Friday, July 24, 2009

Rockies Get Aggressive Before Trading Deadline

This is generally the time of year when Rockies fans are cringing at the rumors about which team their favorite Rockies players will be dealt to.

The franchise has very rarely been in buying mode at the trade deadline. Even in 2007, when the team shocked the world by going to their first ever World Series, the club was 6-1/2 games out of the National League West race at the trading deadline. Last year, still not off the high of the miracle run to the playoffs, the Rockies were not in full sell-off mode, yet, were too far out of the race to be true buyers.

This year is different.

The Rockies made a pair of moves on Thursday to show the fans and the baseball community that they are serious about making a strong run at the playoffs.

While the team has improved greatly over the past seven weeks, launching themselves back into playoff contention, there has been one glaring weakness. The bullpen.

There have been a few bright spots, with closer Huston Street saving 24 out of his first 25 chances, and rookie Matt Daley stepping in and doing a nice job, but beyond that, the bullpen has been a flip of the coin as to how they will perform. Eighth inning duties have shifted several times, with the Rockies using anyone from Manny Corpas to Joel Peralta to Juan Rincon in the role.

Despite having a rotation fitting for the playoffs and a lineup that looks to contend, the bullpen has been the weak link.

Thursday general manager Dan O’Dowd changed that.

In the morning it was announced that Rockies top pitching prospect Jhoulys Chacin (pronounced Joe-Lease Chaseen), had been promoted from Double-A Tulsa straight to the big leagues. Chacin is a starter in the minors, but will be used out of the bullpen for now. There is speculation that Chacin could easily slip into the rotation, moving either Jason Hammel or Jorge De La Rosa to the ‘pen.

That move was thought to be made due to the news that Manny Corpas was going to have to have surgery to remove the bone spurs in his elbow and would be out until at least September.

That was not the end of the news for the Rockies on the day, however. In the afternoon word was going around that the Rockies would announce a trade before the end of the day. News came about an hour later that the Rockies had shipped Single-A pitching prospect Connor Graham to the Indians for eighth inning specialist Rafael Betancourt.

The 34-year-old righty has done a great job for the Indians. Although he missed all of June with a groin injury, he still has a 1-2 record with a 3.52 ERA. He is known for his devastating fastball, which touches the upper 90’s on the gun.

The moves have stoked the flames of excitement in the Rockies fan base. It is not often that this team is in a position to make a serious run at the postseason. These moves show that the Rockies front office is not only dedicated to winning, but dedicated to winning now.

Moving Chacin up to the big leagues right now is a bold move. Not only does it show confidence in the youngster, it shows that the Rockies are willing to start the arbitration clock on the youngster. He will now be gaining service time and may be able to qualify in three years as a “super 2,” a term given to players with more than two years of service time, but less than three but still qualify for arbitration. This means that the Rockies will have to start paying Chacin good money at least one year earlier, and risk losing him to free agency a full year before they would have if they simply left him in the minors.

The move to get Betancourt shows a true dedication to win now. Getting a true eighth inning set up man helps fill the one gap this Rockies team has been struggling with. Instead of getting the starting pitcher through six innings, then crossing the fingers until the ninth, the Rockies now have several options as a bridge to Huston Street.

In order to get Betancourt onto the 40-man roster, the Rockies are going to be forced to designate a player for assignment. The most likely choice is Rincon, who has been a decent fill-in for the squad, but has not been consistent enough to not be the odd man out.

The other option is less used Josh Fogg. Fogg has done well for the Rockies, but has received very little playing time in his long relief role.

The aggressiveness is exactly what Rockies fans have been hoping for for a long time. They have desired for the team to go out and spend some money (which they did with Betancourt, adding over $1.5 million this season), and not babying their prospects, allowing them to over-ripen in the minors.

As if seeing the Rockies on top of the Wild Card standings on July 23rd was not exciting enough, the Rockies are showing that being 1-1/2 games up in the standings does not mean that they feel the team is good enough to stand pat. Clearly they are making a point that they not only want to stay in the race, but that they want to win the race.

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