Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
For Argument's Sake
2006-12-07 06:56
by Mark T.R. Donohue

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.

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