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Thursday Rockpile: Nicasio pitching off mound already, Arenado homers again for Rafters

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So today, I'll give you links first and then my two cents about some potential pitching trades.

Arenado goes yard again for Salt River | News - We've spent plenty of time on Arenado already, and with the success he's had in the AFL, our analysis right now would likely lack neutrality anyway.

Rockies' Juan Nicasio making strong progress after neck fracture - The Denver Post. Obviously this is very exciting, happy news for Rockies fans. A fully recovered Nicasio will make that future rotation a little more potent.  But what would a full recovery by Juan Nicasio by early 2012 mean for the next season? Let's take a look at the projected opening day 2012 rotation with or without Nicasio:

Without Nicasio:

  • Carl Pavano
  • Jhoulys Chacin
  • Jason Hammel
  • Kevin Millwood
  • Alex White or Drew Pomeranz

With Nicasio:

  • Carl Pavano
  • Jhoulys Chacin
  • Jason Hammel
  • Kevin Millwood
  • Alex White or Drew Pomeranz or Juan Nicasio

So the opening day rotation for 2012 would go from weak and not deep, to weak but deep. Alright, I'll admit this is likely a bit of hyperbole on my part to make a point. If Nicasio truly is fully recovered and doesn't show weakness during Spring Training, he would likely be slotted fourth above instead of a Millwood type of pitcher. That second cheap veteran would instead duke it out for the fifth slot.

The Rockies have made no bones that they wish to add a veteran starter or two to eat innings while young pitchers continue to develop and to keep them from wearing down too quickly. While Rockies fans dream on said addition actually being a pitcher worth having, the team prefers cheaply available (albeit not cheaply priced) talent, somebody that would not require many (or any) prospects in trade such as Pavano. And, of course, the issue with having a weak but veteran pitcher like Pavano around is that it makes Jim Tracy's job too easy. Rather than seriously looking at which pitchers are most likely to help the team, Tracy will pencil in the most veteran/experienced arms.

So, while I continue to favor the Rockies targeting offense instead, I do understand that there are still rotation concerns, so I'm keeping an eye on available starters. I don't believe it's very likely for the Rockies to sign a free agent starter that hasn't previously had success with Colorado. That limits the team's realistic options on that front to Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis and Jeff Francis. Outside of those three, a trade would seem the more likely way that the Rockies will find pitching help. Below, I'll review a few options, all of which have been mentioned by media in team reports (except for one) as potentially available, and consider how likely the Rockies are to pursue them. 

Jeff Niemann/Wade Davis/James Shields - The Tampa Bay Rays simply demand too much in talent to be worth dealing with most of the time. If it's a situation such as the one where the Rockies acquired Jason Hammel, that is of Tampa being desperate to offload a pitcher for whatever the best available offer may be, then it would make sense to try to trade with them. Otherwise, it would be in the Rockies best interest to let another club overpay, much as the Cubs did last season with Matt Garza. The Rays pitchers are a distraction keeping people from seeing the real available bargains elsewhere.

Chris Volstad - He's quickly become perhaps my most desired trade target for the Rockies. With Florida moving to a new stadium, they have the money to retain Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, but are looking for additional rotation help to fill out the last two slots. If you add that up, this means the arbitration eligible for the first time Volstad is potentially available. In 2011, Volstad had a SIERA of 3.84 and an x-FIP of 3.64, both of which would suggest he's been pitching much better than his results would indicate. He's young, talented, and still has several seasons of team control left. Acquiring him would leave plenty of money to target a free agent bat. The big issue here is that the Rockies front office will look at Volstad's IP numbers and take a pass, rather than seeing him as growing into that 200 IP pitcher they envision.

Josh Outman - The A's have been pretty mum about off-season plans, so Outman's the exception to the media mention rule, but Oakland has Gio Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Guillermo Moscoso, Trevor Cahill and Tyson Ross as starters, with Dallas Braden expected back at the beginning of next season and Brett Anderson at some point during the latter half. Outman currently seems to be competition for Ross, and I'd expect one of the two to get traded and one to be held on to for depth by the end of Spring Training. Ross seems less likely to get dealt as his salary situation will be a bit more favorable for the budget conscious A's. Outman's a solid GB pitcher, a year removed from Tommy John surgery and should be up to full strength by Opening Day.

Like Volstad, my practical side knows that the Rockies won't view Outman as valuable as they do somebody like Pavano, because he hasn't yet reached the mystical 200 IP barrier. The next three pitchers don't have that issue, but you'll note instantly that they don't really have the upside cache or desirability from a fans perspective as Volstad or Outman.

Joe Saunders - The D-backs are apparently thinking about dealing the left hander or even non-tendering him (he's entering his final arbitration year), and I know Dan O'Dowd's familiar with Saunders work, as the Rockies GM mentioned the trio of Arizona 200 IP starters with envy in supporting putting that on the top of his Rockies wish list. Saunders won't have the upside that others I mention here will, but he'll also be more easily attainable. I'd much rather have him than Pavano, for instance, and he should wind up costing about a million less in salary for 2012.

Jeremy Guthrie - The Orioles starter is in a similar situation to Saunders, in which his current team will likely wish to trade him before he's set to become a free agent a year from now. Guthrie's had three straight seasons of 200 or more IP, and would seem to fit O'Dowd's desire for a veteran innings eater well. He too would be a million or two cheaper than Pavano in 2012 and as is the case with Saunders, early 30's is less likely to break down than late 30's. The hard throwing RHP may actually have more upside in a switch to the NL than it would appear just looking at his career with Baltimore.

Jonathan Sanchez - Same as the prior two, Sanchez is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility, and the Giants have been lukewarm about their intentions to hang onto the left-hander for 2012. Sanchez has more upside than the prior two, but lacks control and also could have a lower floor. Also, the Giants Brian Sabean is less likely to trade within the division than Kevin Towers would on a potential non-tender. As a non-tendered FA, Sanchez will be very attractive to many fans, but at that point there would be little likelihood that Sanchez could be enticed to come to Colorado given multiple other openings around the league.