Thursday, December 3, 2009

Signing Torrealba Needs To Be A Priority For The Rockies

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.


  1. I saw that you guys brought Mike Mckenry up to the 40-man roster. Good move. That may be your backup if we get Yorvit. And you've seen McKenry's tree trunk know it's a good move!

  2. I am very excited to see Mike McKenry on the MLB roster. However, I hope the Rockies do not rush him. He hasn't spent a single day at Triple-A and there is no real reason to rush him. If the Rockies are smart they will start him in Triple-A and depending on how Iannetta does, either bring him up in June or July, or have him make his debut in September. Either way, Iannetta better be looking over his shoulder, McKenry could change the outlook at catcher pretty fast.

  3. I just discovered this site; It's cool to find other Rockies fans that are into the team as much as I am.

    I guess Torrealba was at *his* best during August and September. Unfortunately, *his* best (.772 and .752 OPS in August and September respectively) was worse offensively and defensively than Iannetta was over the course of his entire allegedly bad 2009 season (.804 OPS).

    Additionally, there is evidence that Iannetta was extremely unlucky, in terms of batting average, last year (his BAbip was like 40 points below his career average). If you normalize his luck last year, you get .250/.370/.500, which is essentially Andre Eithier. Overall, Iannetta is by far the best option, even if he performs like he did last year. He should play as much as his body allows.

    I'm OK with resigning Torrealba as long as he doesn't hold a bat or catch a ball (so we can get his "leadership" and "fire"). But if he asks for any meaningful amount of money, I would rather see the Rockies use their limited resources on a power righty or a new second baseman.

  4. The Unitary Experience,
    Thank you for the comment and for finding my site. I hope you enjoy it. I definitely understand your argument with Iannetta...and I agree with you that if Torrealba is going to get a huge contract, let him go elsewhere. However, it is tough to argue that with Torrealba behind the plate and in the lineup the Rockies seemed to play with more of a spark. That is hard to argue with statistics, but the clutch hits were incredible. I know that flies in the face of the sabermetric crowd, but the intangibles set Torrealba apart.
    I really appreciate the feedback, I would love to hear your opinion on more of my articles.


  5. David,

    I will certainly visit your site regularly now that I have found it since there are very few sites that just cover the Rockies. Do you also write for the InDenver Times? I thought I saw your name there as well. BTW, you pegged me with the SABR stuff; I love that crap.

    Keep up the great work!

  6. I do also write for InDenverTimes. It is always fun finding more Rockies fans...not just casual fans, but people who actually follow the Rockies day in and day out.

  7. You've got quite a few wild statements in here that lack any sort of support. Your opinions would carry a lot more weight if you had some sort of evidence to back them up.
    "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."
    Do you spend a lot of time in the Rockies Clubhouse to know this? Will the team fall apart if Yorvit doesn't come back? Have you ever played a professional sport or worked for a professional sports franchise and have any real or anecdotal evidence to show that a multinational team needs someone to be the glue? Could someone already on the roster like Carlos Gonzalez or Rafael Betancourt provide this role for the team? Ubaldo seems well liked and gregarious - maybe he could do it? $6million seems like an awful lot to pay for clubhouse presence.

    As far as those wacky and wild SABR stats; OPS is pretty widely regarded as one of the better predictors of offensive production (and not an "Advanced Stat", statistically speaking, and correlates extremely well with a team's ability to score runs. I'll spell that out for you in layman's terms you can understand. A player with a higher OPS will contribute more to his teams runs scored (and thus wins)than a player with a lower OPS.
    So even in a year that you note was a down year for Iannetta, he still out OPS'd Torrealba .804 to .732. Even with all those strikeouts Chris had, and even with that extremely hot August and September that Yorvit had. Chris still out produced him. Significantly.
    I agree an insurance policy is not a bad thing. But it should be pretty clear to anyone with the capacity for rational thought that one of these guys is better than the other, and it's not Torrealba.

  8. Zach,
    Thanks for the comment. I can honestly say that I am very intrigued how much passion is stirred up when Chris Iannetta and his down season is mentioned.
    While I agree with you that Iannetta is the more talented of the two catchers, I really don't think the starting job should simply be handed to him. I understand your argument about the difference in Torrealba and Iannetta's OPS. What OPS tends to leave out is the time of the game in which a player gets on base, or hits a double. Iannetta was a slugging machine when he hit the ball, but Torrealba got the job done when it counted. It is tough to argue with Torrealba's .488 batting average with runners in scoring position is proof that he got the job done when it mattered.
    Torrealba is asking for $6 million over two years...the same amount that Jason Kendall just received from the Royals...the same number that Ivan Rodriguez just received from the Nationals. Less than Gregg Zaun got in Milwaukee. Lets look at their stats.

    Kendall-.241 BA, .331 OBP, .305 SLG, 2 HR, 43 RBI's, 35 years old
    Rodriguez-.249, .280, .384, 10 HR, 47 RBI's, 37 years old.
    Zaun-.244, .355, .416, 8 HR, 27 RBI's, 38 years old.

    None of those numbers are better than Torrealba's and he is 5 years younger than the youngest of them. Giving Torrealba equal money to them is the least he deserves.
    I would much rather have Torrealba, just in case Iannetta isn't up to the task again, rather than Paul Phillips, who has a grand total of 198 Major League at-bats. Why not just pay Torrealba as insurance?

    As far as Torrealba's clubhouse influence, I don't think too many people would argue that over the course of a 162 game season clubhouse chemistry is vital. If you pay any attention to the Rockies you know that it is common knowledge that Torrealba is an influential member of the clubhouse. While someone else may have the ability to fill that role, why mess with what you have?
    As far as your questions, no, I have never played a professional sport, just like Peter Gammons, Tracy Ringolsby, Troy Renck and Drew Goodman. I don't think that disqualifies someone from understanding clubhouse dynamics.
    As far as spending time with the Rockies, yes, I have had several opportunities to spend time with Rockies players and ask them questions. I have also been given tickets to Rockies games by the front office. The Rockies are all very big on clubhouse chemistry, from the clubhouse, to the members of the front office.

    Thanks for your comment. I am not opposed to different viewpoints and would love to hear from you more often.

  9. Torrealba was incredibly lucky with RISP last year (witness his .500 BAbip). Over the course of his career, his numbers are almost exactly the same with RISP as without. Just like every other baseball player in the history of the world (slightly exaggerated, of course).

    My point is: Iannetta was better than Torrealba when Iannetta had a bad year and Torreabla had a good one (by their respective standards). What do you think is going to happen when they revert to their norms? The answer is that Torrealba isn't going to be worth $3 million a year.

  10. T.U.E.,
    I think I am not explaining myself well. I think that I agree with you for the most part. My problem with Iannetta is that he has played himself out of the starting position in three straight years. There is an attitude amongst Rockies fans that letting Yorvit Torrealba walk is the smart thing to do. While I would never argue that Torrealba is better than Iannetta, I am not comfortable handing the starting job to Iannetta and leaving him alone. I would be far more comfortable giving Torrealba a little bit more money than he is worth and having the option to start him instead of putting all my eggs in the basket of Iannetta when your only backup is Paul Phillips who has less than 200 Major League at-bats. Does that make sense? Agree? Disagree?