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Tuesday Rockpile: The Unnecessary Worry Over Todd Helton's Eventual Replacement

Almost six years ago, as I saw Ryan Shealy hit a home run in his third career major league game, I wondered "Can this guy eventually replace Todd Helton?" There were many things wrong with this question, but it should be noted that even marginally informed Rockies fans have fretted over who will replace Todd Helton for years. With the fragile Helton saying "I figured I'm at the point where I was going to push it. It really doesn't matter at this point," Troy Renck has been and will continue to be battered by questions of 1B prospects in the minors.

The answer has been relatively unchanged: "there isn't anyone obvious." But that shouldn't be a worry.

It seems Rockies fans have been spoiled by the continuity at first base, where Todd Helton will start his 13th consecutive Opening Day on April 1. Only two players have ever been Opening Day starters at first base in Colorado. Conversely, Troy Tulowitzki's fifth consecutive Opening Day start this season will actually tie him for second for most consecutive OD starts at one position in franchise history.

The ToddFather undoubtedly brings much to the table other than his bat, but when he has been in the line-up, his bat has hardly been irreplaceable. He ranks 24th in fWAR since 2008, behind the likes of Aubrey Huff, Adam LaRoche, Russell Branyan, Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus and Daric Barton. Even Ty Wigginton and Jason Giambi both are projected to have a better OPS+ than Helton by ZiPS in 2011. It just might be that the drop-off from Helton (1.7 fWAR/yr since 08) to (insert name) might not be a drop-off at all come retirement. 

That is a strange realization. A good chunk of the transition away from Helton has already happened, in a way.

Even without a prize corner infield prospect charging through the minors, the free agent/trade market should offer several options to replace Helton's production when the time comes. Check out the dizzying numbers of affordable short-term free agent contracts for first basemen this offseason:

  • Derrek Lee (1 year, $7mil with BAL),
  • Brad Hawpe (1 year, $3mil with SDP),
  • Lyle Overbay (1 year, $5mil with PIT),
  • Jim Thome (1 year, $3mil with MIN),
  • Adam LaRoche (2 year, $16mil with WAS),
  • Lance Berkman (1 year, $8mil)
  • Carlos Pena (1 year, $10mil with CHC).
  • Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman, Troy Glaus and Nick Johnson are still available.

Should no obvious prospect save the day, any of those types could be had in free agency. Even if Colorado loses out on the entire free agent market, Dan O'Dowd has protected himself in a way with Ty Wigginton under contract for $3.5million in 2012 and a $4million option in 2013. Hold your vomit and remember that plan is the worst case scenario.

Additionally, Troy Tulowitzki has afforded the Rockies the ability to not require power and huge offensive numbers from first base. While its existence would be preferable, Tulo's seat amongst the elite at a premium position allows the Rockies to compete even with a hobbled Todd Helton:

1B/SS 2010 fWAR
Todd Helton + Troy Tulowitzki 6.8
Kevin Youkilis + Marco Scutaro 6.3
Mark Teixeira + Derek Jeter 6.0
Adam Dunn + Ian Desmond 5.0
Prince Fielder + Alcides Escobar 4.7  

I realize this is an unnecessarily dreary January topic, but it does keep coming up in comments and will continue to do so every time Helton gets hurt is mentioned. While Todd has given a lot to this organization, the reality is that his production at the end of his career will not be so difficult to replace. It may turn out that third base, left field, second base, closer and the rotation will actually be more so when the time comes. Don't fret. Just enjoy Helton's last three seasons.



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