The Colorado Rockies and free-agent reliever LaTroy Hawkins agreed to a two-year, $2.5 million deal on Monday, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale (via SB Nation). The deal includes a $2.25 million option for 2015 that can be bought out by the Rockies for $250,000.
The team is expected to officially announce the signing upon Hawkins' completion of a physical on Thursday.
There is a rather obvious red flag here, and that's Hawkins' age; he'll be 41 years old by the time spring training rolls around. I also have a baseball signed by Hawkins when he was with the Salt Lake Buzz. The Buzz haven't been around for, like, 15 years, so that also tells you how old Hawkins is. That same ball was used by my brother and I in our early teenage years in numerous pickup games, which is an indictment on how bad Hawkins was early in his career (we didn't think his John Hancock was worth enough to keep around). However, I still have the ball, so it's also some sort of weird metaphor for his longevity and durability.
Look at how off-track I got. I'm really sorry.
Anyway, Hawkins is old. But, he sure was effective in 2013. The veteran right-hander used the help of a career-low walk rate to post a 2.93 ERA in 70⅔ innings. He wasn't extremely lucky -- he allowed a modest .303 BABIP -- and really took advantage of his home park, backing off his groundball tendencies to dial up his fastball a bit higher than in the previous season.
That adapting to the ballpark thing has always suited Hawkins well, actually. And that might be his biggest strength. Hawkins has already shown he can do that while pitching with the Rockies, posting a career-best 1.67 groundball-to-flyball ratio in 2007, his lone season in Denver. And he fully embraced Colorado's pitch-to-contact method, striking out fewer than five batters per nine innings. In recent years, Hawkins has become a bit more of a strikeout pitcher, and that should suit him well if he's still able to run his fastball up to 93-94 mph when he needs to.
But, back to the red flags ... the Rockies plan to use Hawkins as their closer, and that might pose an issue. Even with a renewed ability to notch strikeouts, Hawkins is still average at best in that area, so any sort of bad batted-ball luck will come with consequences. My guess is that concern will manifest itself early in the season and Hawkins will be moved a more suitable middle relief role in favor of Rex Brothers, who hopefully gets his command issues under control.
The bottom line is that the Rockies will only have to pay $2.75 million for Hawkins if he doesn't work out, but if he does, they will have addressed a pretty major area of weakness. And, if Hawkins struggles, it's not an area that's impossible to find another solution for.
Hawkins might have been the least desirable of the available relief options on the market, but he was probably the cheapest and leaves the team with some financial flexibility to fill other holes. And he won't be that much worse than Brian Wilson, Grant Balfour and the like. Works for me.