Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday
2005-09-18 11:37
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies lose a close one thanks to Tony Clark, who is very quietly having a remarkable season for Arizona. He has significantly fewer at-bats than Chad Tracy, Shawn Green, or Luis (The Elder) Gonzalez, yet he's outhomered everyone on the team save Troy Glaus. Jeff Francis will try to get a series win for Colorado today. Three more victories will guarantee the Rockies avoid the indignity of a 100-loss season. When you look at the schedules, they have a good chance of finishing ahead of several teams in total wins -- not only Kansas City and Pittsburgh but also Tampa Bay, Seattle, and perhaps even Arizona and Detroit. Given the disparity in payroll between the Rockies and those last three teams, it would be something of an accomplishment to draft after the Mariners, D-Backs, and Tigers next year.

I have been trying not to mention it because, well, spilt milk and so on, and also it makes me miserable, but Shawn Chacon has pitched extraordinarily well for the Yankees. He shut out Toronto for eight innings yesterday. I still believe that the Rockies will be better than they have been this year in 2006 for several reasons -- Todd Helton will probably play better, Brian Fuentes will be the closer from Day One, a bunch of guys (well, everybody, actually) will be a year older, Aaron Cook and Sunny Kim will pitch the whole year -- but they made three critical mistakes this year that will hurt their chances to contend next season (finally, some positive national attention; link courtesy the invaluable ESPNLocal service).

First, the Shoppach thing. Yes, maybe it was the Red Sox' fault, but if the Rockies hadn't pulled out of negotiations in a fit of pique, they might still have been able to get the trade done in some shape or form. Colorado has little or no use for Larry Bigbie. Then again, they didn't have much use for Eric Byrnes, either. Managing to somehow turn Byrnes into Shoppach would have turned the Kennedy/Witasick trade from a push into a big win.

Second, jumping the gun on Preston Wilson. The market for veteran hitters was lousy this year, and Colorado moved Wilson way before they needed to seemingly just to save a few bucks off of his salary. A better prize than Zach Day (and J.J. Davis, whom I suspect will never play a day for the organization's big league affiliate) could easily have been pried from some franchise whose farm system hadn't been utterly devastated by Omar Minaya's shortsighted moves in Montreal.

Third: Chacon. The Rockies traded him to save money (don't believe the vague reports of his being a bad clubhouse guy, because Zach Day was far worse in Washington and Chacon was one of the very few pitchers of recent Colorado vintage who actually seemed to enjoy being with the Rockies) and his response to a playoff race in New York has been nothing short of galvanizing. Amazingly, he's been the Yankees' best starter down the stretch. The Yankees'. Best starter. Ow, my brain. Forget about Colorado having five trustworthy starters next year -- few teams in history have completed entire seasons with five effective guys. Having four, though, is a coup.

Sunny Kim/Aaron Cook/Jeff Francis/Shawn Chacon would have been a big deal. Maybe a big enough deal to seal a division title, or at least a .500 finish. Having those four guys might have even shamed ownership into paying Byung-Hyun Kim the going rate to complete the set. As it is, we'll have to suffer through Jason Jennings and Day walking seven or eight batters a start and Clint Hurdle mumbling truisms about "intensity level." Ah, the saddest of words -- what could have been.

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