Friday, January 14, 2011

Colorado Rockies big contracts baffle those outside of Denver

The Colorado Rockies have played baseball for 18 seasons.

There were the honeymoon years, when crowds filled up Mile High Stadium or Coors Field, simply because baseball had arrived. There were the early successes that saw the likes of Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga bash their way into the playoffs.

There were the big-spending years, in which the Rockies pretended they were a large-market team and signed big-name free agents. First it was Darryl Kile, then came the real debacles, the Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle deals.

It seemed the product on the field couldn't get any worse, but it did. The Rockies finally understood that they were not cut out for spending big money on the cream of the free agent crop every year. They needed to build from within. Many Rockies fans who packed the seats in the 90's jumped off of the bandwagon. Fans simply couldn't look to the future. They saw the 72-win seasons as unacceptable. They longed for the old, failed strategy to be re-enacted. They didn't understand why the Rockies were not willing to shell out big money to free agents. The local media pundits, the likes of Mark Kiszla and Woody Paige, ripped the Rockies ownership for years, claiming that they were greedy and penny-pinchers. Most of the fan base bought in.

The Rockies front office, despite constant calls for their heads, held strong in their belief that they were doing the right thing. They were vindicated in 2007 when a young Rockies team suddenly put it all together and surprised everyone in the baseball world with a wild ride to the National League pennant.

That offseason, plan "B" kicked in for the club. They inked their soon-to-be second year shortstop to a deal that took him through his arbitration years and would keep him in a Rockies uniform through 2014.

After failing to live up to the hype in 2008, most Rockies fans dubbed the pennant run a fluke. The plan was being called into question again.

Once again, the front office held strong. They dealt Matt Holliday to the A's after it became clear that he did not believe in the plan to win and thought he could do better on the free agent market. The move was ridiculed by Rockies fans as proof that ownership was cheap and would never pay their big-name players, that they would simply deal them away when the time came to pay them.

After an incredible offseason in which the Rockies have locked up both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to 10 year and seven year deals respectively, fans have finally started to see the big picture that the Rockies front office has seen the whole time.

The two deals were lauded by fans in Denver. Finally they knew who their stars were going to be for years to come. Finally, they had a guarantee that their favorite players would be with the team long-term. No longer is the team viewed as a farm team for the rest of the league.

While the teams were applauded in Denver, the rest of baseball seems to have a different opinion. Jayson Stark, of ESPN wrote an article about the big deals in this offseason. He mentions the Rockies signings not in a way that praises the Rockies for signing their stars when they had the chance, but talking about the risk the the club took and how it might not have been the smartest move.

Craig Calterra, the lead blogger for NBC Sports, ridiculed the Rockies on Twitter, mocking the club for signing players that were already under their control for the foreseeable future.

The comments and articles show exactly how little it takes to be an "expert." While both writers have an expansive knowledge of baseball, and are well respected, their statements make it clear how little they understand about baseball in Colorado.

What these "experts" do not seem to understand, is that the Rockies did not make these deals prematurely, but rather, they signed both players in just the nick of time.

Here is what the naysayers don't seem to understand. If the Rockies had decided to wait one more year to make a deal happen with Gonzalez, and say he hits .300 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs, a year that is below his production level of 2010, then their 7-year, $80 million deal just turned into a 7-year, $125 million deal. If that happens, the Rockies are essentially priced out of the Gonzalez sweepstakes, and are forced into a Matt Holliday situation.

The same thing goes for Tulowitzki. While the Rockies negotiated a team-friendly deal through 2014, another year like Tulowitzki had, or even slightly less, and the shortstop goes from being a top-5 shortstop in baseball, to one of the premier players in the game. Considering Jayson Werth received a $120+ million deal over seven years after never being the best player on his team, one can only imagine how much Tulo would be worth.

Yes, the Rockies are taking a risk. These deals could set the Rockies back for years if injuries creep in, or in Gonzalez proves to be a fluke. However, if the club has any intention of keeping their young superstars, these are the risks that they will have to take.

The other option for the Rockies is to never take these types of risks and resolve themselves to be the National League's version of the Cleveland Indians, or Kansas City Royals, teams that always seem to have a good farm system, but when those players get near free agency, they are dealt in order to get some value, instead of simply a compensation pick when that player signs with a team that can afford a huge risk.

The Rockies are taking a huge risk, but it is a risk that every medium-market team is envious of. The fact is, to be competitive for more than one or two years out of every decade, the Rockies must take risks like these two deals. They must lock their young players in for money that is enticing to the player in the early years and enticing to the team in the later years if the player performs.

Time will tell how good these deals are, but one year from now, these same "experts" could be talking about what a bargain the Rockies got with both of these players.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

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