Transactions Notes Super-Ultra-Uber-Mega-December Edition: Catching Up with the Roster

At last, after three weeks off, I am going to be posting my transactions notes column. There were two main reasons for the hiatus:

1. I anted to wait until the Winter Meetings and all of the associated roster fallout was completed.

2. Almost nothing further happens around the holidays, and with only the Winter Meetings move to scrutinize, everybody pretty much knew everything that was going on.

Since I feel that most of the past three weeks in Rockies transactions are fairly clear, this edition is going to focus on the current roster status. Many rockpile comments sections have been demonstrating a confusion about the current status of all of our new players. Who has options? Who has guaranteed contracts? Who starts here? Who backs up there? And so on. After the jump, I will break down our 40 Man Roster and where it stands going into 2012. But first, a quick recap of the last three weeks.

The Winter Meetings saw the Rockies be particularly active in continuing the changing of the guard that began with the removal of Ty Wigginton and Chris Iannetta. I already covered those moves, including the acquisition of Tyler Chatwood, in a previous column. So here is a basic summary of the Winter Meetings for the Rockies:

IN:

- RHP Kevin Slowey (trade with Twins)
- IF DJ LeMahieu (trade with Cubs)
- OF Tyler Colvin (trade with Cubs)
- OF Jamie Hoffmann (waiver claim from Dodgers)
- LHP Nick Schmidt (MiLB, trade with Padres)

OUT:

- IF Ian Stewart (for LeMahieu/Colvin)
- RHP Casey Weathers (for LeMahieu/Colvin)
- RHP Huston Street (for Schmidt)
- OF Ryan Spilborghs (non-tendered)
- OF Cole Garner (non-tendered)
- RHP Daniel Turpen (MiLB, for Slowey)
- RHP Marco Duarte (Rule 5 to Astros)
- C Beau Seabury (Rule 5 to Nationals)

Slowey, who was arbitration eligible, would avoid that process shortly after the trade by signing a $2.75 million contract plus incentives. The deal is non-guaranteed, which means that Slowey must make the team in order to be paid. While the details are not 100% clear whether or not we can use Slowey's remaining option years to keep him there, we would almost certainly have to pay him in full if we did that, meaning that Slowey will be a release candidate if he doesn't make the team whether release is mandated or not.

LeMahieu, Colvin and Hoffmann will all contend for spots on the roster, but none have guaranteed jobs. While all three players are in the pre-arbitration phases of their careers (and therefore cheap), they all have option years. LeMahieu looks to have the most direct shot towards being an impact player right now, as he will be in consideration for starting positions at both 2B and 3B. He can also serve as a utilityman at any of the four infield positions.

Colvin is in competition with Seth Smith and Charlie Blackmon for a left handed reserve outfield position on a bench that already has a notable lefty presence in Jason Giambi. Smith has that position locked down now, but with a trade looking more and more likely, it is a good possibility that Blackmon/Colvin compete for a fourth OF role, with the other starting for the Sky Sox. Hoffmann is one of the few right handed reserve outfield options available with the departures of both Spilborghs and Garner. Hoffmann does not have a great deal of MLB experience, but with the bench short on right handed bats, he becomes a better alternative than he would otherwise.

Schmidt, the only minor league addition of the Winter Meetings, has spent most of his career at the A+ level as a starting pitcher. He could repeat the level for the fourth straight year, though his career best 2011 season implies a jump to AA could be in store. His biggest obstacle is the abundance of starting pitching we suddenly have, and that AA rotation is looking mighty crowded right now, so his name could also join the list of players such as Chad Bettis, Joseph Gardner and Tyler Chatwood that are being considered for transitions to relief.

With three more notable players in Stewart, Street and Spilborghs gone, the Rockies continue their "changing of the guard" plan. This is less of a firesale or rebuilding process and more of grand remodeling. 2012 continues to appear transitional season to 2013, when the Rockies hope there will be room for their top three prospects in Drew Pomeranz, Nolan Arenado and Wilin Rosario to contribute in full MLB seasons. While all three players figure to see at least some MLB time in 2012, if not full seasons already, and their projected upside a good sign for the future, it would be very difficult for that production to take hold this quickly. Not impossible, but not expected.

After the jump, I will break down what has happened since the meetings, as well as the aforementioned roster status.

After the meetings, the Rockies stayed active with their biggest free agent signing in years, Michael Cuddyer. On a 3 year, $31.5 million contract, Cuddyer is expected to play right field for the Rockies while occasionally backing up 1B and 3B. He pushes Seth Smith to the bench, raising the potential of a Smith trade even more. Cuddyer's $10.5 million salary for 2012 makes him the highest paid player on the team for next year, $500,000 over Jorge De La Rosa.

The Rockies also agreed to sign third baseman Casey Blake to a one year, $2 million deal, though this contract is not yet official as it seems to be taking a while for something to happen (speculation, but perhaps Blake's physical is difficult to schedule in the middle of the holidays). Much like Slowey, Blake's deal is a non guaranteed MLB deal (meaning that unlike a MiLB contract, Blake occupies a slot on the 40 Man Roster and cannot be assigned to a minor league team freely). Blake is as likely a candidate to hold the third as anyone at this point, keeping the spot warm for Arenado if he doesn't win the spot himself outright.

On the minor league side of things, the Rockies began to stock up on some MiLB free agent depth. The team signed catcher Wil Nieves and right handed reliever Mike Ekstrom to minor league contracts and invited them to MLB Spring Training. They also signed infielder Brendan Harris, outfielder Brandon Roberts, right handed reliever Zach Simons (a former Rockies minor leaguer who was traded for Jason Grilli) and super-utility man Wilkin Castillo (who has logged professional playing time at every position except pitcher) to minor league deals without MLB camp invites.

The final transaction of the month is a smaller one. Outfielder Luis Terrero, who was signed early to a 2012 minor league deal, was released. No further details are available.

Summarizing the Roster

The 40 Man Roster currently has 38 slots on it filled. That number will become 39 when Casey Blake is officially signed. There is a 40th player in Eliezer Alfonzo, who remains suspended and is not counting toward the roster limit.

As of right now, there are by my count 15 players that are essentially guaranteed/expected to be on the team unless they are traded before the start of the season.

- Ramon Hernandez
- Todd Helton
- Troy Tulowitzki
- Carlos Gonzalez
- Dexter Fowler
- Michael Cuddyer
- Seth Smith
- Jason Giambi
- Jhoulys Chacin
- Jason Hammel
- Rafael Betancourt
- Matt Belisle
- Matt Lindstrom
- Rex Brothers
- Matt Reynolds

Of these 15, Hernandez, Helton, Tulowitzki, Cuddyer, Giambi, Betancourt, Belisle and Lindstrom must consent to any optional assignment. Gonzalez and Hammel are out of options; they don't have to consent, but must clear waivers. Fowler (1), Smith (2), Chacin (1), Brothers (3) and Reynolds (3) can all be optioned if necessary.

Jorge De La Rosa will begin the season on the disabled list, while Eliezer Alfonzo still has at least 3/4ths of his suspension ahead of him. Assuming those 15 make the team plus these two not counting towards the roster, five more position players and five more pitchers must be selected to fill out the 25 Man Roster (assuming a traditional roster).

Of the remaining bubble players, the following players are out of options:
- Chris Nelson
- Eric Young Jr.
- Esmil Rogers
- Josh Roenicke

These players need to make the team or be exposed to waivers. Clayton Mortensen and Hector Gomez both used their final regular MLB options last year, but both qualify for bonuses. Casey Blake must consent to a MiLB assignment, though if he doesn't make the team, he will almost certainly simply be released.

All other players on the 40 Man Roster can easily be optioned to the minors:
- Charlie Blackmon (3)
- Edwar Cabrera (3)
- Tommy Field (3)
- Christian Friedrich (3)
- Drew Pomeranz (3)
- Alex White (3)

- Tyler Chatwood (2)
- Tyler Colvin (2)
- DJ LeMahieu (2)
- Jordan Pacheco (2)
- Kevin Slowey (2) (contract may require he not be optioned)
- Wilin Rosario (2)

- Edgmer Escalona (1)
- Jonathan Herrera (1) (yep, he's still holding onto that one option)
- Jamie Hoffmann (1)
- Juan Nicasio (1)

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