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Stretching out the stretch runs

Last week I showed that the bulk of the Rockies success in 2007 came from players spending between their sixth and tenth seasons in the system (having signed between the years 1998-2002) with those spending their eighth season with the franchise -Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins primarily- being the class that provided the greatest contribution. Add in Matt Holliday, Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis and you have the core of the Gen R group that's largely responsible for our first National League pennant. Originally this group included J.D. Closser, Chin Hui Tsao, Choo Freeman, Jason Young, Clint Barmes, Ryan Shealy and several others that while at one point promising, didn't quite live up to their promise and/or were shipped elsewhere. Of these players, the only two that were considered in a truly elite class at the time of their signing by prospect watchers were Tsao and Francis.

The gaps formed in this wave by these misfires were filled with similar below the radar tactics. A couple of trades that were uninspiring in the moment (Marcos Carvajal for Yorvit Torrealba, Eli Marrero for Kaz Matsui) a couple that had to be taken given the offers presented (Jeff Cirillo for Brian Fuentes and two other prospects, Jason Jennings) and a couple that amounted to trimming excess in the system to shore up a weak pitching staff. The three free agents signed that had the most impact were Josh Fogg, LaTroy Hawkins and Matt Herges. Finally, there was one holdover talent from what was supposed to be a previous wave in Todd Helton and two from what we hope will be the next wave in Troy Tulowitzki and Manny Corpas. I'm simplifying, obviously, as others from Tulo's group played a big role down the stretch, but for most of the year, they were the major representatives.

So I guess my first point is, the Rockies got to where they are by being self sustaining and knowing how to work the flea markets and junkyards, not the stock exchanges or art galleries. This offseason, the Rockies have certainly been sticking to what they know. Is this the wisest approach to take, though?

To answer that, let's take a closer look at what we can expect over the next decade (remember, our 2007 team shows that taking a view this long doesn't hurt) from the Rox and the divisional rival that most closely resembles us, the Diamondbacks. Both teams have been lauded for having deep farm systems, but what have Arizona's moves this winter said about how they really feel their chances will pan out over the next ten years? What do the Rockies moves -or non-moves- say about their own feelings of their farm?

To do this, I'm going to separate the next nine seasons into three distinct three year time periods, putting a few of the prominent players who figure to come into their peak seasons (or at least post peak but still productive seasons) in each time frame for both teams. Then I'm going to look at how they are shifting the landscape with player movement. What this reveals is that although the two teams share many traits, they are taking unique gambles with their futures.


Group I

Brandon Webb - A
Dan Haren - A-/B+
Chris Snyder - B
Chad Tracy - B
Orlando Hudson - B+
Eric Byrnes - B

Group II

Max Scherzer - B+?
Micah Owings - B+
Billy Buckner - B
Chris Young - A
Stephen Drew - B/B+
Conor Jackson - A-/B+
Miguel Montero - B/B+

Group III

Justin Upton - A
Jarrod Parker - A
Gerardo Parra - C+
Renaldo Navarra - C+


Group I

Jeff Francis A-/B+
Aaron Cook B/B+
Matt Holliday A
Brad Hawpe A-/B+
Garrett Atkins B+

Group II

Ubaldo Jimenez - A
Greg Reynolds - A-/B+
Brandon Hynick - B+
Troy Tulowitzki - A
Chris Iannetta - B/B+
Ian Stewart - B+?
Joe Koshansky - B
Seth Smith - B

Group III

Franklin Morales - A
Aneury Rodriguez - B-
Jhoulys Chacin B/B+
Chris Nelson - A-/B+
Dexter Fowler - A
Hector Gomez - A

Clue 1: the Dan Haren trade

Let's look at it from two different perspectives, the team that got Haren, and the team that did not:

Arizona: In a flurry of trades before the holiday, the Diamondbacks gained Haren, Chris Burke and Chad Qualls to make a clear enhancement to Group I for them, Buckner to relieve some of the hurt they put on Group II and a couple more fungible minor leaguers, that knowing our luck will turn out to be superstars.

In order to do this, they gave up six players who would have otherwise figured prominently into Group II, including top prospect Carlos Gonzalez, and one key Group III pitcher in Brett Anderson.

Colorado: Ken Rosenthal revealed after the trade that the Rockies had entered into discussions about Haren, but balked at Oakland's asking price. According to sources here, the A's had asked for some package that included Jimenez, Ian Stewart or Seth Smith, as well as Chris Nelson. There might have been some alternatives to giving up U-ball, but apparently Nelson was a definite desire of Oakland's and an impasse point with the Rockies who wouldn't deal him.

What this all means:

That Oakland, who for years had their Single A affiliation in Modesto and would therefore presumably know what players were flukes there, would want Nelson so badly speaks volumes for me. At any rate, also telling to me is Arizona's sell-off of 2010-2012 in getting Haren. They've got a fine start to a team for that period with Chris Young as the anchor, but as of right now, they've clearly fallen back behind both the Rockies and Dodgers in talent that figures to be peaking in that timeframe, particularly if Drew or Montero continue to disappoint at the Major League level. Scherzer's status as a starter seems in doubt, and without him, the Diamondbacks are left with nobody with ace potential between Webb and Parker.

What's more, if you consider the issues that Arizona will have with keeping the free agent Upton at that point compared to the relatively smoother road that the Rockies will encounter with Morales, it's becoming clear to me that the Diamondbacks have already mostly conceded that they'll be rebuilding then.

Clue 2: Brian Fuentes

In the talks the team had about him, the Rockies were asking for Major League talent, and have turned down unspecific offers of prospects according to a couple of media outlets, most recently Thomas Harding at the official site. Frankly, the team's got a strange demand from the reports that I've read in that they want a late inning reliever plus somebody for Fuentes. Of course, the obvious question is that if a team had a late inning reliever to spare, why would they need Brian? I have no idea. What's important to me right now in this post is that the Rockies are so set on filling Group I in such a trade, when there's probably a distinctly better return available in filling Group II or III.

Two things from this:

  1. The team doesn't really want to trade him until other teams have become more desperate or, uhm, crackheaded.
  2. The Rockies are confident enough that their farm will produce that they aren't looking for more help.
This is a wrong decision, IMHO, and I imagine the team might be more open to prospect trades mid-season, but the swagger exhibited by point two is reassuring nonetheless.

Clue 3: Hideki Kuroda trumps Josh Towers

Right after the Haren trade, the Dodgers moved fast to secure Kuroda. The timing might have been strictly coincidence, but you can be sure all these teams are well aware of how they feel they stack up to their divisional peers, and it certainly came across as a retaliatory strike. Since then, the Padres more nonchalantly reeled in Mark Prior and the Rockies got Kip Wells. Now the Rockies are getting closer to signing Josh Towers.

This essentially means that the Rockies are content to play it close for next season at least, rather than getting into an arms race.

But why not go after Brian Roberts, Scott Kazmir or Erik Bedard and make everybody else sweat for once?

Keep in mind that the Dodgers and Diamondbacks moves haven't pushed them that far ahead, only one and a half games according to this projection made just before Christmas, for instance, and that's really not enough to make anything remotely certain for next season as to who will win the division.

Clearly nothing is certain thereafter either, as attrition will occur in each of these farm systems, but right now in terms of talent, thanks to the Haren trade it's fairly clear that Colorado  is moving further ahead of Arizona in the years after 2009 and the gap gets wider as you go along.

While getting an upgrade at second or a clear ace for the next couple of seasons would be nice, and probably give us a better chance against the AL if we were to make it back to the World Series, having Clint Hurdle win the All-Star game this year would also do that trick at a much cheaper price. I have yet to see a compelling argument that makes me feel a move is necessary right now, particularly given that the cost is certainly going to extract deeply from an advantage we have over most other teams in the division over the next decade.

The difference between the teams is becoming clear that the Diamondbacks aren't really looking past the arbitration years of the group they've called up the last two seasons, whereas the Rockies are. Nearly every move Arizona's made in that time, from rushing Upton to the majors to the Haren trade, has pointed to them trying to pack as much into the six seasons between 2007-2012 as possible and then start over with Parker and whoever else is coming next. The Rockies, by letting prospects slowly percolate up, seem to be aiming for a more sustained peak lasting deep into the next decade. Both teams are taking risks to pursue these strategies, the Diamondbacks will have to reload in a hurry but won't have the same high draft picks to do it, and one Brandon Webb injury could derail the whole thing. Meanwhile, the Rockies are banking a lot more on their prospects many of whom aren't close to the majors and several might not make it at all.

My take is that as since just as many games have been played in 2011 or 2014 as have been played in 2008 so far, we'd be chasing their paper tigers with our paper elephants by making a move for a Kazmir or Bedard right now. To me, and apparently also to the team, this is a shortsighted approach and I'd rather we wait to see how the season begins to unfold in real life.