Monday, November 29, 2010

Colorado Rockies sign All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki through 2020

The silence of the offseason has abruptly ended. The Colorado Rockies have reportedly agreed on a contract extension with All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki that will keep the 26-year old in purple pinstripes through 2020.

The usual fans were starting to gain momentum in their theory that the Monfort brothers, who own the Rockies, could care less about winning, but instead are simply focused on signing second-rate players who would keep the payroll down.

However, the front office of the Rockies quickly put that notion to rest with this signing. The shortstop is coming off of a season in which he hit .315 with 27 home runs and 97 RBIs, all while missing 33 games with a broken wrist.

Since 2003 the Colorado Rockies have shifted their focus from going out and signing big name free agents and spending money as if they play in New York or Boston to focusing on the draft and player development. The results have undeniably good for the club. After two playoff appearances in the last four seasons, including one trip the the World Series, it is hard to deny that the build-from-within model was working.

The model for the team, however, was beginning to reach its next critical stage. After developing all of that talent, does the team simply become a farm team for the rest of the league, allowing stars to walk away when they reached free agency? Or would the team pony up money and sign the players that they wanted to stick around?

The Rockies are answering that question with the signing of Tulowitzki. They are not going to be playing the same type of Moneyball that the Oakland Athletics play, they will not be like the Pittsburgh Pirates, trading away their talent before they had to shell out any sort of money to keep them. These Rockies are developing from within and the talent that is willing to stay, will be rewarded with large contracts to keep them around.

This move is great for fans of the Rockies. The heart and soul of the club will be around long-term. The club has shown their commitment to not making the team a revolving door with talent that would only play for championships with other teams.

It will be interesting to see what all of those who can't help but rip on the Rockies will have to say about this move. The real Rockies fans, however, will spend their cold November night celebrating a great move by the Rockies, and reassurance from the front office that they are committed to winning, not just making money.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Colorado Rockies must make a move to be competitive

There are many fans of the Colorado Rockies out there who simply don't understand how the organization works. They think that the team should be in the running for free agents like Cliff Lee. They believe that they should trade their top prospects for players whose contracts are over $10 million per year. The Rockies tried that. It didn't work.

The Rockies model has proven to be successful. However, if they want to be viewed as more than just a middle-of-the-pack team by both the experts and the online betting world, they must make moves that do not require them to simply bank of their current group of players performing better the next year.

That does not mean that the club should go out and pay a ridiculous amount of money to keep Jorge De La Rosa. Shelling out money does not equal success. A player is not going to play better simply because they have a bigger bank account, nor should they be expected to.

The hot stove season has just begun. The Rockies still have plenty of time to make a move. However, the early signs from the club are eerily familiar. After 2007, when the Rockies stunned the baseball world and found themselves in the World Series, the offseason was filled with very little. Dan O'Dowd brought in very little proven talent. He signed Kip Wells and Josh Towers to fill the role of fifth starter.

It was easy to believe that the Rockies would naturally get better. Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and Manny Corpas were all figuring to get better with more maturity and experience under their belt. The one thing that the Rockies failed to remember was that Mark Redman was slotted to be the No. 3 starter. Redman had a good run with the Rockies down the stretch, but was with the Rockies because he had been released twice before landing at Coors Field.

There is a fine line for the Rockies. There model is clear. They are never going to be in the market for big name free agents again. What that means is that they have to take chances on veterans and other players who might seem to be washed up. Finding those players is not easy, and is quite risky. O'Dowd, however, has had quite a bit of success in finding diamonds in the rough in recent years.

Banking on Ian Stewart, Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta to simply perform better, while watching Jorge De La Rosa walk away from the club and not finding someone to fill his role, is like crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. There must be some sort of padding if the plan fails.

That may be Kevin Kouzmanoff. That may be re-signing Melvin Mora for a little bit more money than what the club would like to commit to a 38-year old. It may even be re-signing Miguel Olivo as a fall back in case Iannetta doesn't perform like his talent has suggested that he would be playing like five years ago.

Whatever it is, the Rockies cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the '07-'08 offseason when they sat on their hands and found themselves leaning on Kip Wells and Josh Towers.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

MVP, Cy Young votes bring little confidence in Tracy

With the National League awards complete, there is one thing that is certain. The 2010 Colorado Rockies underperformed.

The Rockies did not bring home any hardware back to Coors Field beyond a couple of Gold Gloves, but they definitely were represented.

The team that plays a mile above sea level were the only team to have both a pitcher in the top three of the Cy Young voting and a position player in the top three of the MVP voting. On top of that, the club also had Troy Tulowitzki cruise into the fifth spot in the National League, despite missing 33 games with a broken wrist.

What does all of that say? It says two things. First, the Rockies were an individually talented team that failed to play as a team. Second, the club was extremely talented and failed to play to expectations.

Of course, injuries played a huge part of the Rockies coming up short. Missing Jorge De La Rosa for two months certainly cost the club games. Tulowitzki missing from the middle of the lineup for a month was also costly. However, there is an easy conclusion to why the Rockies were an afterthought in the postseason race.

The answer is not necessarily nice, but it is hard to ignore. The 2009 manager of the year, the man who was able to turn the Rockies around just one year earlier, was the major reason why the team underperformed.

When the Rockies started out slow once again in April and May, Tracy talked about how much time the team still had to make up the gap. When the Rockies went 2-9 on a road trip that was all but the nail in the coffin after the All-Star break, Tracy said that his team struggled to play in the heat and humidity of the east coast. When Tracy put Paul Phillips behind the plate in a crucial game down the stretch in Los Angeles, Tracy said that they had already won two of three in the series and needed to rest his other two catchers. When the Rockies were finally knocked out of the race, Tracy referenced the teams injuries.

The fact is, when a team is as well represented in the postseason awards, that team should have been playing in October, and if they fell short, they should have been in it until the final weekend. What did having two of the best five players in the National League, and one of the top three pitchers in the league get the Rockies? A third place finish in a division that did not produce the wild card.

So what happened? The Rockies were extremely top-heavy. Their star players are superstars. They are in the leagues elite. Beyond that, however, there was no middle ground. Players who were supposed to be part of the supporting cast fell flat on their faces. Instead of them being challenged to improve, all that came from the manager's office was excuses.

The team also seemed to have a double standard. When Chris Iannetta struggled, he was sent back to Triple-A. When Seth Smith and Ian Stewart struggled, they continued to toil in the big leagues. When the Rockies were failing to get the ball into play, Tracy complimented the pitcher on having good stuff.

The fact is, the Rockies were a major failure in 2010. The votes conclude what fans already know. They had the star power to compete well into October. Whether fair or not, when a team loaded with talent like the Rockies fails, a certain amount of fault has to lie with the man filling out the lineup card. With the talent that resides in that clubhouse a manager should almost be able to sit back and watch the team win night after night. Instead, Tracy found himself over managing and making excuses.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Clint Barmes trade shows Colorado Rockies progress

It is a sad day in Colorado, but a sign of the Rockies moving forward as a club.

Clint Barmes, a major part of the Rockies rebuilding process that landed the club in the 2007 World Series, was traded to the Houston Astros for starting pitcher Felipe Paulino.

Paulino is a talented right handed pitcher who has struggled in the big leagues. He throws hard, but hasn't been able to put together a good enough campaign to make his acquisition anywhere near a blockbuster deal. In 2010 he went 1-9 with a 5.11 ERA. Those numbers sound horrible, but there is still upside.

Regardless of the player who the Rockies received, the fact is, before the end of the month, Barmes was most likely going to be non-tendered by the club and made a free agent, essentially ensuring that the Rockies got nothing out of him. Therefore, getting even an average pitcher for him is a win for the Rockies.

For the few Rockies fans who were there suffering through the bad days at Coors Field in the early part of the 2000's, watching Barmes leave is hard to take. His walk off home run against Trevor Hoffman on Opening Day in 2005 was a sign of good things to come for an organization that had been mired in a build-from-within mentality that was ushered in with the failed signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle.

While the 2005 season crashed and burned just days after the Barmes walk off home run, it was the first glimpse into what became "Gen R," the first round of home-grown talent that has made the Rockies a team worth watching again.

It is sad to see Barmes go. In a world full of athletes who think that they are pretty important, dubbing themselves "King James" and pounding on their chests when they do anything good, Barmes was old school. He worked hard and maximized his talent. He was always willing to talk to the media and he never acted too good for anyone.

The move to trade Barmes, or release him, which would have come had the trade not happened, is sad, but is something that is a good thing for Rockies fans.

It is fun to watch guys like Barmes work hard and have some success. It is fun to watch players work their tail off to prove that they belong in the big leagues. However, the move shows that the Rockies have moved beyond the days of needing to have players with limited talent play every single day.

Seeing Barmes go means that the Rockies have grown sufficient talent in their minor league system that the days of Brent Butler, Jamey Carroll, Omar Quintanilla, and Cory Sullivan are over. Those guys were fun to watch because of their work ethic, but the reality is, they are not the types of players who are going to bring a championship to Coors Field.

If, however, the Rockies are able to bring a title home to Colorado in the near future, there is no doubt that guys like Barmes and all of the other players who worked hard but will never appear on MVP ballots should feel a part of that championship. Their work ethic and their attitudes have helped shape what has become the Colorado Rockies, a team that is no longer a perennial loser, but a team that can be taken seriously.

For that, Rockies fans will be forever indebted to Clint Barmes and all of the other players who ushered in the winning era of the Colorado Rockies.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Colorado Rockies should be cautious with Jorge De La Rosa

The Colorado Rockies are in a lose-lose situation. If they don't re-sign Jorge De La Rosa, their fans will boil over with complaints of Rockies cheapness. However, if they do re-sign the left hander, they may have been successful at tying their own hands behind their backs.

Make no mistake about it, De La Rosa is a very good pitcher. He throws in the mid-90's from the left side and has a biting slider with a great changeup. That type of talent doesn't come around often.

Throw out De La Rosa's career 49-47 record with a 5.02 ERA. The majority of those losses came in the early part of his career when four different franchises gave up on him because he simply could not find a way to control his emotions and keep his confidence at a high enough level to compete.

De La Rosa's career finally turned the corner mid way through the 2008 season, not when he tweaked his mechanics or added an additional pitch, but rather when the club made him take a seat on the couch. The couch just happened to belong to the team's mental skills coach, Ronn Svetich.

Svetich was able to work with De La Rosa on only worrying about the things that he could control.

Suddenly, De La Rosa wasn't having the mental meltdowns that caused so many issues in his career. When the umpire wasn't giving him the corner, he took a deep breath and battled through it, rather than losing his focus and trying to overthrow.

All of that suggests that De La Rosa is a better pitcher than his numbers suggest that he is.

However, the other side of the story is what is scary. Despite finding mental relief that comes with visiting a sports psychologist, De La Rosa is still a very volatile baseball player. In order to perform at his best, he must have a clear head and be focused.

That is exactly why giving De La Rosa a huge contract might not be a good idea. As is the case with many players who sign big contracts that come with big expectations, it is very conceivable that the left-hander could start to over throw and think that he needs to prove that he is worthy of the contract that he just signed.

So is re-signing De La Rosa a bad idea for the Rockies? No. In fact, it is something that the club should make their No. 1 priority. However, they should be very careful not to over commit and break the bank by signing him to a four or five year deal worth somewhere in the $15 million per year range.

The Rockies should do everything that they can to get the 29-year old to sign a deal in the $12 million range.

That may sound impossible, but what has to remain in the back of the lefties mind has to be that he is very comfortable in Colorado. He finally figured himself out with the organization and became the pitcher that he currently is. By no means does that mean that he will stay, but comfort is worth something, and $12 million over three years is still a pretty good contract for a guy who looked more like a non-tender candidate three years ago than the second best pitcher on the free agent market.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez take home gold gloves for Colorado Rockies

Apparently the Colorado Rockies ineligibility for postseason awards is over.

On Wednesday Major League Baseball announced the National League Gold Glove winners. Included on the list were Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

Both players won the award for the first time, although Tulowitzki should already have two others to go along with this one. The shortstop led the National League in chances, fielding percentage and double plays, despite missing 33 games with a broken wrist. It is quickly becoming apparent that Tulowitzki is in the elite class of Major League shortstops.

Gonzalez won the award despite not having a home at one particular position in the outfield. He played 63 games in left field, 58 games in center field, and 40 games in right.

While the Rockies finally took home some postseason hardware, it does not come without controversy. According to the SABR statistic UZR (ultimate zone rating), Gonzalez supposedly was just slightly better than average in left field. Because of this, ESPN's Rob Neyer said on Twitter that Gonzalez's award comes not because of good play in the outfield, but because of his good season at the plate.

SABR statistics are a great new tool to evaluate baseball players. Instead of just grading a hitter off of batting average, these new methods factor in fly balls and ground balls and how well the player did when he got the ball into play. They also represent the first set of statistics to measure a players defensive abilities.

The problem, however, is that those from the SABR crowd have begun to rely on their nifty statistics for everything. Instead of watching a player play the game, they simply plug numbers into a computer and judge their abilities from there.

UZR is a valuable resource, but the fact is, sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, according to UZR, Clint Barmes is a below average 2nd baseman, and Seth Smith is a far better left fielder than Carlos Gonzalez. Anyone who actually thinks that is true has never watched the Rockies play.

Regardless, history will show that both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez were golden in the field for the Rockies in 2010, and for once, history will have properly represented the Colorado Rockies.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Colorado Rockies trade Miguel Olivo

The Colorado Rockies have traded catcher Miguel Olivo to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later.

The club had been mulling over what to do with the catcher, who had a club option for $2.5 million with a $500,000 buyout.

What the move means for Rockies fans is one of a few things. Either the Rockies are serious about pursuing free agent catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez or are pursing Mike Napoli from the Los Angeles Angels via trade, or they have decided to once again trust the future to Chris Iannetta.

Trusting Iannetta would be a bad choice for the Rockies, who have fallen into the same trap in each of the last two seasons. Luckily for the Rockies, they had a backup plan with Yorvit Torrealba and Olivo respectively.

Iannetta signed a three year deal worth just over $8 million before the 2010 season, but found himself in Triple-A before the end of May. He finished his season with a Mendoza-like batting average of .197 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs. While the SABR crowd would argue that Iannetta has been better than his traditional numbers suggest, the fact is, he simply has not passed the eye-test.

Despite hitting two walk-off home runs in 2010, Iannetta all-too-frequently found himself striking out (48 in 188 at-bats) or popping out.

The Rockies may be hoping that working with new hitting coach Carney Lansford, who helped Iannetta figure out his swing in Colorado Springs late in the 2007 season, will help the catcher finally turn the corner.

The move begins what should be an interesting offseason for the Rockies, who are trying to find a way to re-sign lefty starter Jorge De La Rosa and also find a power hitting right handed bat that can play some first base.

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