Regarding Jim Tracy: I have two thoughts.
1. Let him go at the end of the season (replacing him now won’t really do much). My reasons? See the 2011 season with special attention towards months May through present.
2. Keep him and let him go early next season. Why? If you ever read what I thought about the Hurdle -> Tracy switch, my opinion of our big turnaround was never what Tracy brought to the team (not to knock the team’s and by association Tracy’s accomplishments), but rather the team was energized not by what Tracy was, but what he wasn’t (i.e. Hurdle). It sounds counter-intuitive I suppose but should the media, the fans, and more importantly the team lose faith in Tracy, then replacing him may provide an energy boost and a renewed sense of focus. The drawbacks of this are of course things running astray early on, and the difficulty of replacing a manager in-season as it tends to just fall into the lap of the bench coach when I’d rather hire someone more progressive thinking.
On this last point, hiring someone more like Joe Maddon (and I say that not meaning to anoint him a saint as most things baseball-related in Tampa Bay are). The baseball world is still in the dark as to what exactly a manager brings to the table. Technically, they all bring the same thing since they’re all essentially water drawn from the same well. It’s my opinion that Maddon’s interesting approach to management may lead to beneficial effects not due to the in-game decisions as they are, but rather to a few elements: a. He has philosophy and adheres to it. When managing you need to be able to stick to decisions to generate buy-in from subordinates. Tracy’s style this season has appeared more and more trial-and-error based. While there are merits to this approach, I think it leads to too much shifting around based on immediate past results and not an underlying logic. b. Given the variability in Maddon’s approach, it may actually keep all of the players on their toes. Despite me praising Maddon for something I just essentially criticized Tracy for (numerous, shifting decisions), it’s not necessarily the outcome but rather the process that I think is important – Maddon’s numbers-based approach as opposed to a trial and error one. Remember, the manager’s job is to motivate players for 180 days, not just make simple tactical decisions on batter/pitcher handedness (we could just have a computer in the dugout doing that for us). Maddon’s inventiveness as well as his planned inclusiveness may keep the players more engaged throughout the course of the season.
Regarding 3rd base I feel like we have 2 more or less clear options:
1. Keep Stewart and work with him over the offseason in the hopes that he may experience a turnaround a la Alex Gordon (seriously, he still has potential and if there is any lesson to be learned from Andres Torres – who spent a year completely deconstructing and rebuilding his approach in the model of Pujols, or Jose friggin’ Bautista, things can change).
2. If Stewart is traded (which I’m not opposed to), keep Wigginton. He’s been an above average bat, and has a BABIP of .275. If that were 20 points higher – his career norm, he’d be pretty damn good for us. He’s an established commodity and could be a solid bat with pop from the right side not costing us much money. Furthermore, there are basically zero 3b options out there. Wigginton may give us a simple solution to whom we are contracted with for only one more season – which may be the most important feature of all given Nolan Arenado’s development. If we were to panic and run out and try to acquire someone, we’d block Arenado who has hit at all level’s thus far and is a rather high-contact, low strikeout hitter (something we’ve lacked). Should Arenado stall in AA for a bit, we’d still have Wigginton holding down the fort, and if he matures and excels, then it wouldn’t be hard to part with Wigginton at all.
Regarding 2nd base – honestly, just play Chris Nelson there. Trading for Aaron Hill or some other player aside, Nelson seems to have little to gain from the minors at this point (especially since he’d just be playing in Colorado Springs) and has yet to be given anything resembling consistent playing time at a consistent position (seriously – 26 games started as of Aug 1st). We’ve dealt with mediocrity at 2b for years and I don’t say that to suggest that it’s acceptable but rather that we should be able to exercise patience and really attempt to understand his skillset.
The other alternative is of course to re-sign Mark Ellis. I’m not opposed to that really but then I wouldn’t be sure what to do with Nelson or Wigginton and heck, Ellis might not want to resign with us. That being said, Ellis’s defense, veteran presence, and ability to not totally suck offensively are all assets that shouldn’t be undervalued. If playing Nelson is my first choice, then resigning Ellis is something of a choice 1a for me.
This is pretty complex – technically, CarGo can handle CF well enough and given Blackmon, Wheeler’s emergence and… the ghost of Jay Payton, Dexter can be viewed as expendable.
If we keep Dexter – who continues to show flashes of ability as well as an awesome walk rate, I think we’d need to spend the offseason refining his approach (which is an issue I’ll revisit in a bit). Like Nelson, Fowler has nothing to gain in AAA.
This is also one area where I may be in favor of a free agent signing in Coco Crisp. He plays above average outfield defense, has some pop, a decent walk rate, and can actually steal bases at something higher than a 40% success rate. Additionally, he would represent a true leadoff hitter, a right-handed bat, may be looking to come to CO on a short-term deal after Oakland suppressed his numbers and will be 32 next season – young enough where he’s not so old, and may be looking to set himself up for a nice contract should he have a strong year. However, Crisp may be looking for a lot of money or a multi-year deal or both, and has a lengthy injury history. However, his injury proneness may be somewhat mitigated by our OF depth and if he is signed to a longer-term contract that is trade-able, we may be able to flip him in-season for whatever (if such a need were to arise).
Regarding Jason Giambi:
Just google image search the guy – your eyes and heart will guide you towards a decision (one that is crystal-clear might I add).
Regarding the rotation:
I’m not sure if a big FA signing is feasible. Chacin, JDLR, Nicasio, Rogers, and Hammel may be enough. Possible FA’s include Jeff Francis(!), Rich Harden (<3333), Edwin Jackson, Paul Maholm, Joel Pineiro, and Bartolo Colon. These are all guys who we could probably sign for not a lot of cash, a short-term deal, or both (some obviously more-so than others).
Given our recent grab of pitching prospects, it’s unclear if such a FA move is advisable. But our recent difficulties with player development as well as a rotation incorporating two relatively green pitchers in Nicasio and Rogers, a guy coming back from TJ surgery, and Jason Hammel, we may want something more of a ‘sure thing’ in the event stuff goes wrong…
Regarding the offseason:
If we’re still in possession of Stewart and Fowler, something needs to be done. Again, these guys aren’t going to be able to find IT in AAA (can they even be optioned at this point?). However, I’m curious as to what the offseason consists of for these players. Fowler and Stewart may be able to benefit from live pitching. I know Ubaldo pitched in the winter. If we have any pitchers interested in pitching during the winter (either to stay fresh, to learn a new pitch, whatever), this may give Fowler and Stewart the opportunity to work on their approaches and work on making changes that will stick (and won’t be abandoned at the first sign of struggle, nor be under loud media scrutiny while the team attempts to secure a playoff spot). Anytime a player or anyone for that matter attempts a shift in strategy or approach, a short-term decrease in productivity shouldn’t be viewed as failure but rather should be expected.
Anything else I left out at this point is probably intentional – though there may be some oversight. I also don’t have any ideas regarding the bullpen since bullpens are comprised of mercurial, fungible, silly people. However, I will say that I’d advocate for acquiring bullpen arms in any trade involving guys of lesser-value (Wigginton, Ellis, EY2, Spilborghs), as opposed to something else since I doubt any starters or position players would be of any value to the big league club.