Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Colorado Rockies Should Sign Pedro Martinez

The Colorado Rockies are never going to go after big name free agents. They will never be in a bidding war with the Yankees and Red Sox for the highest priced players.

Those days are over.

After the failed signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, whom the Rockies spent nearly $175 million on in 2001, the franchise shifted gears and decided to build from within.

That decision has paid off in two playoff appearances in three years, and one National League pennant.

While the method has proven to be effective, there are still holes in the theory.

The problem is that as the farm system develops players, the Major League squad must look outside the organization to fill the holes in which the young players are not ready to assume.

That means that the Rockies must fill some of their largest holes with other organizations cast-offs. In 2007 the team found themselves in the World Series despite having a fifth starter carousel that included Rodrigo Lopez, Mark Redman, Ramon Ortiz, and even Elmer Dessens.

The Rockies won in ’07 due to young players like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales coming up from the minors and playing at levels that were far above what anyone could have expected from the rookies.

In ’07, the Rockies got lucky. 2008 was not so kind. GM Dan O’Dowd went back to the scrap heap to fill his rotation, bringing in veterans Kip Wells and Josh Towers. Wells had led the National League in losses the previous season in St. Louis, but had experienced success in the past, which led the Rockies to take a flier on him. Towers was coming off an injury-plagued ’07 and was looking for a chance. He got it with the Rockies.

Wells struggled all the way through Spring Training, but still found himself on the Opening Day roster. After rain washed away the first four innings of the opener, the righty found himself starting in what would be the opening game. He won a well pitched game.

Unfortunately for Wells that would be the last of his good pitching. After posting a 5.27 ERA in 15 games, the Rockies were done with Wells and released him.

Towers never made it to the big league squad. He struggled all season long in Triple-A Colorado Springs, posting an ERA above seven.

In 2009 Dan O’Dowd showed his shrewdness, acquiring five time 10 game winner Jason Marquis from the Cubs. The move paid off with veteran leadership and a career high 15 wins to cap off an All-Star appearances for the Long Island native.

With the 2010 season around the corner, the Rockies are still looking for pitching depth to provide their youngsters some room for error. They lost Marquis to free agency and are relying on Jeff Francis to come back strong after missing ’09 with a torn labrum.

With free agent pitchers quickly finding homes for the 2010 season, there is one shining name still on the market. A name that is extremely decorated with awards and accolades, a name that will one day be enshrined in Cooperstown.

That name? Pedro Martinez.

The Dominican righty was impressive in his brief stint with the Phillies. He went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 44-2/3 innings pitched. He looked like the Pedro Martinez from the early part of the decade.

While questions loom large over whether Martinez could be effective for an entire season, there is no reason to think that there is no gas left in Martinez’s tank.

Five years ago, the asking price would have been far too high for the Rockies, but the asking price is significantly less right now. It may be low enough for Colorado to take a chance and if it does not pan out, for them to simply part ways.

It is not unreasonable to think that Martinez could be had for around $5 million. That may be a stretch for the Rockies, but would be a better investment than paying half of that amount to someone who does not possess the resume of Martinez.

The move might work for everyone involved. Martinez is the boyhood hero of Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, and reportedly calls Jimenez after watching his starts and gives him pitching advice. With Martinez in the dugout, Jimenez can have another knowledgeable voice to help the young righty become even better.

While the move probably will never happen, it is one that might be smart for the Rockies to consider, especially considering the lack of depth in this off season’s pitching market.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Colorado Rockies Top 10 Moments In 2009

At the end of a year there is always an abundance of stories about the year that is coming to a close. Just because the Rockies have not played a game since the middle of October does not mean that they are exempt from a year in review article.

2009 was a roller coaster ride for the Rockies and their fans. The club had was coming off a disappointing 2008 in which they failed miserably in defending their first ever National League championship.

The culmination of the bad season happened in mid-November when the club shipped off their best player, Matt Holliday, to the Oakland A’s for a package that had most fans feeling as if the Rockies had become a farm team for the rest of the league.

Those fans were the ones laughing when the Rockies stumbled out of the gate, hanging on to the second worst record in the league at the end of May, the Rockies looked eerily familiar to fans who watched them in the early part of the decade.

However, the tables turned and the Rockies figured out how to win baseball games. They clinched their second playoff berth in three years, coming within two games of winning the National League West for the first time in their history.

Without further ado, I bring you the best 10 moments in 2009 for the Colorado Rockies.

10. On March 15th, Todd Helton, coming off what many believed to be a career ending back surgery, and following an injury plagued 2008 season, Helton showed that he would be the Helton of old in 2009, blasting a 450-foot home run on the first pitch that he saw in the spring. The blast was not off a minor league pitcher, but a Major League veteran in the Padres Chris Young. It was a breath of fresh air for the Rockies organization as a whole. They had their star back, and many of their perceived holes were filled with one swing of the bat.

9. On May 29th, a day that was a new beginning for the Rockies, Garrett Atkins, the Rockies struggling third baseman, provided a big hit off of the Padres Heath Bell. With runners at first and third, Atkins lined a single to center field that got past Tony Gwynn Jr., allowing the speedy Dexter Fowler to score from first base, giving the Rockies their first win in the Jim Tracy era.

8. On June 21st, with the Rockies down by a run, Seth Smith led off the ninth inning with a pinch hit to right field. Helton, once again looking like the 26 year-old version of himself, belted a fastball deep into the right field seats, giving the Rockies a victory and continuing what would become the best winning streak in the Majors in 2009.

7. January 6th- Dan O’Dowd, in a move that flew under the radar, traded embattled reliever Luis Vizcaino to the Cubs for Jason Marquis. Marquis had a few disagreements with Cubs manager Lou Piniella, and despite winning at least 11 games in five straight seasons, had worn out his welcome in Chicago. The Cubs not only agreed to the deal, they also threw in $5 million to help sweeten the pot for the Rockies. Vizcaino made three appearances with the Cubs before being cut. Marquis, despite fading down the stretch, won a career-high 15 games and made his first All-Star appearance. Without Marquis, who won eight games after a Rockies loss in the first two months of the season, was the saving grace for the struggling Rockies.

6. July 13th- Brad Hawpe hits a walk-off double to help the Rockies split a four game series from the Braves before heading into the All-Star break. The hit was big at the time, but was even bigger down the stretch as the Braves proved to be the most difficult team to bury in the chase for the Wild Card.

5. September 29th- After closer Huston Street had blown just his second save of the season, Chris Iannetta, the catcher with all the potential in the world, put his struggles behind him and launched a two run home run into the bullpen in right field to secure the victory for the Rockies. The Braves had won earlier in the day, putting pressure on the Rockies to continue winning.

4. September 27th- With the Rockies in the thick of a playoff race, the Cardinals were threatening to steal the third game of a three game series at Coors Field. With runners on first and third base and one out, a sacrifice fly would have tied the game for the Cardinals. With the outfield playing deep to avoid doubles, Ryan Ludwick looped a ball that was destined for shallow right field. Not a single person in the stadium thought that Clint Barmes had a shot at the catch, but Barmes put the stadium in awe, making a ridiculous over-the-shoulder catch that allowed him to double off Albert Pujols at first base and securing the 4-3 victory for the Rockies and keeping them 2-1/2 games up in the Wild Card race.

3. September 16th- With Huston Street on the disabled list, Franklin Morales was called upon to close out a huge game for the Rockies. With a 4-0 lead heading into the 9th inning, the Rockies looked well on their way to victory. Jorge De La Rosa had pitched the best game of his caRreer, shutting out the Giants for eight innings. Morales came in and could not find the strike zone. After giving up three runs and staring at runners at first and third with no outs, Jim Tracy turned to Rafael Betancourt who somehow wiggled out of the jam, giving the Rockies the victory. It was the biggest nailbiter in the history of the franchise.

2. August 24th- After a pitching duel went eight long innings, and five extra innings that were characterized by missed opportunities it looked as if the Rockies had blown the game and the Giants had inched closer to the Rockies in the standings. Adam Eaton had given up three runs in the 14th inning and many Rockies fans decided they would beat the traffic. Those fans will always regret trying to get home 1o minutes earlier, as they missed one of the craziest comebacks in Rockies history. With the Rockies out of position players, Dexter Fowler was forced to run the bases after fouling a pitch off of his shin that rendered him immobile. Chris Iannetta stroked a single to center field, then, out of position players, Eaton was forced to step to the plate for the first time in ‘09. Giants pitcher Justin Miller proceeded to walk the pitcher on four pitches, allowing Ryan Spilborghs to walk to the plate. Spilborghs took one swing and the most memorable sprint in team history commenced. It was the first walk off grand slam in franchise history, and the Rockies had won a huge game.

1. May 29th- For real Rockies fans, the day was bittersweet. Clint Hurdle was less than two years removed from leading a youthful Rockies squad to the World Series. His personality was invigorating. He seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to the typical Major League manager. However, with the Rockies struggling and not living up to their talent, a move needed to be made. In what Dan O’Dowd called a heart wrenching decision, the Rockies decided to place Jim Tracy in charge of the Rockies. The move made the difference for the Rockies, who climbed from 15-1/2 games out of the playoff race and ended with them winning the Wild Card by a four game margin. The club played as if a burden had been lifted from them and realized their full potential.

Agree? Disagree? What did I miss?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Colorado Rockies Winter Meetings In Review

I was asked by Will from to help him with a collaborative article on grading how well each team did in last week's winter meetings. Obviously, for my part I will be covering the Rockies.

Team Name: Colorado Rockies

Team Record: 92-70 (Wild Card winners)

Team Needs: Back up catcher, backup infielder who can play 1st and 3rd base, and pitching depth.

Team Moves: Signed catcher Chris Iannetta to a three year, $8 million contract. The agreement buys Iannetta out of his arbitration years and gives the Rockies cost certainty heading into the 2010 campaign. Late-inning reliever Rafael Betancourt accepted arbitration, guaranteeing the Rockies a solid back end of the rotation. Non-tendered third baseman Garrett Atkins, allowing him to become a free agent.

Team Grade: B

Evaluation: The Rockies were not expected to be very active in the 2009 Winter Meetings. They are comfortable with their lineup staying basically the same heading into 2010. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba took over the starting spot late in the season as Iannetta faltered, and the Rockies are trying to work on a deal to get him back as well. Torrealba is set on a two-year, $6 million deal. The Rockies are reportedly $400,000 away from that number, but neither side is willing to budge. Iannetta possesses more God-given talent, but after three straight seasons of losing the starting job, the Rockies are looking to have a veteran catcher waiting in the wings. Torrealba is a clubhouse favorite and had several clutch hits down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Rockies.
Signing Iannetta was a no-brainer for the Rockies. Despite having two highly touted catching prospects in the minor leagues (Mike McKenry and Wilin Rosario), the Rockies should save a significant amount of money by avoiding three years of arbitration and if Iannetta flames out, gets hurt, or proves that his down 2009 was not an aberration, the team is not on the hook for a huge chunk of money. The Rockies are still looking to add depth after losing Jason Marquis to free agency, but are most likely going to depend on Jeff Francis to fill that role.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rockies Must Make Moves To Be Competitive In 2010

The Colorado Rockies are becoming known as a come-from-behind team. In 2007 the Rockies completed the best three weeks to end a season in the history of the game. In 2009 the Rockies recovered from a such a huge deficit that Congress may want to call Jim Tracy for some advice.

The Rockies are quickly gaining notoriety around the baseball world as a good team, but they have already achieved one title that they aim to change in 2010. The Rockies have gained the dubious title of being extremely slow starters.

In 2007 the Rockies finished April with a 10-16 record and were sitting 10 games under .500 on May 21st before they started a seven game winning streak that turned their season around.

In '09 not much was different. When Clint Hurdle was fired as manager on May 29th, the Rockies were 20-32, good enough for 29th best record in baseball.

If the Rockies want to avoid another slow start in 2010 they must not be content with putting the same team that was on the field in '09 back on the field in 2010.

After the Rockies found themselves in the World Series, owners Dick and Charlie Monfort decided to do as much as they possibly could do to keep that team intact. The plan was a good. It was something that many baseball fans around the country are not fortunate enough to experience.

The plan left Dan O'Dowd looking to the scrap heap to plug small holes. O'Dowd picked up starting pitchers Kip Wells and Josh Towers. They were viewed as insurance in case someone got hurt or one of the young pitchers needed more time in the minors.

The Rockies never dreamed of what would happen. 17 game winner Jeff Francis was just a shell of himself, finding out nearly a year later that he was having shoulder issues that forced him on the disabled list twice and limiting him to a miserable 4-10 record in 26 starts. The injury would sideline him for the entire 2009 campaign.

The team was also depending on Franklin Morales and Jason Hirsh to be pillars in the starting rotation. Hirsh's injured shoulder kept him in Colorado Springs all year and Morales showed his youth, pitching his way back to the minors before the end of May.

Kip Wells was beyond a disaster. He was released before the end of July and was possibly the worst starting pitcher in baseball in 2008. Fighting his own injuries in '08, Wells went just 1-2 with a 5.27 ERA. Josh Towers never saw the big leagues, dealing with control issues all season long.

After a terrible '08 season, the Rockies knew that changes needed to be made. In November O'Dowd jumped into the deep end trading Matt Holliday to the Oakland A's for Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith. Fans screamed that the Rockies were cheapskates and that they had no desire to win. Those fans were enjoying eating crow in August as Gonzalez had found his groove in the Major Leagues and Huston Street had re-established himself as one of the top closers in baseball.

The failed '08 campaign led the Rockies to trade for perennial 10-game winner Jason Marquis for added pitching depth in case Francis was not ready to go. Marquis was a proven winner, someone known as an innings eater and a guy who was a bulldog on the mound.

The move proved to be one of the best. Without Marquis, the Rockies would never have sniffed the '09 playoffs. The righty won 15 games, 11 before the All-Star break, eight of which coming after a Rockies loss. Despite his late season tailspin, there is no doubt that the Marquis trade was a season saver.

Knowing that there were still some holes in the rotation, O'Dowd made another trade right after Opening Day for Tampa Bay's Jason Hammel. Hammel had lost the fifth starter battle in Tampa Bay, but was highly regarded around the league. His curve ball is one of the best in the league and at 26 he was just getting his feet wet in the big leagues.

All Hammel did was win 10 games in the fifth spot in the rotation. Having Hammel at the back of the rotation made the Rockies solid all the way through the rotation, there were no weak spots.

All Rockies fans are familiar with these moves, but what does it have to do with 2010?

As the general managers meetings come to a close on Friday in Indianapolis the Rockies have done little more than sign Chris Iannetta to a three year deal and get the ball rolling on re-signing clutch performer Yorvit Torrealba.

The argument can be made that the Rockies do not need to make any trades. After all, youngsters Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez will only continue to improve, Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart will have better seasons than their full season slumps of '09, and Jeff Francis would be back to replace the loss of Jason Marquis to free agency.

While all of those propositions are reasonable, it seems that it may be the perfect storm for all of that to happen.

The Rockies currently have no backup plan in case of injury. After missing an entire season the Rockies are depending on Francis to replace an All-Star season put together by Marquis. They are asking two young players in Fowler and Gonzalez to play like seasoned veterans, and Iannetta and Stewart to prove that their seasons at the plate were simply a fluke. While Iannetta had numbers that suggested his season was not as bad as his batting average, the young catcher would be the first to admit that his season was not what he had envisioned. Stewart is a slick fielder who can hit the ball as far as anyone who has ever played the game, but he has a glaring hole in his swing, and has the potential to strike out as much as anyone in baseball.

To ask Stewart to suddenly turn into a contact hitter and figure out a Major League curve ball may be quite a bit to expect.

While the Rockies have depth in the minor leagues and are looking as if they could emerge as the favorites to win the National League West, they are risking quite a bit by not attempting to bolster their big league roster before heading into the season.

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.