Thursday Rockpile: Addition by subtraction?

Hannah Foslien

The Rockies traded away a fan favorite in switch-hitting centerfielder Dexter Fowler this week. Can this move make the team better in 2014?

The trade of Dexter Fowler for what has been described as pennies on the dollar or, "a quarter for a dime and a nickel," has made most Rockies fans angry this week. While I do not think anyone can argue that the Rockies won or even tied in the talent value of the trade, the Rockies have improved themselves while saving money. Add into this fact that the 2010 Twins 2014 Rockies used the money saved to add Justin Morneau, and this has been a successful week for the front office in improving the team for next season.

I know this may sound crazy for some of you so let's break down how this can improve the team. The first place to start is the black hole that was the number five pitching spot. Last year in games not started by Chacin/DeLaRosa/Chatwood/Nicasio, seven Colorado pitchers started 50 games. They combined for a 6.47 ERA in 246.3 innings with 167 strike outs to 95 walks (1.76 SO/BB rate). This came at a cost of about $3 million for the contracts of Francis/Garland/Oswalt plus close to the minimum salaries for the other four pitchers.

In comparison, over the past two years Jordan Lyles has also started 50 games. He has pitched more innings (283 vs. 246.3), had more strikeouts (192 vs. 167), walked fewer batters (91 vs. 95), and produced a lower ERA (5.35 vs. 6.47). Add the fact that he is young and still has room to improve and he gives the Rockies a better option than whatever was thrown out every fifth day last year. The obvious caveat to this line of reasoning is that he now has to pitch half his games at Coors Field and will have to adjust his pitches whenever the team goes on the road and when he returns. Overall, on paper there appears to be a positive WAR change of about 1 for the team (-1.2 vs. -2.2).

The next piece of the trade is Brandon Barnes. If the front office intended him to replace Dexter Fowler, then the team would be in trouble offensively. However, I do not think this is the plan. Putting him in a platoon with Corey Dickerson/Charlie Blackmon gives the Rockies a strong right-handed bat to help protect their young left -handed bats. Last year against left-handed pitching, Barnes was a very successful .295/.354/.437. A .791 OPS is not an all-star, but it matches/betters Fowler's bat from the right side. On days he does not start, Barnes also becomes a useful bat off the bench. Compared to the primary right-handed bench bat last year, Jordan Pacheco, Brandon can be seen as nothing but an upgrade as last year he was worth 1.7 OWAR more over a similar number of bats.

Finally, the related move of picking up Justin Morneau. Morneau will work very well as a platoon at first with either Michael Cuddyer or Wilin Rosario. Even if he was used there everyday, Justin posted 2.4 rWAR more than Todd Helton last year. He is entering his age 33 year this year so there may be some decline but this is still an improvement for the team. It may not be what most of us wanted for a first baseman, but it gives the team a short term option as they search for answers.

Overall, the improvement to the fifth starter role, the bench, and first base, on paper, make the team 5.1 wins better than the 2013 version. It takes a little bit of a leap of faith to see everything working out to make this a reality. Lyles will have to at least match his past production while pitching at Coors Field, Morneau will have to get a boost from moving to Coors that hides his aging similar to his former Twins teammate Michael Cuddyer, and Barnes will have to prove successful in a platoon/bench role. Also, Cargo's likely move back to centerfield will need to be a positive for the team.

As a whole, the 2013 Rockies often failed due to a lack of depth, both in the pitching staff and throughout the lineup/on the bench. This week the Rockies took a chance in using an expendable piece of the team to try and meet their needs. Dex was a favorite of many of us, but with the organization's depth in the outfield and his future price continuing to rise, the Rockies sought to add to the team by subtracting a good player. It is the type of move the Rockies will have to continue to make based on their current business model. We will have to wait until 2014 to find out how successful this particular move turns out to be.

Links for the day:

An explanation of what the Rockies hope for out of Justin Morneau.

The Rockies are in luck with this year's draft. MLB.Com says it is deeper than last year and filled with pitching talent.

Bernie Pleskoff keeps the Tyler Matzek hopes alive, discussing his work in the fall league.


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