As temperatures in Denver struggle to reach 20 degrees, the depression sets in for the typical baseball fan. Days are spent following rumors as to where journeyman catcher and career .251 hitter Brian Schneider will sign as a backup catcher.
Despite the lack of activity, many decisions are being made in the front office that are making an impact on the team that Rockies fans will be cheering for as the temperatures heat up once again.
On Tuesday the Rockies offered both setup man Rafael Betancourt and starter Jason Marquis salary arbitration. Both moves were very strategic. Betancourt obtained "Type-A" free agent status, which means that he was in the best 30% of relievers in baseball. While usually that means good things for a free agent, it really handicaps the righty. It allowed the Rockies to turn down their team option for a final year at $5 million and pursue Betancourt on a multi-year deal in the range of $4 million per year.
Betancourt might not have many options. As a "Type-A" who turns down arbitration, any team who signs the reliever would have to give up their first round draft pick to the Rockies in the 2010 draft. The Rockies cannot lose in this situation. Betancourt will have a tough time signing with another team, as giving up a first round pick is a tough pill to swallow for a middle reliever. If he accepts arbitration, Colorado gets the reliever for another season, most likely at a cheaper rate than the option that the team turned down.
With Marquis, a "Type-B" free agent, will net a "sandwich pick," meaning if Marquis turns down arbitration and signs with another team, the Rockies get an additional draft pick between the first and second rounds. With all signs pointing to Marquis signing with his hometown Mets, the Rockies made a good choice offering the 15 game winner arbitration.
While chess games are a constant part of a baseball offseason, the Rockies have bigger fish to fry.
Garrett Atkins has undoubtedly played his last game in a Rockies uniform, which means Colorado needs a backup first and third baseman who can hit for power from the right side of the plate. They also need a backup catcher in case Yorvit Torrealba signs with another team.
The Rockies have made it clear that they would like to resign Torrealba. They love his passion for the game and his nurturing ability with the young pitchers. However, they do not want to give him more than a one-year deal, and they do not want to pay him starter money.
For the fourth straight season, Chris Iannetta will enter the season as the Rockies starting catcher. This time, however, the Rockies are a little wary of what might happen. After Iannetta struggled out of the gate in 2009 and never regained his stride, there are question marks from the front office about their once-golden-child catching prospect. Despite Iannetta having the best season a Rockies catcher has ever had in 2008, his 2009 season was so bad that he may find himself playing for a new team in a year if he continues the struggling ways of 2009.
While many have jumped off the Iannetta bandwagon, he still has his believers. The sabermetric crowd, a growing group of baseball fanatics who are turning to alternate forms of numbers to measure a players worth, believe that Iannetta is the best answer for the Rockies. They point to his on base percentage and his ability to hit for power. On the flip side, their own set of numbers points to evidence that Torrealba is one of the worst catchers in the National League. His power numbers are low and he throws out a low percentage of base stealers.
Losing Torrealba may not seem like a big deal. The reality is, he is not an All-Star. In fact, talent wise he is probably never going to be more than an average catcher in Major League Baseball. If the Rockies struggle in 2010 without Torrealba, very few will point to his loss as a reason for the struggles.
In reality, Torrealba brings something to a team that cannot be measured by any formula or on paper. The catcher brings leadership and fire and has the ability to infuse his teammates with the same passion. While the Rockies were fighting for the spot in the playoffs in August and September, Torrealba was at his best. Every time he came up to the plate and the Rockies needed a big hit, it seemed like Torrealba came through.
Torrealba's clubhouse influence is another immeasurable part of his game. The Venezuelan gets along well not only with the Spanish speaking players, but also with the English speaking players. A player with this ability is often key to bringing an entire clubhouse together, when so many players are from different places around the globe.
Iannetta is a very talented player. He has the perfect body for a catcher and has shown the ability to hit big league pitching. However, it seems as if he has lost his focus.
In '09 Iannetta struck out 75 times in just 350 plate appearances. While power hitters are known for their high strikeout levels, Iannetta's struggles were a bit more concerning. He was not striking out because he was consistently being too patient, but he was also not striking out too much because he was consistently swinging at bad pitches. What this means is that Iannetta was consistently striking out because he had an inconsistent approach at the plate. The confidence that he had gained in 2008 seamed to go out the window.
Iannetta's struggles should make any Rockies fan wary of handing the reins back to him as the everyday starter without a solid backup who could easily step in if need be. The Rockies may have to pay a little bit more to keep Torrealba, but if Iannetta struggles the investment will be well worth it in the end.