[editor's note, by Rox Fan in NY] I think this deserves to be moved here.
This will be a multiple post diary, in which I hope to look not just at the current or future team, but analyze the nature of the market and how it relates to a team with a modest budget. Before I can go into the specifics of my suggestions, it's important that I lay the framework in which I believe the team should operate under this off-season that will both explore outside options through trade and free agents while upholding blossoming farm system. So for the first post, here is what I call the "truths" about the Rockies, their system, and the current nature of the MLB talent pool.
Truth Number One: "Spending within sends just as big a signal to fans as does spending on outside talent."
Fans aren't just looking for improvement, fans want to also see commitment to sustained success and dedication to carrying out a plan. In 2004, the Rockies PR campaign sold fans on the new commitment to the Gen R "youngsters" and a renewed interest in developing a top end farm system. Like every new idea, it was met with skepticism, but this season has given fans reason to believe that this "model" will work. However, fans in Colorado aren't dumb, having been spoiled by the Broncos and Avalanche's sustained success, and know when to buy into a perennial contender or when to pass off on a "get wins quick" scheme. If players like Jennings and Holliday are allowed to leave in the coming years without legitimate efforts by the front office to retain them, the front office will lose credibility in their commitment to the GenR model. So how does this apply to the 2006 off-season? Writers have been speaking of this team's need to spend money, to show fans that their commitment is real, to prove that they are somehow different from the Pirates, or the Royals. This can lead to foolish decision in the free agent market (which I'll discuss later), but "financial gestures" can be made within the organization, and it should start with the two said players. I'll get into the merits of retaining both players in my next post, but I'm sure you understand the general concept here. Still, it's also important to not oversell your commitment, which brings me to my next point...
Truth Number Two: "This is still a losing team."
While it might be exciting to look at the gains this team made over the first half of the season, it should also be remembered that this team has spent much of the season under .500, and at the moment, sits nine games below that mark. What this tells us is that the current core won't work on its own. This notion serves two purposes: the first is that impact talent should be supplemented, either from outside or within; and the second being that not every GenR player is worth keeping long term, and this even speaks to some of the solid contributors and role players, not just the sub-par talents (Closser, Freeman). This is not a contradicting truth to the first one, instead, it works to draw the line between players that perform at a level close to "star" and players that are just solid but rare for a team accustomed to losing. In other words, the Rockies can't confuse themselves with the current roster just because it is better than anything they've had before. In the end, it still isn't making inroads into October.
Truth Number Three: "Despite a core in its prime, the Rockies don't have to act in win-now mode."
This is the next step in keeping perspective with the current roster and how it relates to other contenders. How often have you seen a team believe it's close to contention and spend foolishly on marginal talent in free agency, only to make their team more expensive, hinder roster flexibility, and ultimately wilt under the tight budget constraints, returning to "Rebuilding mode." If the Rockies just take the advice of some of the writers, it will suffer a similar fate. GenR should have just been a signal, the team should really be built on "GenReal," the so-called second phase that not only has young (21-23) talent close to the majors, but superstar status and impact ability. Why settle for the supplementing the solid GenR players with big trades that add payroll and cut into organizational depth, when a bit of risk taking from within could produce a similar impact with little cost? That isn't to say that major trades shouldn't be explored, but Stewart shouldn't be flipped because we have Atkins now, Koshansky because of Helton, Smith because of Hawpe, Morales, Jimenez, Morillo, Bautista, Reynolds, because we have the big three... you see the concept. If handled in the most cost effective way, GenR players could be used to supplement phase two, with the PR concerns being tempered by actions following the first truth. Some sentimentality is necessary for proper fan relations, but too much can lead to a stagnating franchise which in turn will defeat the purpose it was set out for.
Truth Number Four: "With a weak free agent crop, you'll have to give a little to get a little."
The Rockies will probably have to still make some noise with players outside the organization to not only increase fan interest but also improve the on-field product. The problem is that any impact player will likely have to come through trade. This is where the Rockies should get creative with dealing parts currently on the 25 man roster. With the Carlos Lee trade as an example, most teams want major league ready talent in return for their "expendable" stars. Luckily, the Rockies have some impending log jams that could be corrected early with trades this off season. Within two years, the Rockies will have Morales, Reynolds, Jimenez, Bautista, and Morillo looking for spots on the pitching staff, and these are just the high end names. Attrition will catch a couple, but then you might weigh the availability of swingman types like Kaiser and Register. That's seven potential names, but only two spots in the rotation look to be open in the future. Because these pitchers are of the high risk nature, it would likely take a few to swing a big deal. That's where a guy like Cook could be dangled as a bargaining chip in trades. I'll tackle this one more in the next post, but just keep in mind the relative worth of the known players, and how that can be leveraged to correct major organizational flaws (centerfield).
Truth Number Five: "Buy low, sell high."
The final truth is pretty much self explanatory, but it will be a common theme in my next post. When the budget is modest, like the Rockies, the majority of your moves will be in taking risks on players looking to rebound while coming at a cheaper price. The rise of SABR probably prevents teams from making a living on such maneuvers any more, but the right series of moves can supplement the roster at a reasonable cost. Similarly, the Rockies can handle their financial situation by "selling" players at their highest point before arbitration, keeping salaries down and steering the roster away from inflexibility. If players like Jennings, Francis, and Holliday are to be retained in the future while adding impact trade/free agent talent, then the team might have to roll the dice on cheap but talented youth (Tulowitzki, Smith). This truth probably goes without saying, but it is nonetheless a key component to the next post.
So just keep all of these points in mind when you go over the next post, which dives into very specific suggestions for improving the team while maintaining perspective. As always, thoughts and debate are highly encouraged, and I look forward to completing this project that has been in the making for about a month. Look for the "suggestions" post sometime Sunday evening, depending on where I am with my school commitments. At the latest, it will be up on Tuesday.