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The State of the Rockies: Bullpen, Options, and Future Obligations

In this edition of Purple Row Academy (the penultimate edition between now and Opening Day!), I'll try to make sense of the Rockies' muddled bullpen picture thanks to Huston Street's injury. In addition, I'll take a look at how the Todd Helton contract affected Colorado's future payroll obligations and I'll examine the Rockies' new 40 man roster and the number of options each player has remaining.

The Bullpen

With Firebreathing Closer Huston Street beginning the season on the DL for the Rockies, Colorado has their first big decision of the 2010 season--who will close in Street's place and who will make the roster in his stead?

The candidates for the closing job:

Name: Franklin Morales
Closer Name: El Toro
Pseudonym: Llama Fork Sinner
Street Cred: Throws 98 MPH, has sick off-speed stuff, and has done it pretty darn well before.
Tragic Flaw: He's young, plus he has mental discipline issues that lead to lapses in mechanics, poor control, and balks. Lots of balks.


Name: Rafael Betancourt
Closer Name: Bullseye
Pseudonym: A Tabernacle to Fur
Street Cred: Veteran presence, exceptional fastball control (throws it over 85% of time) and high strikeout rate.
Tragic Flaw: The fastball is flat and he doesn't have much of a secondary pitch to bail him out. Not comfortable in the closing role.


Name: Manuel Corpas
Closer Name: The Body
Pseudonym: Cola Superman
Street Cred: Excellent performance in 2007, nasty slider, groundball tendencies.
Tragic Flaw: He's out of shape/unhealthy, his pitches don't have the same movement or control as they once did, and he seems eminently hittable. Otherwise he's fine.


Name: Matt Belisle
Closer Name: Sultan of Scrap
Pseudonym: Battle Slime
Street Cred: Throws heat, experienced career renaissance as AAA closer in 2009, veteran presence.
Tragic Flaw: Besides being Matt Belisle? Doesn't possess "closer stuff" or ability to miss bats consistently.


Name: Matt Daley
Closer Name: Big Bad Bucknell Bison
Pseudonym: Tad Tamely
Street Cred: Tricky arm angle, excellent performance, good movement on pitches.
Tragic Flaw: Youth, lack of experience, doubts about how sustainable his performance is.


Name: Taylor Buchholz
Closer Name: The Lemur
Pseudonym: Oozy Thrall Chub
Street Cred: Fantastic stuff, control, strong features, likes long walks on the beach.
Tragic Flaw: He's injured--and we don't know what to expect when he does return.


In addition to these fine gentlemen, the Rockies' 2010 bullpen will likely include "lefty specialist" Randy Flores and one of Tim "Squirrel Face" Redding, Justin "Not Ryan" Speier, Joe "Bathrobe's Gonna Cut You Down" Beimel, and Juan "Closer in Waiting" Rincon. If it were up to me, I'd probably bring in Beimel to fill the slot, or Speier if Beimel isn't in game shape yet. I'd like this because the Rockies will hopefully be only needing a short term solution to Street and I believe that Redding is someone you add for the long haul if you add him at all (plus he's reportedly a jerk)--and that Juan Rincon is never the answer.

According to Troy Renck, Morales will likely be the closer, which given the candidates available I agree with. He also mentions that Corpas is no lock to break camp with the team, which would really be a shame because Corpas has the potential to be a lock-down reliever and a real asset to this team.

As Dan O'Dowd astutely noted yesterday, the Rockies aren't just filling out a roster here--they want the last bullpen slot filled by a good player. In my opinion, any of these players fits the bill as a reliever (except Rincon, who could still be acceptable in the short term). Street's injury has illustrated that the Rockies do indeed have pretty good depth in the bullpen (especially considering prospects like Samuel Deduno and Matt Reynolds)--and can weather a few injuries.

And now for some fun tables...

The Todd Helton Contract

Renck does a great job of breaking down Helton's two year, $9.9 million extension through 2013. Here's how it affects the Rockies' payroll obligations from 2011-2014 (numbers in italics are buyouts on option years):

Player Name Service Time 2011 2012 2013 2014
Todd Helton 12.059 $10,600,000 $4,900,000 $5,000,000 $1,310,000
Aaron Cook 7.02 $9,250,000 $500,000
Brad Hawpe 5.058 $500,000
Huston Street 5 $7,300,000 $7,500,000 $500,000
Rafael Betancourt 6.079 $3,775,000
Troy Tulowitzki 3.033 $5,500,000 $8,250,000 $10,000,000 $2,000,000
Manuel Corpas 3.076 $3,500,000 $250,000
Miguel Olivo 6.171 $500,000
Chris Iannetta 3.029 $2,550,000 $3,550,000 $250,000
Ubaldo Jimenez 2.087 $2,800,000 $4,200,000 $1,000,000
Ryan Spilborghs 3.082 $1,925,000
Total $48,200,000 $29,150,000 $16,750,000 $3,310,000
Net $97,410,000

Helton's salary drops from $19.1 million in 2011 to $10.6 million, saving the Rockies $8.5 million off of next year's salary obligations, greatly increasing their payroll flexibility during their window of contention. Of course, this means that the Rockies will be paying dead money to Helton from 2014 to 2023, but the present value of that money is less than the larger salary he would have received in 2011. Helton's services are also guaranteed in 2012 and 2013, with 2014 being the first year (out of ten) of deferred payments.

Overall, Helton's contract reduces the Rockies' future payroll obligations over the next 5 years by about $2 million, plus the Rockies are guaranteed the OBP machine's services for an extra two years. Sounds like a grand slam of a deal to me.

MLB Service Time and Options Charts

It's a new year for the Rockies and a new 40 man roster to keep track of.

First, here's a quick reminder of player rights gained through service time (via my ML Service Time Primer).

As was mentioned above, a player with three years of ML service time (or Super Two status) is granted salary arbitration eligibility. Another benefit of having three years' service time is that the player may not be removed from the 40-man roster without his permission (after being outrighted once to the minors). Instead, he can choose to become a free agent immediately or at the end of the season.

Furthermore, a player with five years of experience can not be optioned to the minors, even if he had options remaining, and may obtain his release. In addition, under the pre-2007 CBA, a five year player that is traded during a multi-year contract may during the offseason demand a trade or become a free agent--though if his wishes are granted, he loses free agency status for three years thereafter, making this a little-used option these days. The 2007-2011 CBA eliminates this provision.

A player with six years' service time is eligible for free agency, while a so-called ten and five player--one who has ten years of service time, the last five with the same team, can't be traded or assigned without his consent. Todd Helton is a perfect example of a ten and five player.

The table below sorts the Rockies' 40 man roster by service time and player rights. The categories are zero service time, less than one year, not arbitration eligible, arbitration eligible (by service time, at least), free agency eligible, ten and five rights, and key non-roster players. Note that this chart does not reflect the fact that several players (like Tulo and Jimenez) have signed multi-year deals that buy out their arbitration years.

Zero UAY NAE AE FAE 10&5 Non-Roster
Alburquerque Chacin Jimenez Belisle Betancourt Helton Beimel (FAE)
Deduno Daley Morales Buchholz Cook Gobble (FAE)
Escalona Reynolds G. Smith Corpas Giambi Redding (FAE)
Lindsay Rogers Fowler JDLR* Mora Rincon (FAE)
Nicasio Young Jr. Gonzalez Flores* Olivo Speier (FAE)
Roe S. Smith Francis* Lo Duca (FAE)
Gomez Stewart Hammel Payton (FAE)
McKenry Street* Phillips (NAE)
Nelson Barmes Quintanilla (NAE)
9 (6P, 3H) 5 (4P, 1H) 7 (3P, 4H) 13 (8P, 5H) 5 (2P, 3H) 1 (1H)

 As opposed to last year's roster, the Rockies have more players on their 40 man roster that have never played in a MLB game (9 opposed to 7), plus 5 more with less than a year of experience. Of these 14 players, 10 are pitchers--illustrating the Rockies' depth on the mound. The largest concentration of Rockies (13) is in the arbitration eligible stage of their service time, with those players with * next to their name eligible for free agency next year.

In all, the Rockies have 23 pitchers and 17 batters on their 40 man roster--and when Buchholz goes on the 60 DL as expected to open up a 40 man spot, it will most likely be filled by another pitcher.

As for options, the chart below sorts the 40 man roster by projected number of options remaining after this year. Note that, with the exception of Matt Daley, Dexter Fowler and Troy Tulowitzki, all of our young players have been optioned down and have two or fewer option years remaining. For the purposes of this exercise I'm assuming that EY2 gets optioned this year. Players with a * are in their final minor league option season (they can be optioned this year but not next). Remember that a player is options ineligible once he reaches five years of MLB ST. 

Three Two One Zero Options Ineligible
Daley Alburquerque Chacin Belisle Betancourt
Fowler Corpas Deduno Buchholtz Cook
Tulowitzki Escalona Lindsay Hammel De La Rosa
Jimenez G. Smith Morales Flores
Nicasio Gomez Reynolds* Francis
Roe Gonzalez Rogers* Street
Iannetta Nelson Barmes Giambi
McKenry Stewart Spilborghs Hawpe
S. Smith Young Jr. Helton
3 (1P, 2H) 9 (6P, 3H) 9 (4P, 5H) 8 (6P, 2H) 11 (6P, 5H)

To the best of my knowledge, these charts are accurate--though any and all fact-checking/nit-picking is encouraged by me. There is nowhere else on the internet where one can find this information gathered together that I've found (for the Rockies, anyway), so it's difficult to verify the data.

The Rockies only have two players in their last option year (Reynolds and Rogers), and the players the Rockies have that are out of options are pretty solidly on the team. In other words, the Rockies face no major dilemmas this year with options (or next year), but two years down the road a large portion of Colorado's young talent will be out of options and knocking on the door. In all, it's a pretty well managed situation.