The State of the Colorado Rockies (Pre-Free Agency)

While Major League Baseball has yet to crown a champion, the Rockies' season is (unfortunately) over and it is time to look forward towards the swiftly oncoming offseason. The Rockies have quite a to-do list this year.  

The clock for Colorado and the rest of MLB starts ticking when the Fall (Winter?) Classic concludes, as teams have 15 days to exclusively negotiate with their prospective free agents. After that time (let's say November 20th), free agents are, well, free to go where their services are most sought after. The original team has until December 12th to tender 2010 contracts to their free agents.

For those players (like Garrett Atkins) who have less than six years of MLB service time, their teams control their rights, but must tender the player a contract offer or salary arbitration, by December 1st--with the player needing to make a decision by the 7th. As a result, at baseball's Winter Meetings from December 7-10, teams will have some idea as to where the market stands.

Finally, December 8th is a very important deadline, as it is the day in which MLB clubs must set their 40 man rosters in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft, which occurs on the 10th.

These dates and other offseason deadlines are explained in more detail here.

To learn a little bit more about some of the topics I just touched upon, please check out these previous sessions of Purple Row Academy, which I'll be updating over the offseason:

Salary Arbitration

40 Man Roster

MLB Service Time

Free Agency

Trades and Contract Tenders

Rule 5 Draft

Now that you understand a little better the timeline that Dan O'Dowd and the Rockies are working with, I'll break down the Rockies' contract situations (and the decisions to be made therein) extensively after the jump.

Before I begin, let me first note that this analysis will be limited to what I can project the 25 man roster to be, since I'm forecasting the 2010 ODP (which only includes the active roster and DL). For most of the players not on the 25 man roster but who are on the 40 man, they will be paid the prorated minimum should they make the Show and considerably less in the minor leagues.

What the Rockies Already Owe in 2010

This category is for money that the Rockies have already committed to the 2010 roster. Note that this only includes players who are under contract with the Rockies (not just under team control), giving management concrete salary obligations to work around. This data, as well as much of the data for the rest of this study, was contributed by the incomparable Jeff Euston at Cot's Contracts.

For each player I'll give their name, approximate ML service time, 2010 salary, and minimum future salary obligations. This means that I assume that the Rockies decline every club option.

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary Additional Minimum Obligation Years After 2010
Todd Helton 12.059 $16,600,000 $23,700,000 1
Aaron Cook 7.02 $9,833,000 $10,583,000 1
Brad Hawpe 5.058 $7,500,000 $500,000 0
Jeff Francis 5.04 $5,875,000 $0 0
Troy Tulowitzki 3.033 $3,500,000 $25,750,000 3
Manuel Corpas 3.076 $2,750,000 $3,750,000 1
Ubaldo Jimenez 2.087 $1,250,000 $8,000,000 2
Yorvit Torrealba 8.03 $500,000 $0 0
Alan Embree 15.059 $250,000 $0 0
Total $48,058,000 $72,283,000
 

This chart shows that the Rockies, even if they do not re-sign Torrealba or Embree, have committed over $48 million to seven players on the 2010 roster. And these are only the players who the Rockies know how much they have to pay. Again, this is if the Rockies don't pick up any club options on these players.

 

Pre-Arbitration Players

For the players listed below, the Rockies have the option of keeping them under control for several more years and can do so cheaply in 2010 (for a price between $400,000 and $460,000). For the purposes of this exercise I'm assuming a 3% raise over 2009 salary. This is assuming that the Rockies let Embree and Torrealba walk and find internal replacements. The pre-arbitration players:

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary
Eric Young Jr. 0.042 $412,000
Dexter Fowler 1.027 $413,030
Franklin Morales 2.01 $414,060
Paul Phillips 2.06 $427,450
Ian Stewart 1.154 $416,120
Carlos Gonzalez 1.06 $415,090
Seth Smith 1.119 $415,090
Matt Daley 0.155 $412,000
Total $3,324,840

This chart tells us that the Rockies will be paying a little over $3.3 million to eight players on the 25 man roster. This fact again emphasizes the importance of teams maximizing the value of young players.

The player whose omission sticks out on that list is Matt Murton. With his service time, he would seem to be eligible for Super Two Arbitration status, but due to the fact that he did not accrue at least 86 days of ML service time in 2009 he is rendered ineligible for salary arbitration. At least, I think so. Of course, unless the Rockies unload either Hawpe or Ryan Spilborghs, Murton won't be on the roster--and since this projection is based upon roster stability, Murton is not included on this projection.

Projecting these 15 slots was easy--it's the potential arbitration cases that can get tricky.

 

Arbitration-Eligible Players

In addition to the 15 players mentioned in the tables above, plus Matt Murton (who would be the victim of a numbers game if the status quo is kept), the Rockies have 10 potential salary arbitration cases on their hands with players that have between three and six years of ML service time (Tracy Ringolsby lists them here). Calculating potential salaries for these players is quite tricky. As I noted when I wrote about ML service time, the average salary raise in 2009 was 172% when multi-year deals for arbitration-eligible players (like Ryan Howard's 3 year, $54 million deal) are included.

The Rockies in 2008 gave raises of over 300% to Clint Barmes and Jorge De La Rosa plus hefty salary increases to Taylor Buchholz, Huston Street, Garrett Atkins, and Jason Grilli--raises which increased payroll by $7,649,000 over the six players' 2008 salaries. This year, the Rockies' situation will be much more expensive, with several of their arb-eligible players performing at a high level in 2009.

When projecting arbitration raises for the Rockies I did so based on some past history--giving higher % raises to players with a lower starting salary and to those who had performed in a starting role.

Here's which I came up with, provided the Rockies tendered a 2010 contract offer to each of their arbitration eligibles:

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary Difference from 2009
Garrett Atkins 5.072 $5,640,000 -20%
Huston Street 5 $8,775,000 95%
Jorge De La Rosa 5.015 $5,600,000 180%
Clint Barmes 4.122 $4,225,000 160%
Taylor Buchholz 3.14 $1,055,000 0%
Matt Belisle 4.02 $1,200,000 50%
Randy Flores 5.061 $900,000 50%
Jason Hammel 2.153 $2,026,560 380%
Chris Iannetta 3.029 $1,867,500 350%
Ryan Spilborghs 3.072 $788,500 90%
Total $32,077,560 134%

This chart tells us that based on career performance and function (weighted more heavily toward 2009), the Rockies will pay these 10 players over $32 million--about $13.7 million more than they were paid in 2009. This chart is even assuming that Garrett Atkins will be tendered and will accept a minimum 80% of his previous year's salary (unlikely). Even with Atkins, the projected average arbitration salary increases is only 134%, well below 2009's MLB average of 172%--meaning that my estimated raises, shocking in their size as they may seem, may even be on the low side.

 

Estimated Rockies 2010 ODP 

This calculation represents the status quo, if the Rockies neither re-sign any of their free agents nor get rid of any players under team control and remain dormant in free agency. The resulting roster would have 24 players on it with Buchholz starting the year on the DL (therefore another player's salary would need to be added in) and would be paid:

Multi-Year Contracts: $48,058,000

Pre-Arbitration Contracts: $3,324,840

Arbitration Contracts: $32,077,560

Total ODP$83,460,400

In other words, the Rockies' ODP will need to grow by $8,259,400, or 10.98%, in order to maintain the status quo (a cost certainty price floor, if you will).

 

What This All Means 

It's pretty obvious to me that the status quo won't happen, as Atkins will likely be non-tendered and one of the outfielders (Hawpe, Spilborghs, or Murton) will be shopped around and dealt. What the above calculation shows, however, is that the Rockies will have very little payroll flexibility to add pieces for 2010--especially if the Rockies need to replace Atkins and grab another bullpen piece.

The most pressing issue given this limitation is the $5.4 million team option on set-up man Rafael Betancourt--in my opinion the team simply can't afford to pay it, unless they are planning on moving Hawpe and his $7.5 million contract. Also, the Rockies have a few free agents they'd like to re-sign, including Joe Beimel (who will probably cost around $2 million), Jason Giambi ($1.5 million), and Torrealba (at most $2 million). Again, Colorado would need to move Hawpe to make this possible.

Remember though that if the Rockies do move Hawpe, they'll receive trade assets in return--and especially if those players are major leaguers they must also be well-compensated.

 

If I Were In Charge...

Given the financial limitations facing the Rockies and in light of the fact that they were very successful in 2009, a fine line must be walked between cost consciousness and competitiveness. Because the Rockies can not add very many, if any, significant pieces given their current projected payroll, they need to make a few moves. Here's what I would do this offseason to shape the 2010 Rockies:

1. Non-Tender Garrett Atkins. For the love of God, please--Atkins doubles as expensive and bad.

2. Pick only one or two out-going free agents to re-sign. There isn't any room for more than that. The Rockies' top priority should be getting back Betancourt or Beimel if they can get them back for a reasonable price (in this case, under $2.5 million). Relief pitching is too fungible and the market too inefficient to pay relievers big bucks. Likely this person will be Beimel. If the Rockies can get Torrealba back for about $1.5-2 million, they should do it--but they should let him walk if he wants much more than that. An alternative to Torrealba would be to keep Giambi around if he could be had for $1.5 million to come off the bench. I would keep one or the other (or neither), there isn't money for both.

Torrealba would replace Phillips on the roster or Giambi would replace the recently outrighted Omar Quintanilla.

3. Look hard for a taker for Brad Hawpe. In order for the Rockies to shore up their rotation and find a suitable sub for Atkins, they will need to move someone from their glut of outfielders to maintain payroll flexibility. Hawpe may very well be the Rockies' best hitting outfielder and an excellent leader in the clubhouse, but his horrific defense, much higher salary, and All-Star status make Hawpe an ideal trade piece--a player that has much more marginal value to prospective trading partners than he does to his own team. Even after his cold second half, Hawpe does have value around the league (especially as a DH), enough to garner the package I've outlined below. 

A possible trade package for Hawpe would be a young back-end rotation starter and either a corner infield reserve or a B prospect or two. The Rockies need starting pitching depth for the simple reason that they were fortunate with pitcher health last year (basically the same five starters all year)--something that will likely not continue next year. They do have a bevy of good pitching prospects, but they will be relying on Francis or Morales to nail down the fifth slot in the rotation, so some insurance is probably needed. If the Rockies can get a major league-ready arm plus a prospect for Hawpe they should pull the trigger.

If no such trade package were to surface, either Spilborghs or Murton would need to be moved--and my decision would be Spilborghs due to the fact that he's older, will command a higher salary, and has Scott Boras as an agent.

4. Gauge the market for Manuel Corpas. If someone will offer value, I'd move him. But value in this situation would be relatively high--I'd hate to sell low on Corpas.

5. Bring in the usual suspects on minor league deals as pitching depth. There are plenty of guys that fit this mold (Fogg, Herges, Rincon, etc.). This is cheap depth to be used in case of dire emergencies only.

The resulting ODP from these moves (assuming Hawpe is moved) would be about $76.7 million, a slight payroll increase from 2009.

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