Thursday Rockpile: Chris Iannetta, Rockies, 2006 to 2011, goes to the Magic Kingdom.

The Chris Iannetta trade/Ramon Hernandez signing will unfold in two acts

The cast of characters:

Tyler Chatwood

21 years old, but he'll be 21 years old for a long time. Yes, Chatwood is apparently a vampire. He's not going to age or mature beyond the sparkling mid-90's control plagued pitcher he is right now. Five years from now when this telenovela has about run its course as a franchise and the Rockies start to wonder, he'll disappear from the face of the earth for awhile but a year or two later somebody that looks remarkably like him will enter the draft and will do this thing all over again.

Chris Dreamy Iannetta

The martyr, he's a bit of a saint for his ability to hit for an extremely low average but still miraculously get on base anyway. Iannetta's a polarizing figure, different people see different things in the catcher, and so it stands to reason that he would be traded for a younger player that seems about as polarizing. Iannetta has long been freed of his mortal bonds with the cruelly oppressive team that brought him up.

Ramon Hernandez

The dashing villain? He's old, the question is why Angels wouldn't want him around. I mean, if they could sign him for less than it costs to acquire Iannetta, and if they can keep Chatwood in the process, why not? Well, because Hernandez is clearly a hellbound soul and has no place among Angels. No. Let's just be clear that Hernandez is a step down from Iannetta, it's just a matter of how big a step, and whether it's worth the million dollars saved and whatever Chatwood will become.

The money

It would have cost the Rockies $8.55 million to keep Iannetta for 2012 and 2013. To keep both Hernandez and Chatwood, it will cost them $7.5 million. Additionally, Chatwood at the very least fills a starter/bullpen innings depth role that would have likely gone to some low grade but costlier veteran. The small amounts of savings the Rockies have accrued with the Wigginton and Iannetta trades already add up to a fairly significant upgrade for the type of players they can go after in free agency. Players in the $8 million to $10 million/year salary range tend to be your Aaron Cooks and Carl Pavanos of the world. Going up to $11 million to $14 million starts seriously putting a foot in the door for a Roy Oswalt or Michael Cuddyer (not that the Rockies are targeting the latter at the moment.)

Plot synoposis:

Typical baseball trades will usually have at least a distinct possibility of being win/win scenarios, for instance, there's a chance Ubaldo Jimenez does well with the Indians and Drew Pomeranz and Alex White or Joe Gardner do well with the Rockies and both teams come out ahead.

In the Iannetta for Chatwood exchange/Hernandez signing, it's difficult to see how it becomes a win/win, which might be why most writers or analysts are avoiding that scenario altogether. If both Iannetta and Hernandez do well, the Angels lose because they would have traded a pitcher for a player they could have gotten for less on the free agent market. If only Iannetta does well, and neither Hernandez nor Chatwood contribute significantly to the Rockies over the next two seasons, which seems to be what many Internet writers project, than the Rockies will be the obvious losers. The one true win-win scenario involves Iannetta performing well, Hernandez performing decently enough, but not as well as Iannetta, but Chatwood eventually maturing into a decent pitcher, but not right away.

This scenario, unfortunately, won't feel like a win for Rockies fans as in the vacuum of this move only, it most certainly involves Colorado taking a step down in 2012 and possibly 2013. This also might be the most likely of the scenarios to unfold. Chatwood is only 21, to expect much of him right away would be a bit foolish on our part, and may leave Rockies fans as disappointed in the pitcher as Angels fans seemed to be down the stretch.

The critical reviews:

"If I was going to get traded, I couldn't be more thankful for the organization I was traded to. I'll develop even more under someone with that character and background."

Chris Iannetta, to USA TODAY

"It was awesome coming up with the Angels and playing near home for the team that drafted me, and it's definitely going to be hard leaving, but it's a business, and now I have to get ready to help the Rockies win games."

Tyler Chatwood, to the LA Times

"Giving up Tyler wasn't easy, but you have to give to get, and catching is very tough to come by."

Jerry Dipoto, to the LA Times

"Our scouts felt really strongly about acquiring him. We felt the timing was right. Chris was great for us. It's difficult to trade a homegrown player, but this could strengthen our ballclub and put him in a good situation."

Dan O'Dowd, to the Denver Post

The Rockies swore Iannetta was their catcher for 2012 but apparently had their fingers crossed when they said it, as they've shipped him off for a pitcher who doesn't fit the profile of a guy who'll succeed at Coors Field.

Keith Law, ESPN (insider subscription required)

The other issue with Chatwood is that he's not a clear upgrade over any of the Rockies current starting pitchers.

FanGraphs.com

..Rockies are probably thinking that they made at worst a sideways move behind the plate and picked up a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter in return.

And in thinking that, they are most likely very wrong.

Matthew Pouliot, hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

More after the jump

R.J. Anderson, Baseball Prospectus (subscription required)

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Questions that haven't been asked or answered:

  1. Would Iannetta have re-signed with the Rockies at an affordable rate after 2013? It's doubtful to me. If he felt the organization wasn't keen on him, and with Wilin Rosario knocking on the door, and all the catcher war history, I think this is fairly likely, then the Rockies choice was to get what they could right now, or see him walk for nothing in return later. I am very doubtful that there was more than Chatwood available to the Rockies in an Iannetta. Checking out blogs of other teams in catching need, I've yet to see one where a fan suggests offering a player of Chatwood's caliber for CDI. Not that this survey is scientific at all, but it seems Iannetta has much more Internet trade value than he has real life trade value.
  2. How did the new CBA impact the decision making process? Hernandez would have cost a high draft pick for the signing team under the old CBA, while Iannetta would have had to have been offered an above market one year 2014 contract for the Rockies to receive draft pick compensation. The added affordability of not having to give up a draft pick for Hernandez I'm guessing definitely factored, and the near certainty of no compensation for Iannetta may have as well.
  3. How much do Hernandez's durability issues actually have to do with him, and how much do they have to do with having a starting caliber "back-up" in Ryan Hanigan playing behind him? The Reds had almost an equal split between the two catchers in 2011 and are fine letting Hernandez walk because Hanigan and prospect Devin Mesoraco are ready to take over, Yasmani Grandal not far away.
  4. Why is the importance of pitching depth getting overlooked? A couple of the posts seem to automatically assume projections as fact, which is one of my off-season pet peeves. They are useful tools, but just tools, and not prophetic visions. Assuming Chatwood enters the depth chart as the Rockies sixth best starter candidate for next Spring does not make this a bad trade by the Rockies, particularly given that he has two option seasons remaining. The average NL team used 22 pitchers in 2011, the Rockies used 29. Somebody unexpected will have to take innings at some point, and having Chatwood be that person saves the Rockies a lot over having it be an Alan Johnson or Greg Reynolds.
  5. What's next for the Rockies off season? While acknowledging that this pair of moves further weakens the 2012 team, they are not necessarily a sign that the Rockies are punting on their hopes of overtaking the Diamondbacks or Giants this upcoming season. The team still wants Martin Prado, for instance, and Huston Street seems likely to be traded at some point. Chatwood is also clearly not the only starting pitcher the Rockies will add (or at least want to add.) Can the team take a forward looking step back like this and still add the three or so wins it will take at other positions to close the gap with Arizona? That's not clear at this point, but again, projections aren't prophecies, and the Rockies are still within a safe talent range of division contention in the weak for 2012 NL West.

****

Early this off season, I mentioned that one of the areas I hoped the Rockies would target would be once heralded young starting pitchers that teams might be giving up too early on due to under-performance at the major league level. Chatwood seems to be exactly this type of pitcher. Given the lack of enthusiasm by projection systems, if he becomes successful, he would also be the kind of player that would allow a less moneyed club to close the gap on the clubs that can afford the better computers, and more analysts to keep an eye on them. It's the kind of move the Rockies need to make, and need to be right on, to be successful. The real important question is whether the team's scouts got this one correct.

If Chatwood can gain some command of his pitches as he matures, if he can gain some confidence in his secondary offerings to keep hitters guessing, the Rockies will come out ahead in the trade. If not, it will depend on how effective he will be out of the bullpen as to whether they break even. Philosophically, however, I like the move.

****

As for Iannetta, I was probably one of the first to tout the catcher at my old blog, and he's been a favorite for a long time. He's progressed more or less how I thought, as a Jason Varitek type that slowly grows into a team leadership role. I think I would have liked said progress to move along a little faster. Over his Rockies career (starting with his Aug. 27, 2006 debut) I would have liked to have seen him a bit more and Miguel Olivo and Yorvit Torrealba a bit less, but given catcher durability concerns, I don't think it's been as an egregious error to split the time as some make it out to be. At any rate, I do wish Dreamy the best of luck playing around Disneyland.

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