Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to Coors
by Mark T.R. Donohue
Evidently the Rockies front office has interest in bringing back Royce Clayton. It follows that they also must enjoy point-shaving, substituting lite beer for real beer, and kicking puppies. Clayton at age 36 boasts a career line of .258/.313/.370. Last season he was arguably no better than Eddy Garabito or Omar Quintanilla while somehow accumulating 513 at-bats for Arizona. Clayton, as we already know, doesn't walk and has no power. He's also been significantly below average defensively two seasons running (with the qualifier that his home parks have been the two best hitters' environments in the majors -- someone more math-oriented than I will have to tell you whether that affects defensive stats like rate and runs above average).
While Clayton isn't a good enough player to be worth paying the veterans' minimum to ride the bench, what's really scary is the thought that his presence could cause a replay of the Danny Ardoin/J.D. Closser situation from last season. Why are intelligent Cubs fans scared to death of Neifi Perez? Not because he's a completely useless player, although he comes pretty close. They're scared because they know Dusty Baker deeply longs to give Neifi 600 at-bats in the two hole. Clint Hurdle's distaste for Closser's defense didn't really end up hurting Colorado last year because the switch-hitting catcher never really found his batting stroke after a tease in 2004. As far as Colorado's won-loss record was concerned, Ardoin's ascendance to the starter's job most likely had a tiny net positive effect if any. So the only cost to the Rockies really was completely obliterating any chance of J.D. Closser ever becoming a productive player for Colorado. No big deal.
Clint Barmes's job ought to be fairly safe since his timely injury kept the bloom from coming off of the rose that was Clint's first two months last year. Jason Jennings has certainly gotten his fair share of a grace period after his great rookie season, so things should be much the same for Barmes. But pity Luis Gonzalez. All the guy does is go out and play whatever position they tell him to run out to, and he usually outhits whomever it is he's subbing in for. Yet Hurdle is always looking for excuses to keep the entirely unmerited "super-utility" label on the poor guy. Maybe it's the generic name. Anyway, I am now living in fear of the inevitable game where Gonzalez makes one throwing error and bobbles one other grounder (recovering in plenty of time to throw the dude out, note) and suddenly Clayton's name starts showing up in the lineup on an increasingly regular basis. Listen, Dan O'Dowd: If the only way to make Clint Hurdle play Luis "N.R." is to provide him with literally no acceptable other options, then do it. If he gets hurt there's always Quintanilla, who's not good but is at least on a rookie contract and (I read somewhere) possesses the mystical "upside."
Gonzalez and Todd Walker should start a support group.