2013 has nose-dived quickly for the Colorado Rockies. A promising start has turned sour after the All-Star break, and the Rockies are yet again in the position of looking forward to next year. The team doesn't lack for star power and solid contributors, but more L's populate the box scores than W's, for the third straight year. Most observers of the team believe that the key to success is to surround the star power of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez with more capable regulars. As has been regularly documented, the Rockies have given far too many plate appearances to players who have produced practically zippo.
It's not outside the realm of possibility that a few canny signings (first base, left field, starting pitcher, bullpen arm) could put this team over the top in 2014. This will likely be the scenario the Front Office pursues in the off season. It's a safe play, and honestly, probably a smart play. The starting pitching is starting to crystallize and the aforementioned positions for improvement are usually available to an aggressive GM.
But this is an approach that the Rockies have been attempting for several years now, with no success. Riding the Tulo and Cargo train sounds like a valid maneuver, but it's been a bust so far. Is there any logic behind taking a different approach?
So here's the blow-it-all-up scenario, in which the Rockies--get this--blow it all up. Recently Fangraphs concluded their annual trade value series. They ranked the top 50 assets in baseball; the higher a player ranks, the larger your return if you were to trade him. The Rockies have two players on that list: Carlos Gonzalez at #10, and Troy Tulowitzki at #13. In other words, if the Rockies made these players available, then they could be turned into virtually any other player in the game except for the absolute elites.
Trading either of those players would return a king's ransom of prospects and other young players.
St. Louis is in desperate need of a shortstop. They have prospects to spare and will certainly be in contention next season. What might they give up for the premier short stop in the game on a reasonable long term contract?
The discussion ought to start with Oscar Taveras and one of Michael Wacha/Carlos Martinez. Taveras was in the discussion as the top prospect in the game before the season started, though he hasn't played as well in AAA as most prognosticators expected. These struggles actually might improve this hypothetical trade, as his value has dropped somewhat, allowing the Rockies to ask for more.
Wacha and Martinez are both hard throwing starters, ranked as the number 2 and 3 prospects in the Cardinals' system. St. Louis probably wouldn't give up both, but one of them would have to be in the package.
But that wouldn't be all. Would the Cardinals add slugging lefty Matt Adams to the deal (thus giving the Rockies a legitimate option at first base)? How about Kolten Wong, a second baseman having a very nice year in AAA? The Cards appear to be set at second with Matt Carpenter, and they probably wouldn't balk at Adams. Taveras/Wacha/Wong/Adams would inject some serious talent into the Rockies organization. Would that be worth the loss of our franchise player?
In for a penny, in for a pound. If the Rockies shopped Cargo, what could he fetch? I would target short stops Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers or Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox. Both teams will have an every-day outfielder hitting free agency (Nelson Cruz, Jacoby Ellsbury), and they might be enticed into trading for the superior Gonzalez. Both teams also have other viable solutions at short stop, making those prospects more likely to be available.
Those shortstops are in the mid-twenties range of Fangraphs' trade value series, so there likely wouldn't be a whole lot more to add to the package. Probably another B prospect and a useful reliever.
What else? Cuddyer, after his very fine 2013 campaign, would likely net a very nice prospect for his services in 2014. Perhaps someone like the Royals or the Reds would give up someone young with upside. Dexter Fowler could probably net a solid number 2 starter, if he ever started hitting again. Jorge de la Rosa is better than Cuddyer and nearly the same price, so he would be very attractive as well.
I did say we were blowing it all up.
So where would that leave us? After those trades I feel pretty confident that we would have the best farm system in baseball. Taveras, Bogaerts/Profar, Wacha/Martinez, Wong/Adams, Gray, Butler, Bettis, Dahl, Cuddyer's return, Fowler's return, de la Rosa's return...
Furthermore, most of those players are just about MLB ready. Taveras, the short stop, the Cards pitcher, and Wong/Adams would start for the Rockies on Opening Day. The Rockies would almost certainly be a worse team in 2014 with these players instead of with their stars...but the potential of that gaggle of prospects is off the charts. Every hole in the lineup would be buttoned up by a solid player, with potential for stardom. The stars and scrubs roster the Rockies have utilized in the past three seasons would be changed to a solid-across-the-board roster.
Further-furthermore: tens of millions of dollars would come off the books in the blow-it-up scenario. Tulo will be paid $16 million in 2014, and 20 million each year thereafter. Cargo will make $10.5 million in 2014, and it will escalate in future years. Cuddyer will make $10.5 million. De la Rosa will make $11 million. Fowler will make $7.5 million. Trading those five players for league-minimum prospects will yield savings of over $55 million.
A lot of holes can get filled with 55 million dollars. We could go after Brian McCann, or AJ Burnett, or Shin-Soo Choo. Or more likely, that money could get rolled over to the 2014 off season, as 2014 is used to evaluate the players acquired in the trade-a-palooza.
This won't happen. The fan backlash would be enormous. The Front Office wouldn't survive, and people generally don't make moves that would get them canned. It's incredibly high risk, and teams these days are loathe to give up their prospects. I might be overvaluing our potential returns.
It probably shouldn't happen. Taking the conservative approach outlined above might work. And the thought of Tulo and Cargo playing in different uniforms literally makes me want to vomit.
But when you're mired in three straight losing seasons using the same formula, it might be time to reassess the process. The current roster isn't working. The Rockies have assets of such value that a rebuild could be done quickly and effectively.
Troy Renck writes about the resurgent Pirates coming into Denver.