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Tuesday Rockpile: Todd Helton - The Reason to Pay Attention This Offseason

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Once the Rockies' 2010 season came to a close, we, as rabid fans, immediately began postulating possibilities for the 2011 roster.  Quite possibly the biggest topic has been first base.   Based on the Todd Helton's strong return from the disabled list in early August, it is clear Colorado is planning on the ToddFather to be the main starter at first base once again.  Jason Giambi is likely to depart, leaving a mystery to fill in on Helton's days off.

Still, big names are being discussed in radio waves and blogs on wishlists - Paul Konerko, Billy Butler, Victor Martinez, Derrek Lee, Lance Berkman.  A few more reasonable names are being suggested as backups/platoon partners - Conor Jackson, Ty Wigginton, Yonder Alonso, Xavier Nady, even Chris Iannetta and Melvin Mora.

But that is not what today's Rockpile is about.  That is what yesterday's was about.  No...I'd like to talk about another situation regarding Todd Helton this season.  Something completely different yet no less noteworthy.

I have read on the blogosphere, seen on my twitterfeed and heard relentlessly on talk radio one common theory on the Rockies:  "they will not spend money or make big moves in the off-season - it's not their MO."  While that has been true until now, it by no means disqualifies them from such a move now.  

Since beginning GenR, the best course of action has been to allow the core to develop, supplementing with spare parts.  Now, the Rockies finished off a disappointing season with areas of notable weakness in the center of the team's contention window.  Dan O'Dowd is primed to do something about it.  The proof isn't in the's in Todd Helton's contract.

Recall March 11 of this year, when the Rockies announced a two-year extension for Helton.  The contract was almost universally applauded, as it allowed Helton to be a Rockie for life while actually giving the Rockies a break on his 2011 salary.   Helton's yearly salary is broken down below.

Year     Before Extension    After Extension
2010   $16.60   $16.60
2011   $19.10   $10.60
2012     $4.60*    $ 4.90
2013        $0     $ 5.00

Salary in Millions.  *Buyout of $23mil option.


By offering the extension, the Rockies agreed to pay Helton nearly $10mil more for the right to lower his salary in 2011 by $8.50million. I implore you to recognize one other thing from that table:

The ONLY year in which the Rockies benefit from having restructured Helton's contract is 2011.  

Dan O'Dowd massaged the payroll to allow for $8.5million more in free space in 2011, and there is no point in giving Helton that extension if that money isn't used for something.  That means something has to happen this offseason, and it could come in the form of a significant free agent or trade.

Of course, it isn't as simple to suggest O'Dowd can throw $8.5mil at any player in free agency.  The complications briefly are:  there will be some intrinsic raises due to young players under contract (Tulowitzki, Iannetta, Jimenez, Corpas, etc.), and there will be arbitration raises for likely four players (Hammel, Stewart, Delcarmen, Belisle, with Barmes likely being non-tendered).  The arbitration raises won't amount to anything significant and there is also potentially $17.7million coming off the books with Francis, de la Rosa, Barmes, Giambi, and Mora not having contracts.

I'm not running the exact numbers here.  Regardless of the nitty-gritty details, the crux is this:

Dan O'Dowd is a smart man.  He knew the Rockies would be in a contending window in 2011, before at least one of Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowizki or Carlos Gonzalez would likely have to be traded.  He borrowed from the future in the form of two additional years of Helton and 10 years of deferred payments solely to buy flexibility for 2011.  He did it for a reason, and without running all the numbers (back me up Jeff and WM), that $8.5mil won't just be absorbed by raises of players on the roster.  It will be for something, because the roster needs to be.

It might be as simple as signing Jorge de la Rosa, whose market value is rising significantly.  (In fact, that's all the buzz).  Maybe it is the ability to take on a larger salary in trade, such as Zack Greinke.  Maybe signing Victor Martinez is more possible than we realize.  Maybe he will just be able to shop at Target instead of Family Dollar for spare parts.  At any rate, I am looking at this offseason differently than I have in the past.  For the Helton extension to make sense, Dan has to have a plan.

Armstrong: Lee's deal could lead to loss of De La Rosa - The Denver Post   With Cliff Lee's price skyrocketing and Ted Lilly more or less signed, Jorge de la Rosa is leading the list of available starting pitchers with Carl Pavano.  That's never good for your chances of retaining a guy.  Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish contemplated becoming an MLB free agent, which would have distracted teams from de la Rosa, but Darvish announced yesterday he would be staying in Japan.

Best Pitching Performance Yet? | FanGraphs Baseball  Vote for the best pitching performance in the playoffs so far:  Cliff Lee last night, Roy Halladay in NLDS Game 1 vs Reds, or Tim Lincecum in NLDS Game 1 vs the Braves.

Notes on 30/30 Players and Max Scherzer - Beyond the Box Score  Satchel Paige notes that 2010 was the first season where there were ZERO 30/30 players (30 HR, 30 SB) in a full season since my birth year, 1986.  Carlos Gonzalez was the closest at 34/27.

Rockies No. 1 draft pick feeling pain as QB | Inside the Colorado Rockies  Kyle Parker had a strong start to the season, but after getting battered, shaken and bruised, his production has fallen.  He looks more like a Rockie every week. Prospects: Rankings: League Top 20 Prospects: Pacific Coast League Top 20 Prospects  If you missed it last week, BA announced their top 20 PCL (AAA) prospects.  Notable Rockies on the list were.....nobody.