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Monday Rockpile: The Rockies and the Prevent Defense

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We've all seen it before. The football game where your team is up by a couple of touchdowns, your secondary is playing back to watch the long pass, when all of a sudden, the team fighting from behind makes 3 first downs on about 5 plays and suddenly is threatening the red zone with about 3:00 left on the clock.

Similarly, your team is in a must-win situation in a baseball game, you're up by 4, and your outfielders are playing up against the fence. The 2008 Red Sox almost came back from a 3-1 deficit to lose the ALCS to the Rays in 7 games, gaining their momentum from a Game 5 elimination comeback in which they scored 8 runs over the final 3 innings of the game.

You're probably already thinking the two terms I have in mind: Prevent Defense and No Doubles Defense. Seriously, when have you ever heard of these things working? Sure, when a team has a 4 run lead, there's an overwhelming chance that they are gonna win, just based on basic baseball competence. But the failures expose a greater flaw in the concept: Playing to Not Lose.

It's something the Rockies need to be careful about in the upcoming offseasons, especially this one. The team, namely Dan O'Dowd, have started being pigeonholed as the team that is afraid to make the big move out of fear of risk. Crafty, low-cost, low-risk moves are starting to become the norm with the team. This isn't to say that every move the team makes is some washed-up player the team is hoping can come back to life in Coors Field. Look at 2009: acquiring Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel to bolster the bullpen down the stretch to the 2009 NL Wild Card were both sound moves, but both incredibly low risk.

Take a look at Mike Napoli. Napoli was traded from the Angels to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells and cash (and witchcraft), and then immediately bounced to the Rangers for Frank Francisco and cash. The Rockies needed a catching tandem partner, a platooner to play some 1B with Todd Helton, and they really would've liked a right handed bat. Oh, and did I mention that Napoli has a career .955 OPS v LHP? The Jays did come with their big negotiating guns firing (seriously, witchcraft) and as a result scared the Rockies off. Mike Napoli then posted over 1.000 OPS with Texas with almost no platoon splits. Probably had something to do with cash and/or not having a magnificently overpaid outfielder to move (I swear, Spilly could've been that outfielder!).

How about Victor Martinez? 132 OPS+ on the 2011 season, and it would've likely been in the form of 1B/C + RHB (Switch, actually). Tigers offered 4 years, $50M.

So they went and got Ty Wigginton, .814 OPS career v LHP. 

Now this season, the Rockies are balking at giving Jamey Carroll 2 years, $8M (thank you Omar Infante). Mark Ellis might just price himself out of the Rockies budget. Kevin Youkilis could be available, but as always, 

Money is an issue given the multiple needs Colorado is attempting to address.

I get it. The team has a budget. I'm not even necessarily saying "go crazy, spend money, upgrade on luxuries!" Look at the 2011 season though, and then look at 2012. 3B is a disaster. 1B fills me with trepidation. Ty Wigginton isn't very good. Kevin Youkilis is a very good baseball player. He's a definitive upgrade to the club. Is he a risk, given his price tag? Absolutely. But do you know what you get when you get an affordable and consistent player? You get Ty Wigginton (seriously, look at his 2010-2011 numbers and tell me that Wigginton wasn't the player we thought we were signing).

Look, here's the point. If you want a new washer/drier set, go to Sears. Yeah, you'll spend a decent chunk, and you'll probably end up buying that extended warranty, and sure, and you might miss that money down the line. But you have a new washer/drier, and it's just another facet of your life you don't have to worry about anymore. But if you decide to go garage sale-ing, yeah, you'll save some money on a washer/drier that somebody else doesn't want anymore, but you're getting what you paid for: something second-hand and upgraded from.

Suggesting that Aramis Ramirez would never break down and be the solution to all of Colorado's problems is somewhat foolish. But wouldn't it be nice to have a 125+ wRC+ coming from 3B for the next while (and ultimately 1B) and then trying to bargain shop for fewer positions?

Ultimately, it comes down to positioning your team in a position to win. Not to do well, or to maintain, but to win. Anything other than playing to win is playing to not lose, which ultimately fails. Look at the Brewers: sold the farm to seriously upgrade their rotation and bolster an already strong lineup, and then they finished the season in the NLCS. They tried to win.

I remember clearly in High School Football, being told to not let up on a hit for fear of getting hurt. Every time you lay up or don't go in full force, you end up getting yourself hurt. Football is a violent game, there's a good chance you're going to get hurt.

Similarly, losing is effectively inevitable at some point. Would you rather string out the inevitable, entering an endless cycle that runs between .475-.525, or would you rather go for broke in the short term and try to grab it all, despite the risk of abject failure?

As The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, once said,

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."