Monthly archives: December 2006
The Zito Deal Is Maybe Good, Unless It Isn't
When I first heard about the Barry Zito signing I was watching ESPN waiting for the Holiday Bowl to come on (roll on, you Bears, and so forth). It seemed pretty ridiculous to me at first, and I wasn't surprised to read the next morning that most of the guys who are paid to have opinions on this sort of thing felt the same. With further contemplation, I'm not sure that the Giants' contract with Zito is the worst thing in the world. Oddly, it's the deal's eye-opening number of guaranteed years that makes all the difference.
San Francisco is not going to be very good for the next few seasons. They don't have a farm system to speak of, and their offense is terrible past Barry Bonds, who will maybe play 3 1/2 games a week next year. Signing a guy like Zito to a three- or four-year deal wouldn't do them much good. But signing him now to a seven-year deal? Who knows? They'll at least be appearing to make an effort to remain competitive over the next couple of lean campaigns, and then in a few years' time (or sooner with some lucky trades) they might manage to get some hitters to add to a pretty nice little rotation. If present trends continue pitchers of Zito's caliber will soon be getting $20 million-plus per season on the open market.
I don't agree with the argument made by guys like Steve Phillips that the fact that Zito has somehow managed to pitch all of this time without getting significantly injured means he's all the more likely to do so now and indeed very soon. If anything, it seems that the ability to stay healthy is a skill, and one for which it's worth paying a premium. If, indeed, $17 million per or whatever it is is a premium any longer. That's kind of what was bugging me about the Jason Jennings trade, and I don't know how well I articulated it in past posts. You can scream to high heaven about how every free agent pitcher is getting hugely overpaid, but eventually, you have to face facts. If for Milwaukee and Kansas City just as well as Anaheim and the Cubs starters who don't completely suck get signed for $12 million a year at the very least, then that is the going rate. That's what they cost. People complain about the price of gas, but they still have to fill up their cars. If the Rockies are systematically incapable of paying the price for non-sucky starters, they won't have any, and that's kind of going to be a hurdle for their future hopes of contention. In the neighborhood of major league cities, Denver is rapidly becoming the weird clannish family on the corner who keeps their only car up on blocks in the backyard.
But hey, Allen Iverson!
Where We Are Right Now
"What impresses me most about Catholic mythology is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up the details as they go along. It is just shamelessly invented." -- Richard Dawkins
Well, a happy last week of the year to all of you, whatever significance it may or may not hold. After spending no less than three full days either in airports or in arduous transit towards further airports, my seasonal spirit is at low ebb. But don't let that hold you back from having a merry whatever.
After a surprisingly active and interesting beginning to their offseason, the Rockies have moved into a period where it's unlikely that any further drastic moves will take place. It's true that Todd Helton talks with the Angels continue to be mentioned in the press to a degree such that we have to take them seriously. However, despite the obvious symbolism that would be attached to a trade ushering Helton out of Denver, from a standpoint appreciating the hard numbers such a deal wouldn't come anything close to rivaling the already-consummated Jason Jennings move in both short- and long-term impact. Helton's recent production level wouldn't be at all hard to replace, and a precondition of any deal would be the Rockies continuing to shoulder a large portion of the many millions of dollars still owed. In a few years' time, it might be awfully nice to have whatever relief Anaheim might offer to turn around and invest in a Garrett Atkins or Aaron Cook extension, but as far as this offseason is concerned Colorado wouldn't free up enough money to do anything major. And, really, who will there be left on the market worth anything?
I will afford that I would miss watching Todd Helton play for the Rockies if he does end up being dealt. He's one of those guys my father enjoys gruffly referring to as "a ballplayer," and I enjoy hearing him do so. It's a spring ritual I would very much miss. It won't be the same if Jamey Carroll or somebody becomes the Rockies' new token one guy my dad begrudgingly respects.
It would be more convenient for me, from a blogging standpoint, if Dan O'Dowd would politely hold off on doing anything further of import for another two weeks or so. After my obligatory calendar-ending family vacation, I've signed on to help out a friend's band with a two-week West Coast tour beginning New Year's Day in Wyoming (which is exactly where I've always wanted to begin a year; maybe Tracy Ringolsby will be there). I'll put the dates up on Western Homes, as soon as I'm sure I know what they are.
Upon Further Reflection: I Still Hate This Deal
By general blogger acclaim the Rockies "won" the Jason Jennings trade, and when you break down the contract years attached to the players involved, I guess that's broadly true. Jennings might well sign an extension in Houston, but judging by the way his agent hardballed Colorado, he won't come cheaply. As things now stand his contract is up at the end of 2007. None of the guys the Rockies got have even reached arbitration. 2007 will be Willy Taveras's third full year in the majors, Taylor Buchholz's second, and Jason Hirsh's first. (For the first and probably last time, we'll mention that Miguel Asencio was technically included in this deal. If he has any impact for Houston or anyone else in the majors next season, I owe you a Coke.)
But I think that the Jennings trade means more to the Rockies than the sum total of the performance of all the players involved over the lengths of their current contracts. 2007 is a big year for Colorado. Charlie Monfort has already announced that Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd's jobs are on the line if the team does not show improvement. The NL West looks set to go through one more relatively weak season before Los Angeles and Arizona's young talent kicks into high gear. With Jennings on board, a reasonable argument could have been constructed for Colorado snaking a division title. Not a likely argument, maybe, but a reasonable one. You just start by supposing that the pitching rotation would be as good as it was in 2006. Since it would likely have been the same five guys (Jennings, Byung-Hyun Kim, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, and Josh Fogg), that wouldn't be so crazy. Fogg and Kim might be due for a little regression, but Cook and Francis are young enough to still be on the upswing. And Jennings you would expect to be consistently good, as he has been for his entire healthy Rockies career. Then you hope the offense gets a lot better and the bullpen doesn't tank down the stretch like it did last year. It's a lot to ask, but it's not completely implausible.
Jennings had a VORP of 50.8 last year, the highest on the Rockies' pitching staff and indeed one of the highest in the majors. A lot of his value comes from the high number of innings he will log, but don't believe all these dismissive reports about his being "only" a third or fourth starter. Which rotations are these that have three better starters than Jason Jennings? The Rockies are going to have a very difficult time replacing Jennings. Jason Hirsh is a big-deal prospect, but he's not going to be a 50 VORP player in his first full year in the bigs. Besides, there is absolutely no telling whether Hirsh will be one of the multitude of pitchers who simply can't make the adjustment to Coors Field. Buchholz, whose best pitch is his curve, is an even likelier candidate for Mike Hampton syndrome.
The Rockies aren't going to win next year with their Cook-Francis-Kim-Hirsh-probably Fogg rotation. Maybe they'll win, I dunno, 78 games. The team isn't going to grip the imagination of the greater Denver area, and once again, 74 of 81 home games will be played in front of 30,000 empty seats. By the time Jason Hirsh develops into something (assuming he ever does), Aaron Cook will be leaving and Matt Holliday and Brian Fuentes will be distant memories.
If the Rockies don't win, they can't pay to keep the players they develop. If they won't pay to keep the players they develop, they won't win. And around we go again. It's very disturbing to me that Jason Jennings, unquestionably the most successful pitcher the Colorado organization has ever developed, didn't wish to stay and Colorado couldn't or wouldn't go the extra mile to retain him. What does Jennings' desire to leave say about the state of the Rockies franchise? Maybe this is an isolated incident of a guy who was just determined to get out. Maybe it's not the harbinger of a new, even more frustrating era of Rockies baseball where instead of just not having any good players we can't keep the good players we do have.
Look at what the A's did with Barry Zito. They knew he was leaving. They kept him, and they got further in the playoffs than they had since 1990. The draft picks they're going to get when Zito signs somewhere else probably won't provide as good a haul as Taveras/Buchholz/Hirsh, but then again, they got to the ALCS. That's pretty good. That'll sell some '07 season tickets, plus the tickets they already got to sell for the playoffs, plus it probably didn't hurt with the planning for that new stadium they're building. (Yes, in Fremont, but that's something to make fun of at a later date.) It's no sure thing that hanging on to Jennings would have punched the Rockies' dance card for the 2007 postseason, but it's a much surer thing that sending him out of town ensures the Rockies will once again be also-rans. The Jennings trade might be a good business decision, but baseball is about more than business. As a Rockies fan, my heart is sinking that I'm in for a couple more years of waiting for...what exactly?
Jennings to Houston
The writing was on the wall with a Dave Krieger column wherein Charlie Monfort announced that Jason Jennings and his agent wouldn't even talk to the Rockies about a contract extension, but the news still arrives with a painful finality. Jason Jennings, who was the Rockies' youth movement before the team even realized they needed one, has been traded to the Astros for Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsh, and Taylor Buchholz. I hate this deal mostly because it means Willy Taveras will play (probably a lot) for the Rockies next season. Buchholz is pretty much done as a prospect, although Hirsh is much-loved in some circles. The deal as originally discussed had Dan Wheeler instead of Buchholz. Wheeler is one of the best setup guys in the NL, Buchholz doesn't have any of the original muscles remaining in his right arm. I still didn't like that deal, because, once again, Willy T. He's free-swinging, he's powerless, he's fast and yet somehow not that good of a basestealer, Clint Hurdle won't be able to resist hitting him leadoff even though his OBP will hover around .320.
It seems like the Rockies were certain there was no chance of Jennings re-signing. That's fine. If you can't make the guy stay, you have to do what you can to get the most value out of him. I think given market conditions the Rockies could have done better than a good starting prospect, a long-term reclamation pitching project, and a sixth outfielder/pinch-runner. But hey, the payroll was in danger of creeping over $50 million for a second there, and we can't have that.
Dispatches from the Post-Meche Universe
So flabbergasted am I about this Gil Meche development (5 years, $55 million is indeed the final damage) that it may take me a few moments this morning to retrieve all of the brain pieces from the walls of my apartment and return them to their proper positions. Let's bust it Olney style and see what the "pros" have to say about the Ground Zero of the 2006-07 Hot Stove rounds.
Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star: "Seriously what could be easier than ripping the sad-sack Royals for spending $55 million on Gil Meche? Columnists dream about opportunities like this. There's only one small problem: I kind of like this move."
Neil deMause, Baseball Prospectus: "One co-worker of a BPer quipped, 'This is like a family on welfare buying a plasma TV that doesn't work.'"
Keith Law, ESPN Insider: "The Meche contract is, in [one] sense, a four-year, $44 million deal from 2008-2011, with the 2007 season (a year in which the Royals aren't going to contend anyway) tacked on the front end as a developmental year, in a season where the Royals are going to struggle to spend a respectable amount of money anyway. Signing Meche may have other, less tangible benefits. It sends a signal to the Royals' various stakeholders...that the penury and the striving for mediocrity that have characterized the Glass family's ownership of the franchise are over. It may blunt criticism from other owners that the Glasses are pocketing revenue-sharing money rather than spending it on players."
Jacob Luft, SI.com: "We now have the answer to the question of what is the worst signing of the offseason."
The most common defense of the Meche signing, past Law's somewhat more sophisticated analysis, is that, well, this offseason is crazy anyway (Posnanski: "If you want to improve your baseball team, you have to spend way more than any sane person would spend") so you might as well strip naked, smear mud all over yourself, and run around hooting. I don't see a lot of merit to this argument, but then again I have always enjoyed mud-smeared naked hooting somewhat less than your average man on the street. And I hate to admit it, but I have a perfectly good example of a team improving itself without spending hardly any money at all: the Colorado Rockies. There's hardly any one move they've made that stands out, but the sum total of Dan O'Dowd's body of work thus far seems like incremental improvement to be sure. And the group of LaTroy Hawkins, Kaz Matsui, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Oscar Rivera, who taken as a set will cost less than Gil Meche in 2007, will absolutely be more valuable.
Here's the catch with overspending to win back the faith of a much-abused fanbase. If the team keeps losing, you've only made things worse. Sports fans in Denver don't just think that the Rockies are cheap, they think they are incompetent as well. At this point there are no personnel moves that O'Dowd can make that will immediately reverse the course of fan sentiment. The only way Colorado will start filling the seats at Coors Field again is by winning, and the limited revenue streams that a decade of losing has caused make the process of clawing together a competitive team punishingly difficult. Kansas City has much more of a history, and much more of a loyal regional fanbase, than do the Rockies. But this is the kind of witless move that can set a franchise's progress back five years. The Rockies, as I seemingly have to remind everyone each and every day, are still reeling from the poorly-considered free agent signings of the 2000-01 offseason. And in the wake of one of the few teams more cash-strapped than they breaking the bank, they're still operating in dazed caution.
Here's O'Dowd on the Helton situation, for example: "It's not like he doesn't understand the position we're in. He knows we very much care for him. We'd love to win with him here. If there's a way to make that happen, hopefully that'll happen this year. But he also knows that the contract presents obstacles that are very difficult in this environment to overcome."
Wah! Wah! We're so poor! Our socks have holes in them and our clubhouse attendants eat only gruel! The only guy in the organization with health insurance is the dude who works the humidor! Dan, sir, the Royals spent $55 million on Gil Meche. Quit crying into your peanuts and crackerjack and get a Jason Jennings deal done. NOW! Well? Well? We're waiting!
Royals Sign Meche for 4 Years, $45 Million...No, Really
The Kansas City Royals -- the official doormat franchise of Major League Baseball for well into their second decade -- have signed free-agent pitcher Gil Meche to a four-year deal worth $45 million. I have no rational explanation for this signing from either side's perspective. What do the Royals need with Meche? Why would Meche want to play there? It boggles the mind. It's April Fool's Day in December. This offseason has officially gone from a little out there to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
But here's where the shame part comes in. The Rockies can't seem to get an extension done with Jason Jennings, the best pitcher the system has ever developed, a former Rookie of the Year, and the anchor of their pitching staff for several years running. At last report Jennings had turned down a deal for 3 years and $24 million.
The Royals can afford to pay Gil Meche more than ten million dollars a year, and the Rockies can't give Jason Jennings, who's actually good, more than eight? This is an unfunny joke. Dan O'Dowd, stop insulting Jennings and his agent's intelligence and give him 4 years, $50 million or five and sixty right this minute or else resign. You've always dreamed of being a major league general manager, but if your team is more broke than the Royals -- the ROYALS!!! -- then your dream is going unfulfilled. You might as well be the GM of the Newark Bears. What a sad state of affairs this is.
Update: Now the word is 5 years, $55 million. Well, okay, now the deal makes sense. It also looks like I pulled the trigger too soon on spreading the word about the Jon Garland/Willy T. White Sox-Astros deal. The Houston Chronicle: "Just hours after the Astros were extremely optimistic about landing Garland, it appeared as though the Astros' trade talks for Garland hit a serious snag and possibly even died."
For Argument's Sake
Well, that happened quickly. Before I turned in to sleep last night, I checked around my baseball sources to make sure nothing was going on involving the Rockies. No word. All of the news was about the Dodgers scrambling in the wake of the J.D. Drew and Greg Maddux defections, and Cubs general manager Jim Hendry collapsing from the exhaustion wasting hundreds of millions dollars inevitably will cause. It's not even 8 a.m. mountain time as I write this, and apparently between one last night and now a Todd Helton trade with the Angels developed, "nearly happened," and then fell apart. Colorado stood to receive super-utilityman Chone Figgins (bleh), first baseman Casey Kotchman (intriguing), and shortstop Erick Aybar (interesting if we needed more shortstops). Kotchman and Aybar are two of the leading lights in a much-admired system, but it's hard to imagine Todd's value has fallen so far that the Rockies weren't able to finesse a single starting pitching prospect in the deal. It was the Angels who broke off talks, even with Colorado volunteering some money to help pay Helton's still-gargantuan contract (if you needed to be reminded, five more years at $18 million per).
As I've admitted before, Todd Helton is one of my favorite ballplayers ever, and I'd hate to see the Rockies trade him unless there was a fair guarantee that the deal would set them up better to compete both in the short and long runs. Colorado has seemed reluctant in the past few years to admit that the misguided Helton megacontract is a sunk cost at this point, and whomever Todd plays for in the next five seasons, they're going to be paying him a lot of money. They'd do better business if they just accepted this and moved on. What I like about the proposed trade with Anaheim is it's definitely not just a salary dump deal. You can argue about the actual quality of the players involved on the Angels' side (Chone Figgins is woefully overrated in the fashion of spray-hitting base stealers everywhere, and the Rockies already have a cheaper, better super-utility type in Jamey Carroll), but whatever your opinion is all three of those guys have perceived value and the Angels wouldn't discuss moving them unless they got something they thought they wanted in return. I think that Helton after two years of increasingly freaky injuries is due for a solid bounceback season in 2007, and if he won't approach MVP level he'll at least be a plus player at the position. What concerns the Rockies, and what obviously concerns the Angels as well, is the last two or three years of his deal. Todd's batting eye isn't going to go away but much of his power already has, and you would think the Angels had learned their lesson about hugely overpaying powerless first basemen from the Darin Erstad days. You'd think. Anyway, I wouldn't call this deal dead by a long shot. Anaheim may well look around at their other alternatives and come back around to Helton after all. If so, the Rockies should try and get a longer-range pitching prospect substituted for Figgins.
The most obvious effect that a Helton trade would have on the Rockies' other offseason plans, one would assume, is that enough money would be freed up to get the Jason Jennings extension done. Reading the latest JJ trade rumor, I have to say, keep talking to the Angels. The current popular theory is Jennings to Houston for Willy Taveras, Dan Wheeler, and Jason Hirsh. Hirsh is a 6'8" righty who is the #1 prospect with a bullet in Houston's otherwise drained farm system. He could step in and start this year. Wheeler is an excellent setup guy who's still on the happy side of thirty. If the deal was Jennings for Wheeler, Hirsh, and the traincar full of oranges, I would be fine with that. But the idea of Willy Taveras and Clint Hurdle in the same dugout scares me senseless. Willy Taveras is awful with the bat. Hideous. He's an out machine who slugged .338 last year. Hurdle wouldn't be able to resist hitting Taveras leadoff and getting him thrown out stealing 20 times next year. Baseball Prospectus's evaluation of Taveras's defense sheds a different light on the player ("astonishing, to the tune of 31 runs saved over a replacement center fielder") but then again Coors doesn't have a skee-ball ramp in center field. I would rather have an average defender with a bit of punch, and with the current market for veteran pitching as amped up as it is, the Rockies ought to be in a position to dictate their terms when and if they decide to move Jason Jennings.
Some important manueverings to keep your eyes on, if you're a Rockies fan: The outcome of the Angels' pursuit of the Braves' Adam LaRoche will go a long way towards determining whether the heat on the Helton trade gets turned back up or not. The Braves want pitching, and Anaheim has suddenly reversed course and decided that they don't have any arms to trade. Colorado on the other hand can certainly afford to make a move in which they don't get any pitchers back...assuming Jason Jennings isn't going anywhere. See how complicated this is? If Andy Pettite returns to Houston, then the Astros will back off on Jennings, but it looks like Pettite might sign with the Yankees. If Gil Meche comes off the market, that will stimulate demand for the Rockies' starter as well. The Cubs, who just signed Ted Lilly, are the favorites to sign Meche as well. Boy, I don't know what to think about what Chicago is doing. Has any team ever spent this much money to stay firmly mired in 70-win territory? Oh, right, the Rockies, in 2001.
Whoops! Zig-zag! Breaking news! The Astros are trading Taveras and Taylor Buchholz (reportedly) for Chicago's Jon Garland. That ensures that Pettite won't be in Houston next year, and it removes the specter of Willy T. leading off on Opening Day in Denver. Oh, man, I know it probably won't ever happen, but can you imagine a Willy Taveras/Scott Podsednik/Brian Anderson outfield? Three guys without a .700 OPS between them? Come back, Willie "Mays" Hays, all is forgiven. So what are the White Sox doing? I knew they needed to trade one starter, but two? And why Garland instead of the more dispensible Javier Vasquez? Their rotation could be very, very good with Gavin Floyd and Brandon McCarthy, but of course we thought it was going to be unstoppable last year and they missed the playoffs. It's a big risk to take in the newly cutthroat AL Central. Well, at least they'll have the hideous bloated "fourth place or bust" Cubs on the other side of town to make them look competent by comparison.
The Future's Not Ours to See
Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, but it seems like the free agent scene is more opaque than usual this winter. It's not always the case that the signings of one marquee pitcher and one star position player serve to unlock the rest of the puzzle, but it's for sure not the situation this year. I still don't know what's going on, and I'm not even close to sure who the winners and losers are. There are major questions about the thought processes of all the teams in the NL West save the Rockies themselves. Colorado has assumed a bunker mentality. They're not moving unless you blow them away.
San Diego signed Greg Maddux. Well, that could work. Or not. They stand to lose Mike Piazza though and their offense already wasn't good. The Dodgers have lost Maddux and J.D. Drew, signed Juan Pierre to a real head-scratcher, and a Manny Ramirez deal looks dead. It does appear as if they're adding Jason Schmidt, though. It's hard to say what Ned Colletti is doing. I fear Los Angeles's next generation, but I have little confidence as to when and if they'll play. Arizona is looking for the pitching they need, but like the Rockies it's unclear whether they'll pay the freight required. And for San Francisco broader plans are on hold until they figure out what's happening with Barry Bonds. As far as I can tell no one else has serious interest in adding Bonds and a season-long distraction of epic proportions, but Barry seems to determined to negotiate as if he had suitors beating down his door. You'd think a guy in plain sight of the biggest record in baseball wouldn't retire in a fit of pique, but it's foolish to underestimate the force of Bonds' pique. I hardly think I'm alone in wishing he would just go away. Whether he does or not, the Giants are a competitive nonentity in '07 and for the forseeable future.
While it seems like the Rockies are a long way away still on a Jason Jennings extension, the general tone of negotiations continues to drift slowly towards a happy ending. Trade offers for Jennings have been underwhelming besides. While the research department is quick to point out that he had a pretty good 2006, Jacque Jones, dangled by the Cubs, is a terrible fit for Colorado. If the Rockies had the kind of money to pay a contract like Jones's (two more years, $11.5 million), they wouldn't be moving so slowly on getting a Jennings re-sign done. One of the Mets discussed in a possible Jennings swap is off the market as Brian Bannister was dealt for Kansas City's Ambiorix Burgos. My guesstimate on what will happen with Jennings remains the same. He won't get traded during the offseason, but nor will he sign a deal before the season begins. They'll get him signed, unless the team utterly spits the bit right out of the gate. Which is a distinct possibility.
I haven't written anything yet about the Mexican League lefty the Rockies have invited to spring training. What's to say? I don't know anything about Oscar Rivera, and I always have a healthy suspicion about the far-flung on-the-cheap signings Colorado regularly makes in lieu of spending money like a real team. I will say this. If the Red Sox sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, they owe the Seibu Lions $51.1 million. If Rivera, who's not quite 25, makes the Rockies' roster, the Yucatan Leones get $1.3 million from Colorado. I'm pretty sure former Lion Matsuzaka is not worth $50 million more than former Lion Oscar Rivera.
The Rockies have signed right-handed relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, 34, to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. LaTroy will work primarily in the eighth inning, filling Jose Mesa's old role. (This signing does not necessarily preclude a Mesa encore in Denver, however.) Hawkins is one of a long list of Cubs relievers to earn my father's eternal enmity during his 2004-05 stint in Chicago, but I have nothing personal against the guy and one-year deals for relievers are free agency's get-out-of-jail-free cards. Hawkins and Colorado have a mutual option for 2008.
The Snake Eating Its Tail: BP Checks in on the Rockies' Farm System
I have to be in the right kind of mood to read Baseball Prospectus stuff, you feel me? Mostly I follow along with what they are trying to do, but every now and then they come roaring at you with all of these statistical acronyms and Latin names for medical conditions you'd only heard before on "House" episodes. Sometimes BP gives me an unpleasant feeling recalling my one and only multivariable calculus class, where after intense tutoring and hours of fevered study I managed to muster a glowing 17% on the first exam before mercifully being allowed to drop out. I accept that there are a lot of baseball writers a lot smarter than I, but I don't need to be reminded of it every day. So the point is I only check in at the BP site a couple times a week, meaning I inevitably get behind and try to catch up on too much stuff all at once, which only adds to the math flashback effect.
Still, I have a subscription to their premium service and so should you. Their yearly preseason projections and sortable stats database would be worth it on their own, not to mention the consistently witty and urbane writing, a great deal of which manages to get its point across wholly without menacing spreadsheets. Baseball Prospectus ran its list of the top ten Rockies prospects last week, and you have to like what they have to say. (Yes, this is premium content. Go back a few sentences.)
They're very, very positive about Chris Iannetta. The following should be music to the ears of anyone even the least familiar with the "offense" Colorado has generated from the catcher position the last few years: "Very good on-base skills...barring any unforeseen circumstances, Iannetta will be the Rockies' starting catcher next year, and remain in the position for quite some time." Neat! Future Shock columnist Kevin Goldstein also thinks that A-ball centerfielder Dexter Fowler is even more of a prospect than the Rockies themselves do. Goldstein isn't sure that any of Colorado's major starting pitching projects won't have to switch to the bullpen before they get to the big club, but that's true of almost all very young arms. Organizationally blocked position players Ian Stewart and Joe Koshansky have big seasons ahead; both are going to have to become outfielders or become trade bait a la Ryan Shealy last year.
On the whole, the Baseball Prospectus take on the Rockies' farm system is slightly more optimistic than my own. Dan O'Dowd has indeed done a marvelous job building the franchise's player development infrastructure, particularly given that Colorado completely blew off the minor leagues for its first decade of existence. Of course, from here on out, you can either become the A's, constantly bringing in young players who are rarin' to go and fill the holes left by departing free agents, or the Royals, where all the top-five picks and compensation-rounders in the world can't hope to fill the ever-gaping maw of big-market talent drain. The trouble is that for the time being, what you see on the current major-league roster is all you're going to get. Unless Stewart and/or Koshansky gets used to their new gloves in a bleedin' hurry or Ubaldo Jimenez finds a sudden handle on his complementary pitches, the 2007 Rockies are not going to ride their midseason callups to the playoffs like last year's Dodgers or 2005's Braves. The Colorado farm system may be strong overall, but it is rather short on immediate contributors (discounting the guys who are already here). This is especially true for the positions at which the Rockies have the most need: center field, second base, starting pitcher.
What this all means is it's going to be a high-wire balancing act for O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle to keep their jobs as the team's first crop of post-Helton homegrown stars reaches free agency and gets their opportunity to angle for the Monopoly-money contracts that very many franchises that aren't Colorado throw around with impunity these days. Unless the Rockies suddenly decide that they want to play with the big boys, Matt Holliday and Jason Jennings are going to go, sooner or later, and I don't know where the middle-of-the-order bat and #1 starter are going to come from to replace them. By the time Fowler and Jimenez and Franklin Morales and Shane Lindsay are ready, are Jennings and Holliday going to be already memories while Garrett Atkins and Aaron Cook prepare to walk? O'Dowd either needs to make brilliant trades, on the level of the Mark Mulder/Danny Haren deal, or pay somebody, sometime, what he's actually worth to all of the real teams. A white-knuckle, no-margin-for-error mixture of both is the best path (it's certainly what Billy Beane would do), and if you believe the party line from the last few rebuilding seasons, the grand scheme is to have this next group of prospects join a team already in contention, not to generate another round of false hope.
So yeah. Could be bumpy. With the way teams with even the faintest hope for winning years (and some that don't have any, I'm looking at you, Baltimore) are currently scratching, clawing, and eye-gouging for pitching talent, O'Dowd would be too hasty if he unilaterally announced Jason Jennings isn't getting traded, no matter what. The same goes for Holliday, really. $100 million for Carlos Lee? Sure, why not. But you can't trade these guys just for the sake of trading them, either. With the current penciled-in roster, the Rockies look extremely similar to last year's 76-win team, and they can't afford to tread water now more than ever. Flipping Jennings with no even replacement-level options available to take his place in the rotation would almost certainly doom the Rockies to another fourth-place finish. Ditto Holliday and a power bat for the middle of the order.
Wait, you're saying it's not easy being a small-market team? I never would have guessed.
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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