The Rockies are in the midst of one of the best stretches of the season with a 4 game winning streak and 7 wins in their last 10 games. The 8 wins already in August has already surpassed July’s total (7) and even featured back to back wins for the starting pitchers. Much of the improved play has been a result of young players getting extended playing time thanks to under-performing veterans going on the DL. This week, we discuss if Todd Helton should return for 2013, if Josh Rutledge should begin to prepare for Tulo’s return, and who can provide the best protection for CarGo.
1. Do you want to see Todd Helton on the Rockies’ roster in 2013?
- Brendan: Absolutely. Todd Helton deserves a better end than what has happened in 2012 and he should be on the roster for 2013. He could even take a page out of Chipper Jones’ book: announce that 2013 will be his last year and take a final tour. I am not saying that he should be starting 100+ games for the Rockies, but a reserve/mentoring role is appropriate. Essentially, he could take over Jason Giambi’s role as a bat off the bench that can provide an occasional start to stay fresh. It is not like the Rockies have a whole lot of competition for first base and Helton has earned the right to end his career on his terms. Even though he is a shell of his former self, I would like to see Helton ride off into the sunset and I hope that #17 is in the dugout next season.
- Kevin: The Rockies will give Todd Helton a roster spot next year (he does have one year left on his contract), and that is a microcosm of what is wrong with this franchise. This organization refuses to make “difficult” decisions that will improve the product on the field. One of the difficult decisions is parting ways with aging veterans who cost too much and don’t produce on the field. Cuddyer MUST be traded. His salary is too big, and there are other players who are much younger, at least as good, and cost a fraction of the price. But, this organization likes “clubhouse guys,” whatever the hell that means. How has this clubhouse culture overhaul worked out, O’Dowd? So, with regards to Helton, I have no desire to see him on the team next year. Riding off into the sunset is fine and great when you’re actually good, but when all you do is hit poorly, field poorly, and play only one position, there is no sense in having that person on the team. I love Todd Helton; he is the best Rockie ever, a possible hall of famer, and unequivocally should have his jersey retired by the club. It would be unfortunate to see his career end this way, but it would be more unfortunate to see him play just as poorly next year while doing next to nothing to help the club win.
- Ned: A healthy Todd Helton playing at a high level would be terrific for the team. Helton has a career BA of .320, and average annual production of 103 RBI. A bat like that in the 3, 5 or 6 hole would be a welcome addition to any team. Problem is, he turns 40 next year, and probably can’t duplicate his historic averages. Slipping Todd into a Giambi-like role is probably the most likely scenario for the Rockies. Throughout his career, this guy has been the face of the franchise and as steady as a rock. We are very fortunate to have had him in Colorado. Next year, 2013, is the last year of his contract. Hopefully, the team will give him an honorable exit and well deserved final year of accolades. Plus, it would be nice to see Todd advance a few more spots in the career doubles standings where he already stands at number 22 with 570 doubles.
- Brendan: That depends on if Tulo is coming back. If Tulo is really going to be back this year, then Rutledge should move when Tulo is about 5 days away. However, if Tulo is going to shut it down for 2012 and start fresh in 2013, then Rutledge should stay at short. The current Rockies roster is at its best when Rutledge is at short stop and I am a believer in always striving to win (or at least compete) even when the season is lost. He played 22 games at second base in Tulsa and has all off season and spring training to become comfortable at second, so I think he will be fine for 2013 regardless. If we really do see Tulo again this year (and I am pretty convinced that we will), then a few games at second before Tulo’s return is appropriate for Rutledge to adjust to the new position. Moving him now makes the current Rockies an even worse team, and in the Year of the Fan, the Rockies owe it to everyone involved to put their best product out there (even if their best stinks).
- Kevin: At some point, Tulo is going to have to move to third base. Some people are clamoring for this to happen sooner rather than later. One argument espoused by some is defense, but this is weak. Troy is still one of the best fielding shortstops in the game, with the sixth best UZR ratings from 2010 to 2012. His immediate replacement, Josh Rutledge, has fielded poorly in the majors, albeit in a small sample size. Also, note that Tulo struggled mightily on defense when he first was called up to the big leagues in 2006. The point here is that the infield defense is at its best with Tulo playing shortstop. However, the defense is only at its best when Troy is on the field, which brings up the second argument. Health concerns are the real reason to consider moving Tulo to third. Troy has been significantly injured four times in his career, two of which happened while fielding (the other two were a broken wrist from a hit-by-pitch and a lacerated hand suffered from breaking a bat in frustration with O’Dowd’s inability to put together a decent team). The most important thing with Tulo is keeping him on the field as much as possible, and if that means playing him at third base, where he will be less involved defensively and less likely to get hurt, then that is what the team needs to do. All of this means that maybe Rutledge should stay at shortstop and not move to second.
- Ned: Rutledge is an excellent defensive shortstop—good range, smooth pick-up, quick transfer and strong arm. This year, in his first major league season, he has played in 27 games and has 1116 plate appearances. His average is .315 with a .940 OPS. Every time a small hole in his swing seems to be exposed, he quickly closes it. In short, Rutledge looks to be the real deal. And you have to love his body language—not quite a strut, but he clearly exudes justified confidence. Fans tend to become a little outraged when it is suggested that the smart move would be to move Tulo to third, and leave Rutledge at second. Such a move would likely significantly improve Tulo’s leg health, lengthen his career, and increase his playing time every year. But the Rockies won’t make that move, because the team never does make the truly smart move. As soon as Tulo returns, the Rockies will move Rutledge to second where his fielding will be above average, and where he will hopefully continue his eye-popping batting. This will leave the really nice-hitting Pacheco at third. With Colvin likely taking over at first, the Rox look to have a first rate infield going into 2013, which will be a welcome change from recent years. Now, if they can only fix the problem at catcher…
- Brendan: Of the currently active players, I would have to go with Jordan Pacheco. Teams are justifiably refusing to let CarGo beat them and as a result he has seen a steady diet of off speed pitches and intentional walks (including the unintentional-intentional variety). A hot Tyler Colvin would be the best candidate, but he is too streaky to be a consistent threat. Rosario has potential too, but he struggles too much with breaking pitches to change how teams are pitching to CarGo. Dexter or Rutledge are both options, but the Rockies need those guys getting on base ahead of CarGo to force the opponents into the situation in the first place. Pacheco certainly has his faults too: poor OBP (.342) and not enough power to name two, but with runners on base his triple slash line is .320/.368/.406 and his batting average on balls in play is .339, so he has a chance of taking advantage of more base runners. The bottom line is that no one on the current roster can consistently protect CarGo and highlights one of the under-appreciated effects of Tulo’s prolonged absence.
- Kevin: Pacheco, while sporting an attractive .309 batting average, has just the eighth highest OPS among regulars (.747), so I would not pick him. But, there are a few intriguing options for the Rockies. First, they can hit Colvin behind CarGo. Colvin has the third highest OPS on the team (.867), and although lately he has been struggling somewhat, he can best protect CarGo without reshuffling the lineup. People like Jim Tracy might shudder at the thought of back-to-back lefties in the middle of the lineup, but let’s worry about crafting a lineup that can actually get the Rockies into a competitive late inning game before we start worrying about what we’re going to do in a close game. Also, CarGo and Colvin both have decent lefty-righty splits, so this really isn’t a big deal. Second, the Rockies can reshuffle the lineup. They could play EY everyday, even if it is in right field. EY would lead off, and either Rutledge or Fowler would hit second (or Fowler could lead off with EY hitting second), with the other hitting fourth. Hitting Rutledge fourth would be a lot to ask of the rookie, but hitting Fowler fourth would take-away at bats from Fowler, who gets on base as much as almost anyone on the team. Among these options, I like the lineup of (1) EY, (2) Fowler, (3) CarGo, (4) Colvin, (5) Rutledge, (6) Pacheco, (7) Rosario, (8) Nelson. Note that Cuddyer is absent from this lineup not because he is on the DL, but rather because he has no business whatsoever taking away playing time from a younger player. The youth is the future, and the future is now.
- Ned: Conventional wisdom dictates that you should have a right-handed bat behind Cargo, who should stay in the three hole. Despite the brain-dead reasoning of ex-managers like Tony LaRussa, it is a mathematical certainty that the higher a guy bats in the order the more plate appearances he will have over the course of a season. Does everyone agree that Cargo’s plate appearances should be maximized? Good. Therefore, keep him in the three hole. Without Tulo, he should be protected with Rutledge rather than Pacheco. While Pacheco is a very nice hitter, Rutledge’s power and average merits clean-up, and gives greatest protection for Cargo. By keeping Colvin in the fifth spot and batting Pacheco sixth, this looks to be a solid middle of the line-up until Tulo returns to reclaim the clean-up position.
Have a different take? Let us know in the comments below.
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