One clear theme that emerged in the Matt Holliday trade rumors that came out during the GM meetings this week are that the Rockies are a little more confident in their rotation for next season than they were during the summer, but perhaps less confident that Seth Smith could be an everyday left fielder. While the Rockies and all teams will always be in search for more pitching, the ready-now imperative seems to have been put on the back-burner. A look at the prominent rumors over the last few days reveals a pattern:
- Holliday to the Rays for outfielder Carl Crawford and prospects
- Holliday to the Cardinals for outfielder Ryan Ludwick and prospects
- Holliday to the Phillies for outfielder Shane Victorino or Jayson Werth and prospects
Separately, there was also the Garrett Atkins for outfielder Michael Cuddyer look-see and news that Eric Young Jr. has been getting work in center field, which mostly seems to be prepping him for a Chone Figgins like super-utility role, but also could foreshadow an alignment that would push Ryan Spilborghs back to left field if the Rockies don't get an outfielder in an Atkins or Holliday deal. While this isn't a grand revelation, it all indicates that the Rockies are looking to replace a sizable portion of Holliday's production in the lineup. O'Dowd's ideal opening day lineup now seems to have Spilborghs (or Crawford in the unlikely event we deal Matt to Tampa) in center, replacement outfielder X in left and Smith as a left handed sub/pinch hitter.
The upshot of going after these players would be that the offensive upgrade in center over Taveras would make up for the smaller drop in production in left field, leaving us with an outfield that could very well outproduce the one we had in 2008, even without Holliday. Added to the likely upgrade in the infield with Stewart and expected rebounds from Tulowitzki and Helton, these scenarios do seem to present somewhat of a cure for our everyday offensive blues. What about the rotation, though? Is O'Dowd ignoring that at the team's peril? I don't believe so. All the players involved in these rumors come back at salaries below what Atkins and Holliday are expected to earn in 2009, and added to Stewart's near minimum cost, our third base/left field combo will come in significantly below what Garrett and Matt earned in 2008. Cuddyer's due $6.75 million in 2009, $8.5 million in 2010 and has a team option for $10.5 million in 2011. Werth is entering his second season of arbitration eligibility, Victorino and Ludwick their first. Crawford's due $8.25 million in 2009 and has a $10 million club option for 2010. Holliday and Atkins earned just under $14 million in 2008, so at a minimum, the club will have $5 million leftover to spend. That's not a lot in today's baseball, but figure that the Rockies budget probably allows for what Atkins+Holliday were expected to make in 2009, which would leave the salary difference closer to the $10 to $14 million range.
Those cost savings could easily be passed on to a pretty decent cog in the rotation, perhaps even fill multiple pitching needs if allocated wisely. The other thing that these moves buy is some time to let players like Young and Dexter Fowler and whatever prospects are received in these moves to develop in AAA while maintaining a relatively competitive ballclub. Depending on what the team did with the pitching, the Rockies wouldn't be too far off from LA or Arizona at that point, but with more reinforcements than either of those teams close at hand. If O'Dowd could pull it off, this would be a having-our-cake-and-eating-it-too scenario and kudos to him. The gamble is that opposing teams don't ante up and O'Dowd gets forced into a pennies on the dollar type of deal when he runs out of time. I think the result of the offseason will go one way or the other, I'm not seeing a lot of middle ground here.