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The State of the Rockies (Post GM Meetings Edition)

Well, the 2009 Winter Meetings could have gone two ways for the Rockies. One, Dan O'Dowd could have dangled Brad Hawpe, the Rockies could have made overtures to well...anyone of significance. This was unlikely, and did not come to pass. Instead, Rafael Betancourt did the smart thing and accepted arbitration from the Rockies while Jason Marquis made an equally good business decision and declined. The Rockies didn't select anyone in the Rule 5 draft, nor did they have anyone selected. Pretty ho hum to be sure.

However, some significant events did take place regarding the Rockies during the Winter Meetings, giving fans an even clearer picture of the way the roster will shake out. Betancourt's acceptance of arbitration was obviously the most significant, as the Rockies were prepared to bring back LaTroy Hawkins for two years, $7.5 million--a move that for some reason screamed Luiz Vizcaino 2.0 to me--if he had declined. So I'm glad that the Rockies will have an accomplished 8th inning man next year so long as they can fit it into their budget.

As I've said before, if there's a year to spend a little for an extra marginal win or two, it's this one. The NL West crown has never seemed more up for grabs for the Rockies than it appears this year, especially with the Dodgers shuffling through a bizarre offseason, the Giants yet to secure a big bat, and the Padres nickeling and diming their roster. Meanwhile, it was the Diamondbacks who were the big movers of the NL West at the GM meetings in trading away high-upside Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit as part of a three team deal that netted them All-Star pitcher Edwin Jackson as well as Yankees pitcher Ian Kennedy to solidify their rotation for at least 2010. Should Brandon Webb come back strong from surgery, that is one scary rotation developing in Arizona for 2010--and a reason why they will be overrated by about 10 wins in preseason predictions by pundits everywhere. At least, that's my prediction--the Diamondbacks coming in at around 78 wins next year because I'm not sold on their hitting nor their health.

In any case, the Rockies made a move over the winter meetings in locking up Chris Iannetta through his arbitration years (three years, $8.3 million) plus a cheap club option ($5 million) for his first year of free agency. Rob Neyer applauded the move and I agree with him. Love him or like him, this is a solid move for the Rockies, and here's why...

The Rockies are paying Iannetta roughly market value for a player of his stature...if he repeats his 2009 season for four more years. Many people, myself included, seem to believe that Iannetta will perform a bit better than that. Fangraphs' Matt Klaassen projects Iannetta for 2.5 WAR in 2010 (assuming only 100 games played) and explains that he's being paid to be a 1.5 win player this year when you adjust for the fact that the contract is buying out his first arbitration year and not a free agency year. The fans on FanGraphs who have projected Iannetta seem to believe that he will be a 4 WAR player in 2010--which is a little optimistic for me (I see him in the 2.5-3 WAR range next year given adequate playing time), but Iannetta is entering his baseball prime and I wouldn't rule the upper range out.

In return for the security of having a guaranteed paycheck for the next three years (something the soon to be non-tendered Garrett Atkins might be wishing for right now), Iannetta has given up potentially larger arbitration salaries over the next few years--and if he plays as well as Klaassen and myself have predicted he will, CDI will ultimately be a large bargain (to the tune of $30-40 million in net value) for the Rockies over the life of his contract.

The Rockies are busy negotiating multi-year deals with Huston Street and Clint Barmes, but it is unlikely that either of those deals, if signed, will be as team friendly or have a comparable net value (especially in Street's case due to his 3 year, $30 million demands).

The Torrealba Situation

In his Iannetta article, Klaassen bemoaned the handing out of multi-year contracts to aging, marginal at best catchers like Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Kendall. While Yorvit Torrealba is only 31 and has definitely shown that his bat has some life last year, he's far closer to those catchers in value added than he is to Iannetta. Meanwhile, he has seen that Rodriguez got 2 years, $6 million and wants the Rockies to match this number. The Rockies have countered with $5.6 million. Either contract will give Torrealba way more money than he's worth in tangible on the field value. At most he's worth $4 million over two years. At most. Any more is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Just because the market for aging backup catchers who can't hit or field particularly well but can "handle a pitching staff well" has gone crazy doesn't mean that the Rockies need to succumb to it. In all honesty Torrealba should be happy that he has garnered as much interest in his modest skill set as he has.

Look, it's no secret that I'm neither a fan of Torrealba as a player nor am I convinced of the importance (or tangible benefit) of the attributes for which he is valued. So take my advice how you will. But the only way that makes sense to me is to evaluate a player based largely on his quantifiable production (I'm not advocating that this is the correct way to do so, just that it is the way that I do it), and the numbers that I value rate Torrealba at a very low level. He has been an important part of the Rockies' Rocktober runs as an emotional leader and as someone who has produced well in high leverage situations, and for that I thank him sincerely. However, it's just time for both parties to move on.

Free Agency Update

For the Rockies, moving on from Torrealba could land Miguel Olivo, formerly of the Royals, in their laps for a similar 2 year deal. Olivo, who is four days older than Torrealba, is famously lacking in patience (BB rate of 4.6% in 2009) but he does have some pop in his bat (23 HRs) and he did produce 2.2 WAR for the woeful Royals last year. You could call him a Chris Iannetta without patience. Looking at his career numbers, Olivo's 2009 stands out as a clear career year at the plate, so he could be due for some regression that could be mitigated somewhat by moving to the NL and a hitter-friendly park. If he can be had for 2 years, $4-5 million, the Rockies could certainly do worse than Olivo as a back-up.

As for other previous targets, the Winter Meetings saw prospective utilitymen Pedro Feliz and Bobby Crosby got snapped up. Orlando Hudson remains a possibility, albeit one that would only be consummated very late in the offseason at a discounted price. Meanwhile, the Rockies appear to have shied away from several other potential players to fill the Garrett Atkins role. However, there are a few that I haven't gone over yet that have been linked to the Rockies:

Fernando Tatis: The utilityman will be 35 on Opening Day, has been bumming around the majors since 1997 for five teams but has accrued only 7.105 years of service time, a testament to his journeyman status. However, in 2009 Tatis was quite good in part time status, producing 1.5 WAR in 340 PAs with positive value in both hitting and fielding. He can probably be had cheaply (around $2.25 million), can provide depth at several positions, and has demonstrated his ability as a pinch hitter (as Franklin Morales can attest). I'm putting him at the top of my revised wish list.

Melvin Mora: The 37 year old Mora has been at least a league average player as recently as 2008 (and much better than that in the recent past), but does he have anything left in the tank and would he accept a part-time slot? That and his likely $4-5 million asking price is enough to scare me away.

Rob Quinlan: Quinlan is a 32 year old AAAA player who has spent parts of the last seven years with the Angels as a reserve corner infielder. At this point it's clear to me that he's pretty much a replacement player and I wouldn't advocate signing him to a major league deal.

The Rockies have talked with Jose Contreras about him returning, though the Rockies want to pay him as a reliever while Contreras wants starter money. Quite frankly, he should be paid as a starter given his FIP (4.11) last year. Colorado has also approached Jason Giambi about returning to fill Atkins' spot, though he is searching for a DH job that will give him more PAs next year. If Giambi does become available, having his bat on the bench definitely provides the Rockies with an intimidating edge for opposing managers to worry about.

Roster and Payroll 2010 Update

There has been some discussion by some that I've projected Betancourt's arbitration award too high at $6.4 million, and they do certainly have a point. Betancourt does not measure up well in saves, the traditional reliever stat valued highly by arbitrators, and the Darren Oliver case that I've cited in projecting Betancourt's salary does seem like an outlier. In any case, when I was projecting Betancourt's salary (indeed, any salary in this projection) I have been erring on the high side, being conservative on the amount of money the Rockies have to spend.

For this projection, I'm going to switch gears a little bit and reduce Betancourt's salary to that of his $5 million option that the Rockies declined. Plus, I'm adding Iannetta's salary (represented as $2 million, which is what I've heard) into the players under contract category. Outside of the Rockies selling the rights of OF Matt Murton to Japan's Hanshin Tigers, the Rockies made no 40 man roster moves at the Winter Meetings--and since Murton wasn't projected to be on the 25 man roster not much has changed on that front (though the Rockies do now have three open 40 man roster slots).

Players Under Contract (Torrealba and Embree are team option buyouts)

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary Add. Min. Obligation Years After 2010
Todd Helton 12.059 $16,600,000 $23,700,000 1
Aaron Cook 7.02 $9,833,000 $10,583,000 1
Brad Hawpe 5.058 $7,500,000 $500,000 0
Jeff Francis 5.04 $5,875,000 $0 0
Troy Tulowitzki 3.033 $3,500,000 $25,750,000 3
Manuel Corpas 3.076 $2,750,000 $3,750,000 1
Ubaldo Jimenez 2.087 $1,250,000 $8,000,000 2
Yorvit Torrealba 8.03 $500,000 $0 0
Alan Embree 15.059 $250,000 $0 0
Matt Belisle 4.02 $850,000 $0 0
Randy Flores 5.061 $650,000 $0 0
Chris Iannetta 3.029 $2,000,000 $6,300,000 2
Total $51,558,000 $78,583,000

Pre-Arbitration Players: While I'm still projecting Phillips as the back-up catcher for now, I'm not holding my breath on that one and am expecting an expenditure of roughly $2.7 million in 2010 on the back-up catcher's roster spot.

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary
Eric Young Jr. 0.042 $412,000
Dexter Fowler 1.027 $413,030
Franklin Morales 2.01 $414,060
Ian Stewart 1.154 $416,120
Carlos Gonzalez 1.06 $415,090
Seth Smith 1.119 $415,090
Matt Daley 0.155 $412,000
Paul Phillips 2.06 $427,450
Total $3,324,840

Arbitration Players: With the subtraction of Iannetta from the ranks of the arbitration eligible, the Rockies now have seven potential arbitration cases this winter counting Betancourt.

Player Name ML Service Time 2010 Salary Difference from 2009
Huston Street 5 $8,775,000 95.00%
Jorge De La Rosa 5.015 $5,600,000 180.00%
Clint Barmes 4.122 $4,225,000 160.00%
Taylor Buchholz 3.14 $1,055,000 0.00%
Jason Hammel 2.153 $2,026,560 380.00%
Rafael Betancourt 6.079 $5,000,000 50%
Ryan Spilborghs 3.072 $788,500 90.00%
Total $27,470,060 136.29%

Grand Total Payroll: $82,352,900

Remember, this roster has only 24 players on it (with Buchholz starting the year on the DL)--it still requires a replacement for Garrett Atkins. In other words, it will likely end up around $84.5 million--by far the highest in Rockies history. The increase from last week's projection is due to the fact that Iannetta's salary increased by larger than the 350% I had projected (actually it is a 482% raise from 2009).

Well, that's it until next time (TBD). I'd love to hear any and all thoughts, Rowbots--just please try to keep it civil.