Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rockies Sign Melvin Mora; Have Deepest Bench In Team History

On Sunday Melvin Mora agreed to a one-year deal with the Colorado Rockies. The move came the day after it became apparent that the Reds were going to sign Orlando Cabrera to be their everyday shortstop.

The fact is, the Rockies have the better player.

Mora is a two-time All-Star and owns a career .278 batting average as well as a .788 OPS (On base percentage plus slugging percentage). Not bad statistics for a guy who is looking at coming off the bench as a reserve. The thing about Mora, however, is that he may not end up coming off the bench.

The fact of the matter is, the Rockies are in love with Clint Barmes. Searching high and low in the Major Leagues will result in not finding a single player who works harder than Barmes. He is the consummate Charlie Hustle. His defense is second to none and he hit a career high 24 home runs in 2009. Barmes can hit anyone's fastball. However, he struggles with the slider.

This fact is one of the reasons why Barmes may find himself as a utility player heading into the 2010 season. The Rockies believe that Mora, a seasoned veteran at third base, is very able to play second base. Make no mistake, he will get his shot.

Whether Mora or Barmes ends up on the bench, there is no doubt that the Rockies have perhaps the toughest bench in the National League West, and undoubtedly the best bench in the history of the franchise.

Take a quick look. In the outfield the Rockies should have a left handed bat in Seth Smith, arguably the best pinch hitter in the game, and Ryan Spilborghs, a starter on at least a third of the teams in the league. In the infield Colorado will have a left handed power bat by the name of Jason Giambi, whose resume includes over 600 Major League home runs. Beyond Giambi the Rockies have either Mora, an everyday starter since 2000 who is one season removed from 104 RBI's. If Mora ends up starting, the Rockies have Barmes and his superb defense and 24 home runs. Behind the plate the Rockies have newly signed Miguel Olivo, another everyday starter in 2009 who worked behind the plate in every start of the American League Cy Young winner Zach Grienke.

It would be tough to find a deeper bench in the entire league. The Rockies front office should be applauded for the job that they have done to round out the roster this offseason. In fact, the bench is so deep that highly thought of prospect Eric Young Jr., will most likely find himself back in Triple-A, Colorado Springs in order to get him everyday playing time.

The Rockies enter an era that most fans are not used to. Having to make tough decisions with guys who are fan favorites like Clint Barmes, and guys who are most likely ready for playing time at the big league level like EY Jr. is something new to this club. However, it is a sign of how far the team has come.

No longer is being fun to watch good enough, no longer is simply being a hard worker good enough to play every day. This team is talented, and everyone will be forced to play at the highest level possible in order to remain in the everyday lineup. That is something that teams who are playing meaningful games in September all have in common.

On paper the 2010 Rockies should be very good. It would be an extreme disappointment if this team is not in the playoff picture come September.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

Rockies Lose Out On Cabrera, Look To Mora

The Colorado Rockies are doing everything possible to fill out their bench. Specifically, they need a right handed bat who can play both second and third base. Any other position is also a plus in the double-switch happy National League.

With two and a half weeks before the start of Spring Training the Rockies have been in hot pursuit of some of the remaining names on the market. The names that continue to pop up on the Rockies radar are Melvin Mora, Orlando Cabrera and Orlando Hudson.

On Saturday the Rockies found out that Cabrera would not be their man.

After weighing offers from the Cincinnati Reds and the Rockies, Cabrera opted to sign with the Reds because of the fact that he would be considered the starter at shortstop going into Spring Training.

Frankly, this is a win for the Rockies.

Cabrera is one of those players who is always one of the top guys available on the market. He is known for his glove work and his ability to get on base, but there is a problem.

The problem is that despite his ability to be coveted by a new team every season, his old teams never seem to mind that he is leaving.

In 2004 he was dealt from the Montreal Expos to the Boston Red Sox, with whom he won the World Series. It would be easy to think that a defending World Series champion would want to keep their shortstop. However, the Red Sox made little noise in offering their mid-season pickup a contract. Instead, Cabrera became a "highly-coveted" free agent and made his way to the Angels where he signed a three year deal.

In Anaheim it was quickly noticed that Cabrera's range left something to be desired. He was also supposed to have a rocket arm, but was hardly a step up from his replacement, the 5'7" David Eckstein, who was said by every Major League scout to have the arm of a second baseman.

After the three years in Anaheim were up, the Angels made like the Red Sox and did little to convince the shortstop to return. So Cabrera made his way to the White Sox, where he promptly made a terrible impression on Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen and became a free agent after the season.

The Oakland A's stepped in, acquiring him in hopes that he and newly acquired Matt Holliday could lead the Oakland clubhouse to the postseason. After it was clear that the A's would not be playing in October, they sent him packing to the Minnesota Twins. Cabrera took much of the credit for helping the Twins to the playoffs, but once again, when it came time to re-sign him, the Twins were content in letting him walk away.

It is an interesting scenario that seems to play out in baseball often. A guy like Cabrera, who does not have special numbers, gains a reputation of being a better player than he really is. He is highly coveted, but then the team that finally lands him quickly sees that his skills are slightly better than average and finds a way to dump him.

In Cabrera's case it seems that his half season with the Red Sox was where he gained his positive reputation. He displaced Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop and was the captain of the infield when Boston finally shed the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series. Cabrera at that point became a name that everyone knew about, and despite his deficiencies was seen in a positive light.

Another example of this is Edgar Renteria. Few baseball fans will forget when the 20 year-old Columbian knocked in the game winning run in the seventh game of the 1997 World Series. Instantly Renteria became a household name, and therefore a coveted shortstop.

After just one more year in Florida that shortstop headed to St. Louis for six years, but then bounced from the Red Sox, to the Braves, then to the Tigers, and finally landed in San Francisco after signing a huge contract worth $18 millon over two years. Not bad for a career .288 hitter whose range has dropped tremendously over the last few years.

It is an anomaly in baseball. It seems that guys get great reputations around the game, but disappoint the team that they sign with. However, the disappointment does not seem to be too noticeable because there is always another team right behind them who is willing to dish out the cash for such a "highly-touted" free agent.

The point is, the Rockies might be disappointed that they lost out on Cabrera, but they are not going to be missing too much. He is an overrated player who is aging quickly.

The Rockies will now set their sights on Melvin Mora, a far more accomplished hitter, and a player who should have a strong desire to win after being stuck in Baltimore since 2000 and never finishing better than third place. Mora will also bring a better glove and a better arm to the field.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Heading Into 2010 The Excitement Returns


It must be the end of January.

The Broncos have been done for almost a month and 45 degrees feels really warm. Another sign of the end of January is a flurry of baseball moves waking the sport from its winter of slumber. These moves warm the heart of baseball fans around the country.

This offseason has been a strange one for Rockies fans. The team essentially made the playoffs after squandering away the first two months of the season and spending the final four months of what is supposed to be a marathon season in a dead sprint.

The last time the Rockies finished the season in a sprint, they stunned the baseball world and found themselves in the World Series for the first time in franchise history. The World Series was a disappointment, but a National League pennant was far more than any Rockies fan expected before the season began.

After the Rockies flamed out to the eventual National League Champs the feeling was different. The word many Rockies fans were using to describe their feelings in the days after the NLDS was a resounding "tired."

Taking a few weeks away from thinking about baseball seemed to be the main course of action for Rockies fans. It was hard to think about pouring all the emotions required for another run at the playoffs.

However, the holidays passed and suddenly the countdown was on for Spring Training. Suddenly the excitement for another season of Rockies baseball was back.

The Rockies had been relatively quiet throughout the offseason. Beyond signing Chris Iannetta to a three-year deal and parting ways with Yorvit Torrealba, nothing big had happened.

The silence came to an end last week when the Rockies announced several deals. All of which are very exciting for Rockies fans. First, in somewhat of a surprise, the team announced that they had signed Ryan Spilborghs for two years, buying him out of his arbitration years.

Then the big deals were announced.

The Rockies had locked up the back end of the bullpen by signing setup man Rafael Betancourt for two years and closer Huston Street for three years with an option for a fourth year.

The moves provide stability for the Rockies, but also mark a new chapter in the franchise's history. The "Todd and the Toddlers" era was over. Many fans suspected that the ownership of the club is cheap and would become a farm team for the rest of the league. Once a prospect became a good player and was ready to sign a big contract, the Rockies would ship them off.

The skeptics were proven wrong with the Street deal. If the theories were correct, the Rockies would have simply used Street for as long as possible and then either traded him at the July 31st trading deadline or watched him walk away at the end of the 2010 season.

Instead, the front office showed that they want to develop talent, and do whatever they can to keep that talent in the big leagues. While Street was not a Rockies prospect, he still represents a young star who had yet to reach his free agent years.

After the Street deal was made public, the Rockies announced at their Fan Fest on Saturday that they had re-signed Jason Giambi to a one-year $1.75 million contract.

That move was another deal that showed the skeptics what the team was actually all about. Instead of standing pat with a young prospect off of the bench, the Rockies reached deep into their wallets to sign a guy like Giambi who provides clubhouse leadership and the ability to provide a quality at-bat off of the bench.

While inevitably the Rockies will not be able to sign contracts that will keep all of their star players in a Rockies uniform, the ownership group is showing their fans that they are willing to put a competitive offer on the table and do what they can to convince the player to continue calling Coors Field their home.

That should be quite a relief to any Rockies fan who stuck with the team through the tough years.

While the 2010 Rockies still have a few question marks, it should be encouraging to Rockies fans that they have a team that will be in the hunt for years to come.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rockies Re-Sign Jason Giambi

The Colorado Rockies decided to pack a month's worth of work into one week. On Saturday the Rockies announced at their second annual fanfest that they had re-signed slugger Jason Giambi.

The crowd at the Coors Field event, held for season ticket and mini-plan holders, roared in excitement at the news.

After signing Chris Iannetta to a long-term deal in November, the Rockies signed Ryan Spilborghs to a three-year deal, Huston Street to a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year and signed Giambi.

Giambi was brought onto the roster at the end of the season in 2009 and immediately impressed the Coors faithful. In his first two at-bats he slugged game winning hits with the Rockies in the midst of the playoff hunt.

By all accounts Giambi was an immediate fit in the clubhouse. He meshed with not only the veterans, but he took to the younger players as well.

The deal appears to be a one-year agreement for somewhere around $1.75 million. While Giambi may be on the backside of his career, it never hurts to have a player on the bench who has trotted around the bases over 600 times in his Major League career.

The move allows Todd Helton to get a little more rest during the season. At the beginning of the 2010 season everyone in the Rockies organization was suggesting that Helton would play in the neighborhood of 110 to 120 games. Instead he trotted out to first base 151 times.

The move also allows Jim Tracy to be a little more flexible with the lineup. Seth Smith became a fixture as a pinch hitter after the seventh inning. His uncanny ability to come up big in the clutch off of the bench earned him the title "Mr. Late Night." The addition of Giambi allows "Mr. Late Night" to be used earlier in the game and come into the game for matchup purposes instead of keeping him on the bench just in case they might need his bat later.

For the price the move seems to be a good one. The Rockies get veteran clubhouse leadership to go along with a power bat off the bench who will be able to take some of the pressure to play everyday off of Helton's back.

The Rockies are still looking for a few more bench players and have kept the door open for both Orlando Hudson and Orlando Cabrera.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rockies owners open their wallets, sign Betancourt and Street


Hey Rockies fans, you got your wish.

Dick and Charlie Monfort, owners of the Rockies, proved many fans wrong on Tuesday, opening their wallets and locking up closer Huston Street to a three-year deal and Rafael Betancourt to a two-year pact.

Ever since the failed signings of Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton way back in 2001, the Rockies have been reluctant to shell out big money deals. Because of this, Rockies fans have generally held the position that the Rockies would never be consistently good and that anytime they developed a good player in their system, they would simply be traded away when the time came to sign them long-term.

When Matt Holliday was traded to the Oakland Athletics before the 2009 season, the skeptics were as loud as they had ever been. It was the first time since the club enacted their new philosophy that they had raised a true super-star, and instead of dishing out the cash, the club traded him.

That move, however, is proving to be an aberration, more of a move done because Holliday's agent, Scott Boras, was determined to get ridiculous money for the slugger.

On Tuesday the Rockies locked in Street for three years, with a deal worth $22.5 million. Betancourt's deal is for two-years, paying him $7.55 million.

Instead of going to arbitration with the two relievers and watching them walk away after 2010, the Rockies ownership group quieted their critics by committing to the two, non-homegrown players, for more than a single season.

While the Rockies' philosophy may not be perfect, allowing players like Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jimenez and others that are locked up long term to walk away and collect huge contracts elsewhere once they are done with their contracts in Colorado, this method ensures that Rockies fans will be able to watch their favorite stars for as long as possible before they are wrangled away by big money contracts by teams residing closer to a coast.

The philosophy of signing their young stars to long term deals may not ensure a player is a Rockie for their entire career, but it slows down the revolving door that most skeptics suspected would be the case until the Rockies were sold.

These deals go beyond what Rockies fans have seen in the last few years as far as locking in players through their arbitration years. The deals with Street and Betancourt step above and beyond simply signing young players coming through the system for deals that are more favorable to the club.

If there are still questions about the Monforts being cheap, look no further than immediate complaints that the Rockies overpaid for Street. Since 2001 the complaints have not been about the Rockies overpaying for a player, it has been the exact opposite.

The Rockies front office is proving to fans and skeptics alike that they are indeed committed to winning and that they are willing to spend the money to make winning happen.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

Should The Rockies Pursue Orlando Hudson?


The Colorado Rockies are coming off perhaps their finest season. They finished with a club record 92 wins and were the front-runners for the National League Wild Card for the final month of the season.

Despite losing to the eventual National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, most would agree that the Rockies '09 squad was more talented than the '07 team that found its way to the World Series with a legendary run to finish the season.

After that 2007 season, while emotions ran high, the Rockies decided to do what it took to keep the core of that young team together and not trade the younger players, or find a better option on the free agent market.

That decision resulted in the Rockies signing the likes of Kip Wells and Josh Towers for added depth to what was thought of as a solid rotation.

After Jeff Francis proved to be underwhelming, and eventually was shut down due to an unknown shoulder injury, the Rockies depth was too shallow to make up for the loss and the team finished with just 74 wins.

In 2009, Dan O'Dowd made a shrewd move, acquiring Jason Marquis from the Cubs for embattled reliever Luis Vizcaino.

Marquis did nothing less than win 15 games and make his first All-Star team.

It seemed as if the Rockies had learned their lesson, making sure to bring in just enough proven talent to fill the needs in case of injury, or underperformance.

While the Rockies are understandably in a better position to stand pat, and the free agent market is perhaps the weakest in years, there are still options out there for the Rockies to improve their team.

One bright spot on the 2009 Rockies squad was Clint Barmes handling the second base duties. His defense was superb, to go along with a stretch in June where Barmes hit over .400.

Despite Barmes incredible June, his offense left something to be desired. His power numbers were impressive, he hit 23 home runs, nearly double his career high, but his on-base percentage came in at just .294, a number that is unacceptable for an everyday player.

Barmes is well known for being a very free swinger, he struck out 121 times while taking a free pass in only 31 plate appearances.

Having Barmes hitting in the eight hole in the lineup is definitely not the worst thing a team could have to worry about. However, the Dodgers failed to offer second baseman Orlando Hudson arbitration, meaning the Rockies could sign the free agent without having to give up a draft pick in return.

Hudson would not be a step back in defense, as he just won the National League Gold Glove at second base, and he could provide a huge spark in the lineup. He is a switch hitter with tons of speed and occasional power.

The move would also allow the Rockies to bring Barmes in off of the bench late in games where they need improved defense. He could be used in a super-utility role that teams desire so much.

With Hudson still looking for a team, he may be willing to take a deal that had a lower base salary and was full of incentives, making him more affordable for the mid-market Rockies.

Even in Hudson was not handed the starting job, a competition for the starting spot at second base would benefit both players, and having Hudson or Barmes off of the bench would surely be a better option than what the Rockies had with Omar Quintanilla filling that role in 2009.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Few Thoughts On The Mark McGwire Steroids Admission

On Monday, Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids throughout his career, including 1998 when he broke Major League Baseball’s most hallowed record.

The aftershock from the admission has been interesting to say the least. Most analysts have said that McGwire did not gain any ground by admitting to the use of performance enhancing drugs. They think that he is still a liar, and that he was not honest enough about his use. Most experts agree that this will not help McGwire get into the Hall of Fame, something that seems to be a foregone conclusion in light of the sluggers first four years of eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

1. I am a little bit surprised by the reaction. While McGwire’s most shocking statement was that he does not think that using steroids helped him hit a single home run, the majority of his admission was extremely revealing. Instead of dodging tough questions, or admitting to using the drugs once or twice like some stars have said, McGwire made it clear that this was something that he was doing over the course of his entire career.

2. Anyone who was surprised to find out that McGwire used steroids was not living in the real world. Articles by FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal seemed to suggest that this admission was groundbreaking, that McGwire was telling us all something that we did not already know. After McGwire’s 2005 Congressional hearing, it is comical to think that there are still individuals who had doubt that he was a steroid user. It is similar to those people who are so blind to evidence that they believe that Barry Bonds was also clean. Being convicted in the court of law is not the only way to know for sure that someone committed a crime. Are these the same people who believe that O.J. Simpson was not involved in the murder of his ex-wife?

3. It was relieving to get an explanation of why McGwire had looked so pathetic in 2005 when he testified before Congress. At the time, McGwire made a fool of himself by refusing to answer questions directly in regards to his personal steroid use. He continued to say that he was more interested in talking about the future and not about the past. McGwire said that he was eager to admit to his use, but was not granted immunity and therefore did not say anything that could have caused him to be prosecuted. Why the government would not grant McGwire immunity is baffling. The government never wanted to prosecute the players, they wanted to curb the problem, so granting immunity would have been very helpful.

4. The “Steroid Era” is unfortunate for those players who were clean. There are players who played in this era and never touched drugs. They were extremely disadvantaged because they were most likely in the minority. However, when history looks back at these clean players stats, they will be done another disservice, because most will assume that anything good that they did was done due to steroids, when the fact of the matter is, they were putting up those numbers while not being on an equal level with the rest of the players.

5. McGwire saying that he does not believe that steroids helped him hit a single home run is ridiculous, but it makes sense why he would believe that. It would be very difficult for a person to admit that something that they had done, something that brought them riches and fame, was done based on dishonesty. I believe that while McGwire wrestled with this himself, the only way that he can live with what he has done is to convince himself that the steroids really did not help him and that he was not a sham.

6. I have not made my mind up about players who tested positive going into the Hall of Fame. If we could know for sure who did steroids, it would be easy to eliminate those players from the Hall, however, eliminating only those who have been caught or have admitted to steroid use only ensures that those who never got caught will get in. The fact is, the Hall of Fame has most likely already admitted players who used steroids into their exclusive club.

7. McGwire seems to be taking more heat than other great players who have been caught. Where is the outrage for Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez? Both of those players have benefited from steroid use. Both are incredibly wealthy due to the benefits of the illegal drugs. Rodriguez’s steroid use caused a stir, but was quickly forgotten about as the season began and as the slugger led the Yankees to their 27th World Series championship. Manny Ramirez might represent the biggest double standard in sports. For years Dodger fans in the left field stands would heckle Barry Bonds, calling him a cheater and complain about his steroid use. After Ramirez returned from a 50 game suspension for using steroids, he was quickly embraced by those same fans in left field and given a free pass.

8. Finally, it is clear that Jose Canseco deserves an apology. Canseco is nothing if not quirky and weird. He was mocked and lambasted when his book came out, but McGwire’s admission to using steroids throughout his career is yet another confirmation that Canseco was telling the truth. It is difficult to find the name of a superstar from the late 90’s who has not been linked to steroids. Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, McGwire, Andy Pettite, Ramirez, David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez are all connected to steroids. Finding a clean player during the late 90’s may be more difficult than finding a dirty one.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Catching Up With The Rockies Offseason

After the Colorado Rockies found themselves in the playoffs for the second time in three years there were questions as to what would happen as the offseason approached.

One of the Rockies self imposed offseason priorities was resigning clutch hitting catcher Yorvit Torrealba. For the past three seasons Chris Iannetta has been seen as the catcher of the future for the Rockies, but in both playoff years, Torrealba has supplanted his younger counterpart as the Rockies starter.

Not only has Torrealba passed Iannetta on the depth charts in those seasons, his play was a large reason why the Rockies found themselves in the playoffs. While there is no doubt that Iannetta is more physically talented, two out of three seasons Iannetta has not lived up to his billing.

The Rockies were true to their word and aggressively pursued Torrealba.

At the winter meetings in Indianapolis the club offered the Venezuelan a two year deal worth $5.6 million. Torrealba and his agent Melvin Roman were intent on a two-year deal worth $6 million.

In a baseball world that spends money as if they are playing Monopoly, a mere $400,000 seemed like an an easy bridge to gap. Unfortunately for both parties, talks broke down and the Rockies had to move on.

In the middle of the Torrealba discussions, the Rockies inked Iannetta to a three year deal that bought out the rest of his arbitration years worth just over $8 million. The move was very much in line with what the Rockies front office has been setting the precedent of doing with their young players. It is somewhat risky, but gives the mid-market club cost certainty.

Several published reports suggested that the Torrealba camp felt that the Iannetta signing was sending double messages.

As it became clear that the two sides would not be able to work out their differences, the Rockies moved on an signed journeyman catcher Miguel Olivo. The catcher will be playing for his sixth team in nine Major League seasons.

Olivo is thought to be a better defensive catcher than Torrealba, but also has been known to get careless behind the plate. On the offensive side he has more power than Torrealba, but also strikes out often and is known as a free swinger. In 2009 Olivo hit a career-high 23 home runs in 390 at-bats.

The move is interesting. It effectively cuts ties with Torrealba and presumably gives Iannetta the starting job. While Iannetta has all the potential in the world and showed growth in 2008, he needs to earn some Rockies fans confidence back after a down season in ’09.

With Iannetta and Olivo manning the plate for the Rockies in 2010 the power potential is a fun thought, but it might be slightly unsettling to think about the fact that Olivo will bring more strikeouts to a team that set a club record for fanning in ’09. Olivo struck out 126 times in ’09, roughly one in every three at-bats.

There is no reason to think that Iannetta will not have a breakout season. He has all the tools to be an All-Star catcher. However, it might be slightly unsettling for fans to put their hope in Iannetta returning to his ’08 form. The question will be asked, which year was the fluke?

The hope is that after losing his job to Torrealba in ’09 Iannetta will be motivated to prove that he should have been the everyday starter down the stretch. It is motivation that the Rockies hope will be the final step for Iannetta to become the catcher all the scouts have envisioned.