The State of the Rockies: January Edition

Hello Rowbots! After a 40 day break, I'm back and better than ever, ready to talk about the construction of the Rockies' Opening Day 25 man roster. Since I last wrote about the State of the Rockies, many answers have been revealed and much has been clarified on this subject. In this column I'll be giving my take on each deal the Rockies have done since the Winter Meetings, outlining the 2010 roster as it stands today, and showing how much money the Rockies have tied up in payroll in coming years.

But before I look at the answers, I'd like to touch on the questions that remain for the Rockies this offseason. One question (whether to sign Jason Giambi to fill out the bench) was answered today, but that in turn opens up new questions for Colorado going into the 2010 season. Please allow me to explain.

As it stood today before the Giambi signing according to my projections, the Rockies had one spot on the 25 man roster to work with--to be filled presumably by a utility infielder. Adding Giambi fills that projected roster slot and provides the Rockies with a big, fearsome bat off the bench, veteran leadership, and another back-up to Todd Helton at first base. In addition, it might have the ancillary benefit of getting Seth Smith more PAs since Tracy won't feel the need to save him for high leverage situations.

However, Giambi is left-handed, keeping the Rockies vulnerable to southpaws, and he doesn't give the Rockies a lot of defensive flexibility. As it stands now the Rockies would then have no true backup to Ian Stewart or Troy Tulowitzki (and no, EY2 doesn't count) and my projected roster is full. One solution to this is to simply do nothing and go into Spring Training with this roster (the Rockies could certainly do worse).

Another is the possibility (unlikely) of Clint Barmes being moved to a super-utility role, to which he is well suited. This would assume either that the Rockies sign a player like Orlando Hudson to be the starter at second base if he can be had cheaply (less than $4 million), which would be nice but is very unlikely, or they sign a player like Fernando Tatis, Melvin Mora, or Robb Quinlan to provide a few at-bats per week and back up third. Of these Tatis is the most palatable. 

If the above scenario happens (the Rockies add another infielder), a player (most likely EY2) will be optioned to AAA to begin the season. However, since the Rockies have a relatively light opening schedule to 2010 (three off days in April), the FO could elect to option a relief pitcher (Daley and Corpas both have options) and go with an eleven man pitching staff in the short run. This seems highly unlikely to me, however, and EY2 seems ticketed for AAA if the Rockies do make another addition.

Another route that I've heard mentioned that Colorado might take is to sign another relief pitcher like Joe Beimel to further solidify the bullpen. This would most likely mean a demotion for Daley, who has the most options remaining.

But who should fill out the roster? It is a good problem to have for the Rockies, having too many good pieces in the bullpen, starting rotation, and lineup. They could make a major move (signing Hudson or Felipe Lopez), a minor one (Tatis, Mora, Quinlan, or a reliever), or no move at all and still be an excellent team going into 2010.

Now about that 2010 Opening Day Roster...

I'll begin this analysis with a look at how the roster is shaping up for 2010. 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 such as Jhoulys Chacin and Hector Gomez, they will be paid the prorated major league minimum should they make the Show and considerably less in the minor leagues.

Players Under Contract for 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. I have also included Alan Embree and Yorvit Torrealba, who won't be on the 2010 squad but who have buyouts paid by the Rockies in 2010. 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 now and in the future, with the players' buyout included as an obligation. A * after a player's name indicates that they avoided salary arbitration. 

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 $9,000,000 $9,750,000 1
Brad Hawpe 5.058 $7,500,000 $500,000 0
Huston Street* 5 $7,200,000 $15,300,000 2
Jeff Francis 5.04 $5,875,000 $0 0
Jorge De La Rosa* 5.015 $5,600,000 $0 0
Rafael Betancourt* 6.079 $3,775,000 $3,775,000 1
Troy Tulowitzki 3.033 $3,500,000 $25,750,000 3
Clint Barmes* 4.122 $3,225,000 $0 0
Manuel Corpas 3.076 $2,750,000 $3,750,000 1
Miguel Olivo 6.171 $2,000,000 $500,000 0
Chris Iannetta* 3.029 $2,000,000 $6,350,000 2
Jason Hammel* 2.153 $1,900,000 $0 0
Jason Giambi 14.082 $1,750,000 $0 0
Ubaldo Jimenez 2.087 $1,250,000 $8,000,000 2
Ryan Spilborghs* 3.082 $1,300,000 $1,925,000 1
Taylor Buchholz* 3.14 $1,055,000 $0 0
Matt Belisle* 4.019 $850,000 $0 0
Randy Flores* 5.025 $650,000 $0 0
Yorvit Torrealba 8.03 $500,000 $0 0
Alan Embree 15.059 $250,000 $0 0
Total $77,780,000 $99,300,000

As you can see, there are nineteen players on this list who will be Rockies in 2010, ten of whom avoided salary arbitration.

Free Agent/Under Contract Players

The nine who were already under contract (Helton, Cook, Hawpe, Francis, Tulowitzki, Corpas, and Jimenez) or added as a free agent (Giambi and Olivo) are being paid a total of $50,225,000 in 2010. Of these nine players, the Rockies have committed at least some money to all but Francis and Giambi in 2011 (Hawpe and Olivo have option years). A more detailed breakdown of the future is provided later on. Meanwhile, here's my take a couple of these players:

Brad Hawpe: The signing of Giambi creates an even larger redundancy for Hawpe's role with the team (another defensively challenged left-handed slugger. Theoretically, the Giambi signing could be the precursor to a Hawpe trade, which I've advocated before. I wouldn't bet on it though, as Dan O'Dowd seems committed to keeping Hawpe on the team as a solid contributor on offense, a veteran leader, and insurance against regression by Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez--a move which I can live with, especially with the Rockies so close in 2010 to playoff glory.

Miguel Olivo: I advocated the signing of Olivo as a backup catcher in this price range last month and my position hasn't changed from that point. He's solid Iannetta insurance and despite his deficiencies (patience at the plate, ball blocking, and game calling), he'll produce well in a Rockies uniform.

 

Arbitration Eligible Players

All but one of the ten arbitration eligible players received raises from the Rockies. The chart below details how the arbitration eligible players' salaries increased from 2009 to 2010:

Player Name ML Service Time   2009 Salary              2010 Salary Diff. from 2009
Huston Street 5 $4,500,000 $7,200,000 60%
Jorge De La Rosa 5.015 $2,000,000 $5,600,000 180%
Rafael Betancourt 6.079 $3,350,000 $3,775,000 13%
Clint Barmes 4.122 $1,625,000 $3,225,000 98%
Chris Iannetta 3.029 $415,000 $2,000,000 382%
Jason Hammel 2.153 $422,200 $1,900,000 350%
Ryan Spilborghs 3.072 $415,000 $1,300,000 213%
Taylor Buchholz 3.14 $1,055,000 $1,055,000 0%
Matt Belisle 4.019 $800,000 $850,000 6%
Randy Flores 5.025 $600,000 $650,000 8%
Total $15,182,200 $27,555,000 131%

As you can see, the ten AE Rockies are earning on average 131% more than they did last year, ($12.4 million) basically replacing the lost salaries of Garrett Atkins, Jason Marquis, and the other departed 2009 Rockies. This is below last year's MLB average salary increase of 172% but still represents a large figure given the volume of AE players the Rockies had.

Looking back at my original projections, I did very well on a few (getting De La Rosa and Buchholz exactly right), pretty well on others (close on Hammel and Iannetta), overestimating a few by a lot (Betancourt, Street, Belisle, Flores, and Barmes), and underestimating Spilborghs.

Of these ten players, the Rockies have committed 2011 salary to Street, Betancourt, Iannetta, and Spilborghs. The other players (with the exception of De La Rosa and Flores) will still be under team control, but not at a concrete price point.

Here's my quick take on the arbitration-avoiding deals signed since the Winter Meetings:

Huston Street: I'm really not a fan of throwing lots of money at relievers (Dave Cameron does a pretty good job of summing up my opinion), but if you're going to do it with a reliever, Huston Street is a pretty good bet. He's young but has a good track record, he was very effective last year, and he's a model citizen to boot. I'd rather the Rockies turn the closer job over to a lower-priced power arm and spent the money elsewhere, but given the position the team is currently in I don't mind the expenditure as much.

Jorge De La Rosa: JDLR doesn't have anything to prove to me at this point. He's a stud and will perform like one (well above his contract's value) in 2010. Keeping him long term is another thing entirely.

Rafael Betancourt: I've written at length about Betancourt before and my opinion of middle relievers, but I must admit I was pleased that the Rockies got him at the price they did, especially when one considers the Brandon Lyon situation. If Betancourt's 35 year old body stays healthy, this will be an acceptable contract for the Rockies and will provide late game bullpen stabilization.

Jason Hammel: While Hammel may not necessarily repeat his excellent 2009 campaign, the peripherals are largely there for him to have a comparable 2010. I expect him to far outperform his contract.

Ryan Spilborghs: I appreciate Spilborghs as much as the next guy, but I think that the Rockies overpaid here for a fifth outfielder. Sure, Spilborghs may be the best fifth outfielder in MLB, but that doesn't change the fact that he'll have limited plate appearances (though his right-handedness is certainly a plus) in the role he's been given. Even so, Spilborghs should be solid depth and can rise to the occasion if injuries do strike, making him a nice security blanket for the Rockies in a year where wins are at a premium.

Taylor Buchholz: He didn't give the Rockies any production last year due to injury and therefore wasn't really due a raise. His health in 2010 is a definite risk for Colorado, as they could see an ineffective or injured Buchholz in 2010. I'm betting on a return to at least replacement level production for Buchholz when he does return, but that date is still in question.

 

Players Under Team Control, Pre-Arbitration Eligible

These seven players are at less than three years of major league service time and therefore are not eligible for salary arbitration. 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). While I don't have concrete salary numbers for these players, for the purposes of this exercise I'm assuming a 3% raise over 2009 salary. The pre-arbitration players:

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary
Ian Stewart 1.154 $416,120
Seth Smith 1.119 $415,090
Carlos Gonzalez 1.06 $415,090
Franklin Morales 1.051 $414,060
Dexter Fowler 1.027 $413,030
Matt Daley 0.166 $412,000
Eric Young Jr. 0.041 $412,000
Total $2,897,390
After 2010, only Stewart and maybe Smith will be new arbitration eligible players for the Rockies. Add them to the current AE players that will still be AE next year and the Rockies will have four to six possible arbitration cases (plus FAs offered arbitration as Betancourt was this year) in the 2011 offseason, much better than the ten cases Colorado had this year.

The 2010 Opening Day Roster, As It Currently Stands

As I mentioned up top, the signing of Giambi probably means that the Rockies will add another utility infielder, removing a cheap player (EY2) from the Opening Day Payroll and adding a more expensive one (like Tatis or Hudson). But barring such a move and assuming that Buchholz begins the season on the DL (leaving 25 healthy players on the ODP), the Rockies have committed to an ODP of $80,677,390 for 2010. This is an increase of about $5.5 million (or 7.3%) from 2009 and it represents the largest Rockies ODP in their history.

 

Future Salary Obligations

As I alluded to above, the Rockies have framework in place for years to come in terms of players under contract. This chart, an adaptation of the one at Cot's, shows the Rockies' future salary commitments by year. As in the other charts, I assume that the team turns down all player options to find the salary floor. A notable difference from Cot's: Euston prorates signing bonuses (such as that of Aaron Cook or Chris Iannetta) over the life of the contract while I place them in their entirety at the beginning of the contract. Numbers in italics are buyouts.

Player Name Service Time 2011 2012 2013 2014
Todd Helton 12.059 $19,100,000 $4,600,000
Aaron Cook 7.02 $9,250,000 $500,000
Brad Hawpe 5.058 $500,000
Huston Street 5 $7,300,000 $7,500,000 $500,000
Rafael Betancourt 6.079 $3,775,000
Troy Tulowitzki 3.033 $5,500,000 $8,250,000 $10,000,000 $2,000,000
Manuel Corpas 3.076 $3,500,000 $250,000
Miguel Olivo 6.171 $500,000
Chris Iannetta 3.029 $2,550,000 $3,550,000 $250,000
Ubaldo Jimenez 2.087 $2,800,000 $4,200,000 $1,000,000
Ryan Spilborghs 3.082 $1,925,000
Total $56,700,000 $28,850,000 $11,750,000 $2,000,000
Net $99,300,000

As you can see, the players that the Rockies have locked up long-term provide an excellent, cost-controlled core for now and the immediate future. The roster turnover after the 2010 season should be fairly minimal, with only four players out of the 26 I've listed scheduled to become outright free agents, out of team control. This and the wealth of pitching prospects in the pipe bodes very well for the Rockies in the near term.

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