cost of their best starter.
Here is the deal with the Jennings thing. There is nothing wrong with building a team on a budget. You don't have to spend $200 million, or even $100 million, to win a World Series. But there is a certain baseline cost involved with doing business as a professional baseball team. Starting pitching is expensive. Very expensive. Gil Meche, a free agent with a career 4.65 ERA, is asking for $8 million a year. Jason Jennings is better than Gil Meche. And yet the Rockies are lowballing Jennings and his agent with a three-year, $21 million extension offer. Why do bad pitchers like Shawn Estes and Carl Pavano keep getting silly free agent contracts? Because everybody in baseball, save the joke teams, extends their pitchers. Milwaukee hangs on to Ben Sheets. Minnesota isn't going to let Johan Santana go any time soon. While the Diamondbacks seem to change their minds about whether they are a big-market or small-market team every year, you can bet they act like the former whenever they are talking to Brandon Webb's representative.
If the Rockies aren't willing to pay what big league teams pay for legitimate starting pitching, then they aren't a big league team. Jennings has never had a pitching-related injury, he likes playing in Denver, and he's been the MVP of the pitching staff if not the entire team four of the last five years. If the Monforts really, truly don't have the resources to pay him, they need to sell the team. That's all there is to it.
The other interesting winter meeting tidbit involving the Rockies is that not only did no GM take the opportunity to complain about the humidor, but there is even serious consideration being given to the possibility of every team in the league adopting the technology. If this development would drive Jeff Cirillo into retirement, we here at Bad Altitude support it to the utmost.
I'm Pretending I'm The Griddle
This does have a Rockies connection: one of the other three finalists for the job was Jamie Quirk, Colorado's bench coach and their go-to interim manager the past few seasons. I am glad to see Quirk not get the job because I think he will make an excellent successor for Clint Hurdle. Not that I am saying Hurdle should be fired. Yet.
His Absence Is a Blessing
So, I keep starting to write little hot stove entries and giving up a paragraph or two after I begin. How can you possibly feign enthusiasm in such news as Kaz Matsui's new contract, or the pickup of Jason Jennings' option? You can't, really, and I don't wish to insult the intelligence of you discerning baseball followers out there by trying to do so. But I have felt more the last few weeks like something ought to be happening. If you write about a have-not team like Colorado closely enough for a long period of time eventually your brain starts buying into some of the small-market smallmindedness. It would be depressing indeed if I really believed that the Rockies were doing the exact opposite thing of what they need to finally win convincingly and persistently. Especially since they have been doing it since right around when I moved to Colorado and decided that for better or worse I was going to throw my lot in with this team, correctly gauging that after two decades as a Cubs fan there was no way things could imaginably get any worse.
Okay, let me first mention again an assumption that I think we all deep down are maintaining, as Rockies fans. The assumption is as follows: one day, in our lifetimes, the Rockies will spend some money again. Not a ton of money. When they break the $100 million payroll barrier, they will be one of the last teams to do so. In all likelihood MLB's Denver franchise is never again going to be among the top third in player personnel spending, barring a huge systemic change like a salary cap. A second assumption running parallel to the first is that this is not a terrible thing. When it is most beneficial to do so and the Rockies have players worth the investment, they will ramp up into the $70-$80 million range where shoestring contenders like Oakland and Minnesota dwell and seeing as they are not in the AL East and have little to no danger of being soon so realigned, they'll make the playoffs.
This is fine. This is a good plan. Between bad luck, mismanagement, and appalling oversight of minor league development in their first decade of existence, the Rockies squandered the built-in revenue streams and ticket sales that came along with bringing baseball to the isolated, fairly wealthy, occasionally loyal Denver market. If there is one reality that current Colorado management understands above all, it is that spending lots of money and not winning is a poor strategy for this market. Leave that for the Cubs and Giants. It took the 90's Rockies way too long to figure out that while it's not impossible to win with bought players, they almost without fail bought the wrong ones, and by the time this lesson was tardily absorbed the Rockies' nascent fanbase was gone. Nobody cares about the Rockies in Denver, and no free-agent signing will correct this in one fell swoop. Dan O'Dowd's first major attempt to resuscitate the team's fortunes was the 2000 offseason -- Hampton/Neagle. Catastrophe.
Since no one around here has ever really seen enough good baseball to know what it's supposed to look like, Denver's reaction to the Rockies' free agency folly has been oddly muddled. For certain, fans are not going to be fooled again. Were the Rockies suddenly to open up the checkbooks and spend an outlandish amount of money on say, Barry Zito this offseason fans would not immediately begin rushing back to Coors Field based on the strength of the signing alone. But on the other hand popular opinion has never quite come around on just how massively misguided the Hampton and Neagle contracts really were. Baseball fans in Denver, despite having several times climbed all the way up the electric fence and being hurled repeatedly numb and smoldering back to the ground think that this next time, by the gods, we're going to sign a bunch of free agents, start clambering back up that fence again, and only this time nobody is going to switch on the power and we're going to scuttle right over to the promised land. In the Hampton example, a lot of folks think that management, the altitude, the atmosphere, the barometric pressure, and two hundred other things all just combined against us in that one case. No. Enormous multi-year deals for aging free agent pitchers are very, very close to never worth it. Offensive players, which is what most fans wish the Rockies were shopping for now, are a different story, but how different? Teams sign guys, every year they do, who have just turned 29 to five- and six-year deals with the plainly absurd assumption that each of the years these new hires will serve under contract will be equally as productive if not more so than their peak age 27-28 seasons which have already happened. At least this is what the dollar figures suggest.
This is however, quite wrong. The list of offensive players who suddenly experienced enormous performance spikes in their thirties is very, very short. Depending on how you feel about the validity of statistics accumulated with an assist from extrachemical augmentation (in all of its wonder of forms), the list might be indeed completely empty.
And there is a nagging question still. Much of the research in statistics of the last several years -- no, really, all of the research in baseball stats, ever -- has been undertaken with the ultimate goal of uncovering some sort of unified field theory, pitchers-and-catchers style. How much better, quantitatively, is this guy than that guy? Tether that thread to the game's ever-twisting economic state and you've arrived at the imponderable that keeps GMs bleary-eyed, their fingers raw from autodial. How much difference can one guy make, really?
And that's why I'm torn. On one hand, I look at the long list of Colorado players who will be out the door after 2007. Matt Holliday, Jason Jennings, Brian Fuentes. These are core guys. Replacing the equivalent players on the Yankees or Mets would cost the entire Rockies payroll and then some. My math is as always fuzzy, but it seems that no amount of reasonable spending is going to be able to make the Rockies as good in 2008 as they will be in 2007. If the team isn't good enough in 2007 -- meaning, they don't make the playoffs, pretty much -- it's pretty hard to see how they are possibly going to generate the new revenue streams required to stay even as mediocre as they are on into '08. So, why not spend money now? I'm not saying go crazy, nine-figure deals all around, but wouldn't taking a one-year loss be worth raising the payroll $15-20 million to shore up the bullpen, grab another starter, and most importantly get one more real-deal bat in the middle of the order? Seems like. Perhaps the Rockies are marshaling their resources to extend their current stars. Still, boy, if I am charting the progress of the franchise's history on a graph, 2007 looks for all the world like an inflection point.
The trouble with all I've just written is that trying to apply rational business decision-making principles to baseball doesn't work. At all. The Rockies might have the smartest, clearest-eyed scouts in the business and an absolutely foolproof risk-reward scheme. But it only takes one moron owner to completely blow the bottom out of an underwhelming free agent class, and at last census there is manifestly more than one moron owner in MLB. The guy in Texas might count as two all by his lonesome, given his proven ability to engage in a ruinous bidding war with himself. Also (since with every passing year he makes himself more and more of a singular towering nemesis among formidable company, the evil baseball owner who makes all the other evil baseball owners look sympathetic and misunderstood by comparison): Peter Angelos.
And that's the trouble of it, really. If the Rockies had fifteen million to spend, and I don't know if they do, they would be lucky to get five million's worth out of it on this market. This is a bad free agent class. The last couple have been pretty awful, and they don't appear to be getting any better. Teams are locking up their young talent, much as Colorado says they're going to do, and dealing from positions of organizational depth to make upgrades, as the Tigers did in the young pitching/Gary Sheffield deal with New York. So after all of that, I don't know what. It seems like if they were ever going to spend money, now would be a good time to do it, in terms of the team's growth curve. But as far as the baseball macroeconomy is concerned, it's the same as I wrote at about this time last year. Salary inflation is rampant, especially among veteran middle-class players who aren't significantly different from all the first- to third-year seatfillers currently wearing the purple except in paycheck digit count.
I could go on about this subject for hours, and indeed I just may do so if Colorado's hot stove period doesn't provide more invigorating topics on its own. Since the firmest free-agent name currently being paired with the Rockies is Dan Kolb, you may set your own odds as to the likelihood of that happening.
One final divisional thought. The new Diamondbacks uniforms are ugly. Real ugly. They used to be unique, at the very least, albeit hideous, now they look exactly like the Angels, Astros, Nationals, and pretty much all of the other teams that wear red and white. Only with a package of logos that ranges from huh? to ewwww.
Dave Roberts, Come On Down!
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.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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westernhomes (at) yahoo (dot) com