Friday, December 16, 2011

Colorado Rockies sign Michael Cuddyer, intent on changing the clubhouse

As a season full of disappointment came to a close, Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd had a very open conversation with Troy Renck of the Denver Post.

"We aren't going to spend money just to spend money. The one option that you won't see is adding marginal players in the mix for average dollars," O'Dowd said. "I have to stop making those decisions."
It was clear who O'Dowd was specifically talking about. He was referring to his decision to bring in re-tred

veterans like Ty Wigginton. The days of overpaying for mediocre talent were gone. It was time for the Rockies to get serious and spend good money on good free agents. The draft wasn't working like it had been in years past, and middle-of-the-road free agents weren't going to cut it. The Rockies must break free of their ways and sign a meaningful veteran.

On Friday, the Rockies came to terms on a three-year deal with veteran Michael Cuddyer worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million.

The Rockies are trying to sell the deal as them breaking free of the "B-list" free agents and making a big splash in the market. They are trying to tell their fans that they have departed from their former ways and they are willing to spend the big bucks to land a big name.

The only problem? While Cuddyer is a good player, he has never been extremely impressive. He is good, but he isn't great.

However, he fits the desires of the Rockies front office and management perfectly. He is a guy who can play both corner outfield spots, a little at third base, and can fill in at first base if needed. Unfortunately, he gives Jim Tracy and the Rockies staff just one more tool to tinker with.

If Cuddyer is a good player, why the fuss? Well, it is simple. The move essentially eliminates Seth Smith's position on the roster. Cuddyer makes Smith expendable, and the Rockies are most likely going to find a team to make a deal with for the lefty slugger.

So basically, the Rockies are swapping out Smith for Cuddyer. Does that make sense? Well, take a look at the numbers. In his career, Cuddyer has never his above .284. His best season came in 2009, where he hit .276 with a .342 on-base percentage. That year he hit 32 home runs while driving in 94 runs. He finished 21st in the American League MVP voting.

That is certainly a good season, but compare those numbers to Smith, whose best season came in 2011, where he hit .284 with 15 home runs and 59 RBIs in limited appearances because he rarely got to face left-handed pitchers.

Put side-by-side, the numbers are very similar. So what is the big deal? Well, consider that on opening day, Cuddyer will be 33-years old. Smith will be just 29. Those are a big four years when it comes to production. On top of the age difference, consider the contract. Smith enters his first season of arbitration eligibility and stands to make a significant raise. That raise should put him somewhere around $2 million for the 2012 season. Cuddyer will be making $10 million.

So what did the Rockies get for their extra $8 million? They got a guy who hits from the right side of the plate for decent power, and most importantly to the Rockies, a guy who can play a multitude of positions.

It is clear that of all the things the Rockies value, the main thing is versatility. The Rockies are stacked with guys who can play second base, third base and the outfield. They fall in love with guys who are utility guys. It is clear that this is not just a Jim Tracy issue. The front office for the Rockies clearly believes that they are better off with three regulars, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Todd Helton playing one position, and then five other position players who can be mixed-and-matched throughout the lineup and around the field.

The problem with this system is that no one gets into a rhythm. In a game where players value their routines more than any other sport, this throws a wrench into things. Guys like Seth Smith don't know whether to prepare as a starter, as a bench player, or as a defensive replacement. When they get into a groove at the plate one day, they find themselves on the bench the next two because they are facing two pitchers who throw from the left side.

This belief has held the team back immensely. The lineup shuffling would be the equivalent of having a closer finish out a one-run game one night, then pitch mop-up duty the next night, and then watching the next guy close out a one-run game the following day, all to start the cycle over again. Baseball players need to know their roles. They need to know what position they hold on the team. Putting more than one or two guys in a utility-type of role on a baseball team is like changing the beat of a song mid-tune. It doesn't work.

The Colorado Rockies are desperately trying to show their fans that they are serious about winning, they want to win, but they can't see the talent that they have in their own clubhouse because they are continue to trip over their own philosophies.


  1. 'They' are looking at the club house through a Jim Tracy filter. SIGH

  2. One thing that you did not mention in this post is that they are trying to change the attitude in the clubhouse also. I want to see them come out from day one with a must win attitude. I get tired of hearing Tulo tell me that it's a long season.