With the recent emergence of Corey Dickerson and the increasingly larger sample size of Charlie Blackmon being awesome, the Colorado Rockies find themselves in an interesting position with regard to the structure of their outfield.
If and when Michael Cuddyer returns from his injury, it would seem as though the Rockies have a glut at the position and may want to consider trading him or one of his peers.
Is this a wise choice? Let us take a look inside a few scenarios and how they might help or hurt the Rockies.
Scenario No. 1: Play Cuddyer in a reduced role
So has Dickerson taken Cuddyer's spot? Unlikely. Cuddyer has consistently been a stabilizing force on this team and although his defense in the outfield isn't great, it really isn't much worse than that of Dickerson. Plus, Cuddy has a better arm which is important in right field.
There is still the possibility that Cuddyer will get more playing time at first base to spell Justin Morneau against tough lefties, but regardless of where he is, you can be assured that Cuddyer will be returning to a full-time role on this team. And he should.
I love what I'm seeing out of Dickerson and it makes him the perfect fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/injury insurance for this team. One of the things we often forget when one player returns from an injury is that the baseball gods love playing whack-a-mole with the Rockies, ensuring that the whole team is never fully healthy all at once. More on this below.
Dickerson may be the guy moving forward into 2015, but Cuddyer still has a more trustworthy track record in the major leagues -- and, yes, he brings all those intangible things that half the baseball community doesn't want to hear about and the other half constantly overstates.
Scenario No. 2: Trade Blackmon, Dickerson, Stubbs or Barnes
Nobody should want to trade Blackmon right now unless absolutely convinced his start to 2014 is a mirage. Of all the things I didn't see coming this season, Blackmon hitting for consistent power has got to be right at the top of the list. Unless you think you can trick a team into a massive return because his trade value will never be higher, you keep the guy who, to this point, has solved the whole "who is our center fielder and lead-off man?" problem.
Dickerson could also be an enticing trade chip but his youth and proven hitting ability make him a valuable commodity for the Rockies team now. If the Rockies trade Dickerson, it will mean more plate appearances for the much less consistent Drew Stubbs or Brandon Barnes, especially if there is another injury in the outfield.
Unless someone blows the Rockies away with an offer, I would hang on to both Blackmon and Dickerson because this team's biggest problems the last few years have been depth, so the idea that we have a glut in the outfield should be a welcome sight, not something that needs to change.
I would not be against trading either Stubbs or Barnes in theory, though I doubt either would net a piece that would substantially improve the Rockies' fortunes. Since I like what Barnes adds to the team, in my mind the odd man out is Stubbs.
Apart from devastating the Rockies' supply of Drews (this coming after Pomeranz was shipped out!), I don't believe that moving Stubbs, even just for some middle bullpen relief, would hurt this team much. I just doubt that there are suitors.
Scenario No. 3: Trade Cuddyer
The arguments I've laid out above have led many to think that the natural answer to all of this, then, is to trade Cuddyer. Dickerson could slide into his spot right now without much drop-off and potentially could result in a net gain. Cuddyer is a known name with a proven track record who was last year's batting champ and hasn't shown extreme regression yet in 2014 so his stock is still high.
My issue is twofold.
1. What would Cuddyer net in return?
2. Would this kill the Rockies' depth?
The general consensus right now is that the Rockies' biggest area of concern is the bullpen. I wrote earlier this year that this is the best problem the Rockies could have and posited a number of potential solutions that still stand as options.
Not being a GM myself, it can be difficult to judge the market for Cuddyer, but we aren't getting Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman for him. Closers, and relief pitchers in general, can be a dime-a-dozen and have the tendency for wildly fluctuating stat lines. I wouldn't feel comfortable trading Cuddyer for any bullpen arm other than a stellar one, which I doubt he would be valuable enough to net.
I am open to options though, so if anyone can think of some names, please post them in the comments. The problem that we often have in these discussions is that "trade Cuddyer for bullpen help!" makes some sense, but is there any specific arm available at that price that would actually improve the bullpen?
Another option would be to trade him for a mid- to bottom-rotation starter. While the Rockies' rotation has been decent at preventing runs, they have not been great at going deep into games. Acquiring an innings eater who can push Franklin Morales and/or Juan Nicasio into the bullpen (especially as the rotation hopefully returns to full health later in the season) could be a way of killing two birds with one stone.
Innings-eating rotation guys can be a crapshoot at Coors, though (hello Jeremy Guthrie!), and any potential pitcher the Rockies could bring in for Cuddyer (bullpen or starter) should be measured against what the Rockies currently have within the organization.
Daniel Winkler, Tyler Matzek, Eddie Butler, Jon Gray, and the returns of Brett Anderson and Tyler Chatwood are all things that can improve the Rockies pitching at no cost. If they are going to move Cuddyer, it has to be for someone who they're confident in being better than all of those guys.
And, of course, I'll stop using the word "depth" when it stops being the most important factor for the squad. The fact remains that even if the Rockies do get an improvement in pitching by shipping out Cuddyer (or Dickerson or anyone else for that matter), the outfield won't be as good.
If Gonzalez or Blackmon get injured, we are going to wish we had Cuddyer. If Dickerson slumps or cools and/or it turns out that Stubbs and Barnes can't really hit, we are going to wish we had Cuddyer.
And at some point this season, in an important close game in which the Rockies are in need of someone who can just get the ball in play to score a pivotal run, we are going to be glad that we have Michael Cuddyer.
Scenario No. 4: Keep all the outfielders, platoon and play the hot hand
This has been the Rockies' strategy so far this season and was the reason they broke camp with six outfielders. While some may prefer Walt Weiss stick with a more measurable rubric like playing the guys with better numbers against a certain kind of pitcher rather than playing the "hot hand," the strategy has, for the most part, been an effective one.
This strategy allowed for the Blackmon break-out. Early in the season, Cuddyer and his 137 wRC+ in the second spot in the lineup were an offensive revelation for this team. Barnes and Stubbs have both had their moments defensively and offensively, though for Stubbs the empty at-bats are maddening. And, as we discussed, Corey Dickerson is showing again that he can hit at this level.
To quote RhodeIslandRoxfan:
If the bar to get off the bench is to post an OPS over .900 or whatever it ends up being, that's what it is for now, and it's a great thing for the team.
In July we can reassess this. Either somebody else will get injured, somebody else will cool off, or we'll figure our the exact spot we need to trade for and improve as it specifically relates to the last 70 games of the season.
I just don't buy into the idea that this is an "issue". It just means that the bar has been raised if these guys want playing time.
Though it is always important to keep an eye on the horizon and constantly be assessing your team's strengths and weaknesses, I couldn't agree with RIRF more.
But considering in-house options to improve potential trouble areas as they arise, the Rockies should only trade an outfielder if someone else out there dramatically overpays.
The Rockies are playing their best baseball in three years, and to a man, each one of the 25 players in the clubhouse will tell you that Cuddyer's leadership has played a huge role in that. Weigh that in your mind how you will, but tweaking with a formula that is working is a risky endeavor. (The Indiana Pacers thought they were one small move away from catching the Heat, then made a minor trade of a guy everyone loved and the team fell apart. Yes, basketball and baseball chemistry are different. Still, to me at least, a trade of any of the regulars on this team would come off as a panic.)
Especially because -- and I will cover this more in-depth in another piece soon -- putting Gray or Butler in the bullpen could solve this team's biggest problem by pure addition without the need for subtraction.
No reason to trade your oranges for apples right when the apple tree is getting ripe. Holding onto the apples means you will have more fruit, and more fruit is better.