The offseason is officially over (and Bronco mania has subsided), which means that we can begin to look forward to 2013 and grasp for reasons to believe it will be better than the disaster of 2012 – the eternal optimism of spring training. While other teams like the Indians and Royals made big moves to improve their clubs, the Rockies were content to retool the coaching staff and leave the roster pretty much intact. Admittedly, getting Tulo and De La Rosa back from injury is similar to adding a middle of the order bat and top of the rotation starter, so although the names are familiar, it is not exactly the same team that bumbled through the franchise’s worst season ever. Here, we knock off some of the cobwebs and take a look at a few of the moves the Rockies did make: a new contract for Dex, the resigning of Francis, and the new names on the coaching staff.
1. True or False: the Rockies will regret the contract extension they gave to Dexter Fowler ($11.6 for 2013 and 14)?
- Brendan: False. And really, it’s not even close. Consider these career slash lines: Fowler: .271/.364/.427 (.791 OPS); Michael Bourn: .272/.339/.365 (.704 OPS). Bourn is 30 and just signed a 4 year deal with the Indians worth $48M with a $12M option for 2017. Fowler is almost 27 and, in comparison to Bourn, is signed at an absolute bargain. I will admit that back-loading a 2 year deal ($4.25M in 2013 and $7.35 in 2014) is a little strange and may suggest that Fowler is trade bait come July, but this is a great deal for the Rockies. The only thing that the Rockies may come to regret about Fowler’s contract is that it did not include a few more years.
- Kevin: False. The deal is low-risk for the Rockies – at worst, they paid $11.6 million over two seasons. Dex is a very good offensive player. Even when he “struggles” at the plate and hits .250, he offsets that by taking lots of walks (12.8% of the time he walked in 2012). He also has some power and great speed. For Dex to take the next step and become a top centerfielder, he must improve his defense, which has graded out poorly throughout his MLB career. If Dex maintains his offensive production and gets his defense up to league average, this deal will be a bargain for the Rockies, and Dex will be looking at a Michael Bourn four years/$48 million deal two years from now.
- Ned: False. Locking-up Dex for two years looks like a smart move by the Rockies. Let’s compare Dexter Fowler to Juan Pierre. Both players were Rockies’ draft picks—13th and 14th rounds, respectively. Both debuted in the major leagues at age 22. Both have terrific speed. Pierre is a great base stealer, while Dex is really just an OK thief. Although he does not have the explosive first step of Pierre, Dex does have long-legged speed which enables him to cover centerfield every bit as well as Pierre did. Fowler hits with much better power than Pierre and with a similar average. The Dodgers paid Pierre over $8M per year from 2007 through 2009, and the Cubs paid him an average of $7.75M in 2010 and 2011. Pierre was paid $5.75M when he was 27 (2005) and $7.5M when he was 28 (2006). In contrast, the young (27 years old next month) and promising Dex seems like a real bargain who was well worth locking up for two years of his arbitration eligibility for an average of $5.8M per year.
2. What three words describe the resigning of Jeff Francis ($1.5M for 2013)?
- Brendan: Moyer-Guthrie chimera. Jamie Moyer was signed last year to provide some veteran savvy and make the young guys earn their roster spot while Guthrie was supposed to be the innings eater. Yeah, that worked out really well. It just so happens that those are the same qualities that Francis is supposed to bring to the table. Any team depending on a pitcher of Francis’ quality (career record 67-73; ERA 4.86) to be a reliable starting pitcher is getting exactly what it asked for: mediocrity at best. His 2013 BAbip was a whopping .350, and any regression to the mean should result in an improvement from his 2012 numbers, but I for one am not holding my breath. I am a big Francis fan and am happy with the signing (someone has to go out there and pitch), but he should be on the bubble of a quality pitching staff and not the recipient of a guaranteed contract. The simple fact that Francis was more valuable to the Rockies than Alex White says, well, something.
- Kevin: Jeff Francis, eh?? Last year the warning signs in the rotation were Jeremy Guthrie being the opening day starter and Jamie Moyer just being a member of the starting rotation. This year, the warning sign is Jeff Francis being a starter. By comparison, last year Francis was marginally better than Moyer. Francis’ ERA+ was 86, Moyer’s was 84. Francis ERA was 5.58 and Moyer was 5.70. Francis’ WHIP was 1.478, Moyer was 1.733. This year, it’s frighteningly likely that Francis (32-years-old) regresses into this year’s Jamey Moyer. So the issue is what will be Francis’ role: if he is expected to anchor the rotation, the Rockies are in serious trouble; on the other hand, if he comes out of the bullpen and only spot-starts and spends some quality time in Colorado Springs, the Rockies might yet have a chance.
- Ned: “Better than Moyer.” Although these three words may sound like damnation by faint praise, they are not. When then 49 year old Jamie Moyer made the team as a starter out of spring training last year, the high lumen LED scoreboard at Coors Field could not have heralded any clearer the chaotic state of the team’s starting pitching. Unlike Moyer, Jeff Francis will rarely let a game get away. He will not have an all-star E.R.A., but he will generally get into or past the fifth inning without major damage, thereby giving the bullpen a shot at controlling the other team while hopefully the offense can score at least one more run than the opposition. In sharp contrast to the litany of veteran starters who have failed at Coors Field, Jeff Francis actually wants to pitch at Coors. He does not use the altitude as an excuse. He will not become a psychological casualty like Jeremy Guthrie (and so many others) quickly became in Denver. The Rockies need young power arms—but they also need mindsets that will not permit the arms to use Coors Field as an excuse to fail. The signing of Jeff Francis was not a headline grabbing addition, but it should be a solid building block for the 2013 staff.
3. What is your impression of the new coaching staff?
- Brendan: Surprisingly satisfied. WWW’s (Walter William Weiss) hiring is obviously old news, but it is perhaps the biggest development of the offseason for the Rockies. When the candidate list was made public, I was among those hoping for Matt Williams and was initially highly skeptical of Weiss. However, now that I have considered the reality of the situation, I am all in (really, who wants to manage the Rockies with the strange Geivett-O’Dowd dynamic?). My initial worry centered around his lack of experience, but by surrounding himself with former managers there will be enough experienced voices to effectively manage the grind of 162 games. I am not sold on Bichette as the hitting coach, but I actually love that Tom Runnells, Rene Lachmann (both former major league managers), and Stu Cole (long time AAA manager) are all on the staff. I am looking for WWW to be a fresh voice in the locker room and to install the fundamentally sound brand of play for which I remember him – and that the Rockies sorely need.
- Kevin: Despite Walt Weiss’ lack of experience, I really like that he brings an appreciation for defense and walks. The Rockies under Jim Tracy seemed to not care about walks – Fowler was constantly demoted despite very good walk numbers, and Iannetta was also constantly demoted and eventually traded despite incredible walk numbers. Hopefully Walt Weiss shows more appreciation for the ever-important base on balls. Team defense is the other aspect of the game Weiss will hopefully improve. In 2007, the Rockies played great defense. Since then, the defense has consistently worsened. If 2013’s regular position players include Pacheco, Nelson, Gonzalez, Fowler, Cuddyer, and Rosario, then this team will field some brutal defensive lineups. Hopefully Weiss can get the team to focus on defense a bit more…the pitchers would certainly appreciate a little bit of help in catching all the line drives they surrender.
- Ned: The new staff generally seems to be player friendly, which hopefully also means the coaches will require more accountability from everyone. Walt Weiss and Dante Bichette, in particular, are not so far removed from their playing days that they can’t both empathize with the players while holding the players to the same high standards they had for themselves (for Bichette, I am referring to his standards at the plate—not in the field). It is hard to imagine Weiss, who gave all-out effort on every play, ignoring Carlos Gonzales dogging it in the outfield when the season is a lost cause. Similarly, Bichette should be an excellent batting coach to add better breaking ball recognition and anticipation to Rosario’s hitting. Rene Lachemann, the new first base coach, seemed to be the ultimate hit doctor for Dexter Fowler when Dex was sent down to the Sky Sox for some remedial education. The real question is whether Jerry Weinstein, the new catching coach, can teach Wilin Rosario how to make the change from a toreador behind the plate to a professional receiver.
Have a different take? Let us know in the comments below.
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