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.

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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Colorado Rockies active at Winter Meetings, deal Street to Padres

The Colorado Rockies are quietly rebuilding their roster in Dallas at the annual baseball winter meetings.

With all of the hype around what the newly-named Miami Marlins are doing, particularly signing Jose Reyes to an absurd amount of money and trying to lure Albert Pujols with an even more absurd amount of money, the Rockies have seemed quiet. However, the club is doing anything but standing pat.

If Dan O'Dowd believed that Jim Tracy wasn't the issue, and Jim Tracy believed that none of his coaches were the issue, then they are backing up their beliefs this week.

Instead of re-tooling the coaching staff, the Rockies are quietly changing a clubhouse mindset that most believe became too comfortable, too okay with losing.

The other issue that became glaringly obvious in 2011 is that the Rockies are not as deep as they thought they were. that is particularly true when it comes to starting pitching. It was so apparent that the club was in a position that they were almost forced to deal former ace Ubaldo Jimenez, just to have additional options.

With a clubhouse that became too content, and a lack of starting pitching depth, the Rockies are trying to kill two birds with one stone. Last week they shipped Chris Iannetta to the Angels for Tyler Chatwood, a 21-year old starting pitcher who has the potential to be a back-end starter, or a late-inning reliever. They also traded a player-to-be-named-later for Kevin Slowey from the Minnesota Twins, a rebound candidate who went winless in 2011, but was a double-digit winning the previous three seasons.

Earlier in the offseason they parted ways with O'Dowd's biggest mistake from a year ago, trading Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for nothing more than salary relief.

It was well known that the Rockies were doing their best to trade Huston Street, especially considering that he had been supplanted by Rafael Betancourt as the closer, and the future is looking closer than ever with Rex Brothers proving that he has the ability to get the job done at the big league level.

With Street owed $7.5 million going into 2012, most thought that the Rockies would have to eat a large chunk of his salary. However, O'Dowd worked out a deal with the division-rival Padres, who were willing to absorb almost all of Street's contract.

The salary relief puts the Rockies in a great position to go make a move to fill a hole. Signs point to them making a run at Michael Cuddyer from Minnesota, or taking a chance at Cody Ross to fill some holes.

Guys like Cuddyer and Ross are clear examples of the Rockies wanting to change the mindset in the clubhouse. Both of those guys are grinders. They are both guys who want to win at all costs.

With Iannetta and Wigginton gone, and Seth Smith and Ian Stewart squarely on the trading block, the Rockies objective is clear. All of four of those players are similar type of players. They all play hard, but their enthusiasm is not clear. They may be passionate for the game, but when there are too many quiet type of players on the field, it becomes infectious and almost lulls a team to sleep.

Not everyone needs to be like Troy Tulowitzki. In fact, 25 guys like Tulowitzki might be worse than 25 guys who are the opposite. However, there needs to be a good mix, and the Rockies clearly haven't had that over the past two seasons. Players can be quiet, but their desire to win needs to be evident. Todd Helton is the best example of that. No one questions his desire to win. It oozes from his pores.

The Rockies are in the process of rebuilding the talent on their roster, but more importantly, they are in the process of rebuilding the mindset in the clubhouse.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feeling towards Chris Iannetta still baffling

I never question why a fan falls in love with a player.

That is part of the fun of being a fan. Finding something in a particular player that makes you root for that guy. It might be his talent, it might be his character, it might be his work ethic, it might be his looks, it might be his potential.

My sister, who was never a baseball fan, became a passionate Colorado Rockies fan not because of Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla, but rather because of a light-hitting second baseman named Brent Butler. Butler was listed at 6'0", 180 lbs. He would have been lucky to be 6'0" with four inch heels on, and the only way he weighed 180 lbs is if he carried a twenty pound dumbell with him when it was time to weigh in.

For parts of three seasons, Butler played his heart out for the Rockies. He was a player who never forgot how good it was to be a Major Leaguer. His final big league stats? .248 batting average, with a .285 on-base percentage. He hit 11 home runs and drove in 60 runs.

There needs to be no rhyme or reason why fans root for certain players. That is one of the beautiful things about sports.

However, the amount of passion for Chris Iannetta still baffles me. Sure, Iannetta came up in September 2006 as if he would be the first Rockies catcher to really make a name for himself. However, he simply never lived up to that potential.

Since Iannetta was traded on Wednesday, and really since 2007, Iannetta's fans have been defending him as if he were the greatest catcher in baseball who was being mistreated by the Rockies. The passion went beyond baseball, too. Many of his fans suggested that Iannetta's feelings were probably hurt because of how poorly the Rockies management was handling him.

They argued that his high on-base percentage proved that he was a great player, better than Yorvit Torrealba in 2007 and 2009, and better than Miguel Olivo in 2010. They pointed to his slugging percentage, and the high number of extra base hits he recorded. The reality is, Iannetta became the poster boy for sabermetric stats, the same principles used in the recent Brad Pitt movie, "Moneyball."

The reality is, Iannetta lost playing time to Torrealba in 2007 and 2009 because Torrealba outplayed him. In 2010, the story was the same when was beat out by Miguel Olivo.

The critics were correct in saying that both Torrealba and Olivo were journeymen catchers who were simply on a hot streak. They were right. Certainly, Iannetta possesses physical talents that go beyond what those two catchers possess. However, talent doesn't win baseball games, results do.

Sure, maybe Iannetta found himself on the bench too quickly after slow starts. Maybe luck wasn't on his side in that he wasn't able to play through his slumps because the catchers signed to back him up caught fire and forced their managers hand. But really, whose fault is that? It wasn't Clint Hurdle's and it wasn't Jim Tracy's fault.

This isn't Little League. This isn't about what is fair and what isn't fair. Major League Baseball is a results-driven business. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry that relies on teams being successful. When salaries are as high as they are, and win-loss records push ticket sales, there is no room for excuses. If Iannetta lost his job to veterans who happened to catch fire at the right time, it's not anyone's fault but Chris Iannetta's. Unfortunately, there have probably been hundreds of star players who never reached their star potential because they simply didn't get it done when they needed to.

There is a saying in baseball that the only thing harder than getting to the big leagues is staying there. With as much competition as there is in baseball, the window of opportunity to be successful is small, and it closes fast. That is the unfortunate nature of the beast. There is no doubt that Iannetta's 2008 season was one of the best by any catcher in the league that year. However, he didn't follow it up. He never proved that it wasn't a fluke. He never removed all doubt. He was never consistent.

Fans will point to how many walks Iannetta was able to gather in. Fans will say that his eye was as good as anybody on the team. They may be right. However, those critical of Iannetta wish he would have swung the bat a little bit more. A walk is as good as a hit, but not when the pitcher is due up next and there are two outs. The only good thing it does at that point is turn the lineup over. With the power that Iannetta possesses, it would have been much more fun to see him expand his zone and let it fly more than he did.

Was it Iannetta's fault that he was relegated to the eight-hole? Absolutely not. The lineups that Jim Tracy writes up on a day-to-day basis are the greatest sign of his micromanagement. There probably isn't a soul in the world besides Tracy that explain the logic in Iannetta hitting in the eight-hole every time he played, while other catchers who have far less talent were taking swings in the cleanup spot. That is something that Iannetta fan's and non-fans will agree on.

The two days since the trade were filled with people saying all sorts of things about Iannetta. He is such an oddly polarizing figure. Fans referred to Iannetta as "so much fun to watch." While I understand being a fan, I must be missing something. Iannetta's play was hardly fun to watch. Even when he was successful. It's not like he played the game with an amazing grace. I feel like I must have missed something. I appreciate it and understand it, but I have never watched a batter take four pitches outside of the strike zone and been mesmerized by how fun that was to watch.

Like I mentioned, there is no reason that has to be given by a fan for why they fall in love with a player. No one has to have a reason. However, the number of Iannetta fans out there who seem to be heartbroken by the trade is perplexing.

The reality is, Iannetta is an average Major League Baseball player who most likely will never hit his talent ceiling. There is nothing wrong with that. It just seems weird that so many people saw so many different things in him.