The State of the Rockies: Pre-Winter Meetings Edition

Yes, Rockies fans, it's that time that you've all been waiting for: Hot Stove Season. Now that arbitration offers have been made from clubs to some of their free agents, it's time for the free agency period to begin in earnest--or at least it will when those who have been offered arbitration decide to accept or decline it (the deadline for that is December 7th). Then at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis (the 7th through the 10th) GMs will have a pretty good idea of where the free agent market stands and what their teams' needs are.

Given the way the chips have fallen so far, it's looking increasingly like the Rockies won't make any moves of great consequence at the Meetings, though the possibility of a big trade looms insidiously just under the surface as the Rockies look to shape their roster and payroll for the 2010 season.

In this belated edition of Purple Row Academy I will do my best to break down how the upcoming Winter Meetings and the Rule 5 draft will affect the Rockies. In addition, I'll offer up some analysis on the Rockies' arbitration offers to Jason Marquis and Rafael Betancourt plus a look at some free agents the Rockies have targeted (an expanded target list for the Rockies from the last edition).

Winter Meetings

Running from next Monday through Thursday, the Winter Meetings are a hot stove afficionado's dream--where trade buzz runs fast and furious while agents make their best pitch to GMs about their clients. A lot of deals will get talked about, but likely very few will be consummated.

As you'll see below, the Rockies don't really have a lot of flexibility with either roster slots or payroll, so they will likely be on the reactive, listening side of the trade proposals and free agent players rather than being proactive about it. One eventuality that could and should be pursued by Dan O'Dowd is the potential trade of Brad Hawpe.

O'Dowd has downplayed the possibility of such a move, but that's what he needs to be saying at this juncture to maintain the strength of Hawpe's trade market. Were he on the open market, Hawpe would probably be graded as a high second-tier corner outfielder/DH option, a man that would command higher than a $7.5 million salary for 2010.

I've written about it in detail before, but Hawpe is the rare trade asset whose value to another team (particularly in the AL) is MUCH greater than it is to the outfielder-rich, lefty-saturated Rockies PLUS the opportunity cost (giving Smith/Fowler/Gonzalez more plate appearances and $7.5 million of payroll flexibility) happens to be a better alternative than simply keeping Hawpe.

While the Rockies are looking to contend in 2010 and therefore might be more likely to have a more aggressive outlook on short-term payroll, this move would likely pay off now and in the future for Colorado--even if all the Rockies receive in return are prospects (though I believe the return would include a MLB-ready young back-end starter). After all, the Rockies have Matt Murton in reserve or they could use Eric Young Jr. in the outfield.

Beyond a potential Hawpe deal though, I don't see the Rockies making too many waves next week.

 

Rule 5 Draft

That includes the Rule 5 draft, to be held next Tuesday the 8th. Teams can select players from other MLB organizations' minor league systems that have not been protected on the 40 man roster. For a $50,000 fee, if a team selects a player he becomes their asset, so long as he remains on that team's 25 man roster or DL all year, after which time the player may be sent down.

Looking over the players that are eligible for the draft, the only one that is of interest to me is one pointed out by Keith Law, Angels prospect Bobby Cassevah. He has average fastball velocity but has extreme groundball tendencies (70%), an ability that is valuable at Coors Field--particularly out of the bullpen. I don't see it happening though, because while the Rockies have two spots open on their 40 man roster currently, I don't foresee a 25 man roster spot being open.

As for whom the Rockies could lose, OF Cole Garner and RHP Craig Baker have been mentioned as possibilities. That's the downside of having a deep system like the Rockies do--they lose prospects to the Rule 5 Draft (David Patton and Everth Cabrera last year) because they have too many to protect.

 

Arbitration Offers

One offer I like and one I'm not such a big fan of but can live with--about par for the course, I guess.

Jason Marquis

Given the high demand and low supply of even second-tier starting pitching, there is a very low chance that Jason Marquis will accept arbitration from the Rockies--pencil me down for 3 years, $25-30 million from the Mets (pencil them into the playoffs the next three years).

Marquis could decide to remain a Rockie, and in doing so garner a 2010 salary of $10-11 million or so, but my guess is that he'll take the security of a longer contract with a similar amount of guaranteed money per year. It's a good time to be a free agent for Marquis, despite the economic situation--teams want solid starting pitching and supply is very low. Accepting arbitration and risking a down year would not only hurt Marquis' bargaining power next year, but also there's a stronger pitching free agent class in 2010 (headlined by Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Webb), so getting a long-term deal just makes good business sense for Marquis.

Rafael Betancourt

It's a different market and different situation for Betancourt. For one thing, he's older (35 on Opening Day) and he's a right-handed reliever, a market with considerably more supply and less demand. 

There's no denying that Betancourt was a great performer that solidified the back end of the Rockies' bullpen in 2009. However, it's highly unlikely that there is a team out there that is willing to surrender a high draft choice and give Betancourt a multi-year deal--or one that at least would pay him what he would get in arbitration from the Rockies (around $6 million is what I've estimated).

At this point it would likely be a poor business decision for Betancourt to do anything but accept arbitration with the Rockies due to his Type A status and age. The Rockies want Betancourt back, but they have a Plan B in LaTroy Hawkins should Betancourt refuse arbitration.

As others in this community have opined, this offer of arbitration hedges the Rockies' risk with Betancourt. For some, the worst situation that could happen for Colorado was that Betancourt would walk and the Rockies would get nothing out of the deal. With the arbitration offer, that won't be the case--heck, Betancourt could reject arbitration, test the open market, and then sign with the Rockies for a lower cost. I don't see this happening though--I fully expect Betancourt to do the smart thing and accept arbitration. 

Personally, I'm not sure that getting Betancourt back for anything over $3 million is such a great deal for the Rockies, but then again, I happen to value relief pitching at a lower level (and am extremely wary of its variability)  than most people.  However, if there's any year for the Rockies to pay a little extra for a few more marginal wins, it's this year. The Rockies are in contention now and should be encouraged to take steps to ensure at least a 90 win season.

 

Roster and Payroll 2010 Update

Projecting Betancourt at receiving a $6.4 million award (as I've outlined here) in arbitration, this is how the Rockies' 2010 roster and payroll currently looks:

Players Under Contract (Torrealba and Embree are team option buyouts)

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary Add. Min. 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
Matt Belisle 4.02 $850,000 $0 0
Randy Flores 5.061 $650,000 $0 0
Total $49,558,000 $72,283,000

 

Pre-Arbitration Players (Phillips projected as back-up catcher)

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

 

Arbitration Players (assumes Atkins non-tendered, Murton not on roster)

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary Difference from 2009
Huston Street 5 $8,775,000 95.00%
Jorge De La Rosa 5.015 $5,600,000 180.00%
Clint Barmes 4.122 $4,225,000 160.00%
Taylor Buchholz 3.14 $1,055,000 0.00%
Jason Hammel 2.153 $2,026,560 380.00%
Chris Iannetta 3.029 $1,867,500 350.00%
Rafael Betancourt 6.079 $6,405,000 83%
Ryan Spilborghs 3.072 $788,500 90.00%
Total $30,742,560 167.25%

Grand Total Payroll: $83,625,400

The 2010 payroll including Betancourt would be the largest Rockies ODP ever (up over $8 million from last year), and it isn't complete. This roster has 24 players on it (because Buchholz will begin the season on the DL, plus Torrealba and Embree will not actually be on the team) and the open slot is for a utility infielder to replace Garrett Atkins.

Now I don't believe that it's quite this simple--I think that Torrealba, McKenry, or another option could supplant Phillips at backup catcher while a player like Corpas, Daley, or EY2 could be sent down to AAA to begin the season--but barring a trade there is only one definite opening on the 2010 Rockies that will be filled on the free agent market. For that reason, I'll be concentrating on players that fit the utility infielder mold or that have been prominently mentioned as free agent targets recently.

 

Free Agency Update

In the last edition I provided a list of potential free agent targets for the Rockies and all of them remain available at the moment (though Jose Contreras is looking like he's headed to Japan). In particular, Jamey Carroll has drawn a lot of interest, while Pedro Feliz has found himself jobless due to Placido Polanco signing in Philly.

While Feliz would be my ideal target to fill the Rockies' utility infielder void, let's look at the free agency targets (those that plied their trade for others last year) that the Rockies have expressed interest in (pitching and hitting) from most interesting in my estimation to least:

Justin Duchscherer: The Duke represents a possible market inefficiency that the Rockies could exploit to bolster their starting pitching depth. Twice an All-Star for the Oakland A's, Duchscherer's last couple of years have been derailed due to injury (hip and elbow) and depression. However, the 32 year old righty has shown himself to be an above-average starter and reliever--and he would likely be in search of a cheaper one year deal to build up his market value. Plus, he was once traded for Luis Vizcaino (and his second best career comparison per Baseball Reference is Betancourt). Colorado could be the perfect landing spot for him at a price around $2-3 million (with incentives for more).

Orlando Hudson: O'Dowd has downplayed the Rockies' interest in Hudson, but the possibility of Hudson in the lineup every day with Barmes as a super-utility player is nonetheless intriguing. Since the Dodgers declined to offer the 32 year old Hudson arbitration, signing him costs no draft picks. I'd bet on Hudson commanding a salary around $5 million per year for anywhere from 1-3 years. Hudson has been at least league average (2 WAR or greater) every year since 2004, so this price would likely be a bargain. This is the sort of move that a Hawpe trade could enable with increased payroll flexibility, but as it is I don't see it happening because the Rockies really are attached to Barmes at second.

Bobby Crosby: To be honest, given the Rockies' lack of roster and payroll flexibility, I would much rather sign Crosby than Hudson to fill the one remaining roster slot. The 2004 AL ROY has the versatility and right-handedness to fit the Rockies' super-utility role to a T. He would come fairly cheaply considering all the hats he'd be wearing (I'd estimate in the $2-3 million range) due to the fact that he has played poorly (an understatement really) since his 2004 campaign. While his career .302 wOBA is worrisome, Crosby has positive fielding value and will be moving from a tough AL hitter's park to a permissive NL run-scoring environment--and at worst he would be a cheaper version of Garrett Atkins circa 2009. The Rockies could certainly do worse for a utilityman.

LaTroy Hawkins: Hawkins would be Betancourt's replacement, pure and simple. The 37 year old will probably perform worse than Betancourt but will also get paid less (around $3.5 million) to do it. I'd rather Betancourt just accept arbitration than to have Hawkins back, honestly--I have this vision of Hawkins as being Alan Embree 2.0 next year for whatever reason.

Noah Lowry: The 29 year old former Giant lefty has been sidelined by injuries the last two seasons, making him a huge enigma and a gamble for any team that is interested. If the Rockies can get him on a minor league deal that would be ideal, but if signing him required a major league deal it probably would be too rich for the Rockies' budget.

 

By next week, after the Winter Meetings, we should have a much better idea of where the Rockies stand in free agency and trades, plus a much firmer handle on how the 2010 Rockies roster will look.

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