Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Colorado Rockies trade Chris Iannetta; prepare to sign Ramon Hernandez

On Wednesday afternoon, the Colorado Rockies completed a trade sending catcher Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angeles in exchange for starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood.

The move coincides with the Rockies nearing a deal with free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez. The deal with the former Red is reportedly a two-year deal worth just over $6 million.

The move brings a power arm in the form of 21-year old Chatwood. Despite a poor win-loss record, Chatwood shows promise. He is a hard thrower with a high ceiling. He went 6-11 with a 4.75 ERA in 27 games for the Angels, 25 of them coming as a starter. The California native will be just 22-years old on Opening Day.

The move ends a slightly odd era in Colorado. Iannetta was by far the most polarizing player to don a Rockies uniform. A highly touted prospect, Iannetta came into the big leagues with enormous expectations. The club had seen "can't miss" catching prospects come and go, from Jawhawk Owens to Ben Petrick to JD Closser, the Rockies had seen their fair share of catching prospects fail to pan out.

However, Iannetta never reached the ceiling that his talent suggested he could hit. He was handed the starting job in 2007, but quickly struggled to find his way. After being supplanted by journeyman Yorvit Torrealba, Iannetta never regained his footing. He was shipped back to Triple-A late in the season, returning in time to watch Torrealba catch every game of the famous 2007 run to the pennant.

The following year was going to be a different story. The Rockies were ready to give Iannetta the job once again. However, he stumbled out of the gate and lost the job to Torrealba again. After the Rockies fell out of contention in the disappointing season, Iannetta quietly put up phenomenal numbers. In the end, his offensive numbers were among the top five in baseball.

The following season is when the controversy began in earnest. Iannetta was coming off of a phenomenal season, and then matched that play in the World Baseball Classic. He seemed ready for a breakout season. Instead, the catcher regressed, hitting just .228. He did, however, launch 16 home runs and drive in 52 runs in just 93 games. A hot start from Miguel Olivo caused the Rockies to once again give up on Iannetta and play the hot hand.

Iannetta's supporters shouted that he wasn't given a chance. They said that he was a great player who was outplayed by a veteran in each of the season's beginnings, but should have been given a chance to play through his struggles. His detractors said that he was just another flamed out prospect in a long line of failed Rockies catchers.

The debates raged on.

Iannetta's supporters suggested that his low batting averages should be ignored because his on-base percentage was so high. They also pointed to his ability to hit for extra bases on a regular basis as reason to look passed the low batting average.

In May of 2010, after another slow start, Iannetta was shipped back to Colorado Springs for a refresher course. The move made many Iannetta fans believe that there was some sort of vendetta against him in the front office. Many thought that Jim Tracy or Dan O'Dowd had issues with Iannetta's attitude or personality. They felt that it wasn't fair to him, and that once again, he wasn't getting a fair shake.

In the end, however, Iannetta never lived up to his potential. It may not be fair to him. He is who he is. The fact that he never became the player that fans and the front office envisioned isn't his fault. Maybe he was a victim of bad timing. Every time he struggled, the other catcher on the squad seemed outplay him. However, the fact remains, he never hit his ceiling, which caused his eventual trade.

Iannetta may never have been used in the right spot. Tracy always seemed to pencil him into the eighth spot in the lineup, regardless of the other tinkering that he was doing throughout the lineup. In fact, on several occasions down the stretch, Tracy left Iannetta in the eight-hole, while light-hitting center fielder Dexter Fowler found himself in the three-hole. Even Mark Ellis found himself in the three-hole with Iannetta in the eighth spot.

Whatever it was, Iannetta simply never was the impact player that the Rockies envisioned. He made improvements, but failed to be anything above average.

The Rockies ability to pick up a young arm from the Angels, one that they will have control of for the next five seasons, is more than enough to make the trade a good one for the Rockies. The move bolsters the young starting rotation that showed a lack of depth when Ubaldo Jimenez started slow and Jorge De La Rosa went down.

Iannetta fans may be disappointed. They may think that the Rockies lost a chance to see what he can really do, but the fact is, Iannetta's value was as high after the 2011 season as it most likely ever will be. With the ability to sign Hernandez, buying Wilin Rosario time to grow up without pressure, and gain a pitcher at relatively close to the salary of Iannetta, the Rockies end up as winners.

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