Obviously, last year was extremely disappointing for every Rockies’ fan. The truth is that the team we all expected to contend at the beginning of the season had a lot more weaknesses than strengths. There were massive holes at third and second base, and the outfield was pretty weak against left-handed pitching. But, even with all these offensive holes that need to be filled, the team’s biggest problem last year was the starting rotation. Ubaldo struggled out of the gate and never regained the dominant form that was last seen at the beginning of 2010. Maybe the Rockies knew something, maybe they didn’t. Either way, U is gone, and so far, the deal doesn’t seem that bad.
The biggest blow came when Jorge De La Rosa tore his ulnar ligament. We didn’t completely realize it at the time, but that killed this team’s chances. Also, there was the horrible injury to the promising Juan Nicasio and the incredibly frustrating season given by Jason Hammel. Arguably, Jhoulys Chacin was the only bright spot and even he had some pretty big struggles down the stretch. So, O’Dowd and company have made it a priority to restock the system with pitching prospects. Whether or not any of them pan out remains to be seen, but you have to at least applaud him for being proactive. Now we should all just hope that the Rockies’ don’t ruin them all because let’s face it, their track record of developing young pitchers isn’t exactly a strong one.
If you want to read more about the new pitching staff and the Rockies’ dumping of Huston Street, Travis has you covered. For the purposes of this article I’d like to focus on second and third base. After all, now that they’ve added some pieces to the rotation, those are probably the two places where they most need an upgrade. Unfortunately, unless O’Dowd gets really creative, there aren’t many options at either of these positions. Nevertheless, this does merit some level of discussion. Even if it’s wild speculation, it’s still fun, right?
Coming into this off-season, my top target at second would’ve been Kelly Johnson. He’s definitely a risky proposition, but he’d be a solid fit with the Rockies. He has pop, is more than serviceable defensively, and is probably due for a rebound after hitting .222 last year (career low .277 BABIP). However, this morning, Johnson accepted arbitration with the Blue Jays. Cross him off the list.
Other free agent second basemen include: Craig Counsell, Carlos Guillen, Jose Lopez, Aaron Miles, and Nick Punto, or in other words, a big bag of nothing. I couldn’t even type Jose Lopez with a straight face. The Rockies’ options are extremely limited and a trade seems like the only possible way to upgrade the position. But, it’s not like second basemen grow on trees. They are hard to find and even harder to pry out of the hands of another team.
Earlier this week, Tracy Ringolsby reported that the Padres are looking to dump Orlando Hudson this off-season. He’s somewhat intriguing, but he’s also old, injury prone, and on the downside of his career. Also, if a deal for Hudson were going to happen, it probably would’ve been in return for Huston Street. Maybe the Padres didn’t think that was a good move, or maybe the Rockies weren’t interested in Hudson to begin with. Either way, it’s not happening and frankly it shouldn’t. At this point in his career, Hudson is nothing more than a name.
Basically, I just wrote a few hundred words detailing how the Rockies are probably screwed at second. Let’s all hope that Chris Nelson or EY Jr. can take some steps forward next year, though I’m not exactly holding my breath on that one. On to third.
So far this off-season, there has been some indication that the Rox might be willing to give Ian Stewart another shot at third next year. However, there have been a lot of recent trade rumors surrounding the enigmatic third baseman over the past week. The Cubs and Pirates, in particular, are said to be interested. Before they make a move at the position, they’ll have to make a decision on Stewart and it’s possible that we will see much of the same at the hot corner next year.
As far as free agents at third, the list is only slightly better than second. Wilson Betemit swings a decent bat, but he hasn’t played 100 games in a season since 2007. Even worse, he has stone hands and limited range.
There is also Aramis Ramirez. He’s probably the most intriguing potential free agent target for the Rockies. Last year, he hit over .300 with pop, and more importantly, he played in 149 games. If he were a Rockie last season, he would’ve been one of their most productive players. Also, Coors Field would be a great park for him. However, Ramirez comes with a lot of red flags. One, he turns 34 next June, meaning he’s almost certainly on the decline and any kind of long-term commitment would eventually leave the Rockies stuck with an over the hill player at the hot corner. Two, he’s not very good defensively anymore. And finally, since he is being ranked by many as one of the top ten free agents in baseball, it’s doubtful that the Rockies would get a good deal on him. It’s probably best to stay away from Ramirez, which seems to be the case for the Rockies.
There is one decent trade possibility, but even that feels like a pipe dream. David Wright’s name has come up over and over again dating back to last off-season. Wright is still young and would be a great fit in Coors Field. If the Rockies can get him, they should. But, after the departure of Jose Reyes, the Mets may not be all that warm to the idea of moving another valuable asset. It wouldn’t go over particularly well with their tough fan base. With that said, I do think it would be a big move for the Rockies. Wright would instantly upgrade the lineup, giving the Rockies more of a power presence behind Tulo and Cargo, as well as fixing the third base black hole. He’s somewhat limited defensively, but his bat more than makes up for it. It’s easy to foresee him hitting 30 plus homers for the Rockies.
I’ve been tough on O’Dowd, and I still feel like that is justified, but it’s also possible that he’s just being prudent this off-season. I’d rather lower payroll – and expectations – while maintaining some flexibility for the future. Honestly, the addition of a Ramirez or a Hudson won’t do much to increase the Rox championship prospects, so it’s probably smart just to ride it out next year.
Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that some of these young pitchers breakthrough in 2012. That, more than anything else, will put this team back on the playoff map. Also, it does sound like they are going to do something about their inability to hit left handed pitching, which I’ll discuss tomorrow. For now, I guess I quit calling for O’Dowd’s head, at least for a couple of weeks.
If I’m missing anything here, please feel free to add to it.