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Wednesday Morning Rockpile:

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Even as the team makes one more thrilling, last gasp effort to stay alive in 2007, the offseason jockeying has begun in earnest. In that vein, there are several ways we can read the news that the Rockies will try Ian Stewart at second base in the Arizona Instructional League.

  1. We can take it at face value, the Rox want to keep both Atkins and Stewart and will likely have a legitimate need for offense at second depending on what happens with Kaz Matsui this offseason.
  2. This is only a temporary one or two season shift at the maximum, as the Rockies wait for Atkins to get too expensive in arbitration before dealing him.
  3. This announcement/press leak is merely leveraging, and the Rockies have no intention of actually ever using Stew at second base.
  4. Any other combination or gradation of the above three.
Some might take #3 as a greedy and somehow malicious option, but from a competitive standpoint it makes a lot of sense as the Rockies will a) be able to ask more in a trade for Atkins from other teams if they seem to have a need for keeping him and b) they will have a better chance at negotiating an extension with Garrett if he doesn't feel like he's being squeezed out by our hero Helton on one side and Ian from the back.

My guess is that the team sincerely hopes that Ian works out at second, as that will solve a couple of problems at once, but the fact that they haven't tried it before makes me wonder if they are really confident in the plan. Nonetheless, there's no harm and possibly some benefit in even just giving it lip service.

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Perhaps the most glaring holes to fill in the offseason will be in the bullpen, as that has been a big letdown for us in September, with Matt Herges, Jeremy Affeldt and Jorge Julio almost derailing our hopes again last night by allowing four runs in their three innings before Ryan Speier took over for the ninth.

All three have had some positive stretches for us this season, but Julio's history before the Rox gives him little margin for error until he proves he's capable of consistent quality work, Herges might be on his last legs, and Affeldt by some measures might actually be the team's worst reliever this year, as he's allowed inherited runners to score at will and benefited from Hurdle's short hook by having his own runners left stranded by pitchers coming in after him. And that's not even touching on the spot of the roster held by Ramon Ortiz and while I'm not going to bash LaTroy Hawkins (in sum his performance has been pretty neutral -granted the team paid him to be a net positive on our wins this season) but a question arises about his 2008 option for $3.75 million dollars.

Let's play a matching game then, and see if we can fix this mess cheaply from the inside:

Manny Corpas
Taylor Buchholz
Josh Newman > Jeremy Affeldt - check
Juan Morillo > Jorge Julio - check
Darren Clarke > Matt Herges - durability seems to be a big issue with Clarke, however.
Denny Bautista = or > Latroy Hawkins?
Ryan Speier > Ramon Ortiz, another easy one.
Brian Fuentes? He's a key question heading into the offseason and we'll probably go back to this well frequently until we get a final word on what's going to happen. Because he's both left-handed and labeled as late-inning worthy, he will be trickier to replace than your every day run of the mill guys. The trick is finding a player who is not only good, but a known enough commodity who Hurdle has enough confidence in to keep him from using a Hawkins type in the highest leverage situations. Add in that you might have to get the left-handed part of the equation too, and the choices become extremely limited.

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While I'm on the offseason subject, I think I've swung against the idea of a Michael Barrett type catcher given how bad he is at controlling the running game. The NL West has a lot of very proficient base-stealers, and since he's come over from the Cubs, Barrett's been an automatic green light, it seems. Given that there's enough risk that his offensive woes this season are indicative of a serious career decline, I just don't think the chance of an upside will be worth the type of contract he'll command.

One catcher I kind of wish we had who combines pretty good defense and some pop is the Nationals' Jesus Flores, who was picked from the Mets just a couple of selections ahead of the Rockies turn in last season's Rule 5 draft.  Flores is the least heralded of three Rule 5 picks to really make an impact with their selecting teams this year, along with the much more widely publicized Joakim Soria of the Royals and Josh Hamilton of the Reds. All three were gone by the pick the Rockies apparently wisely decided not to use.

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Back to the here and now. Yesterday morning we clung to a 1.8% chance of making the playoffs, while the Dodgers had a 13% shot. With both the Padres and D-backs winning their games yesterday, we probably didn't gain much of a chance ourselves with the sweep, but we did almost thoroughly dash the Dodgers' hopes. Tonight and tomorrow let's hope the Rox finally get a killer instinct -something they apparently lacked in the Phillies series- and finish off LA.