It looks like another awfully boring off-season for Colorado. It seems like the FO is committed to bringing back most of the 2011 gang, while getting spooked off the scent of potential free agents if other teams show interest. Yep, we've gotten used to a pretty tame off-season routine here as Rockies fans. This is some ground I've covered before, but here's Colorado's immediate needs as I see them:
1. Competent starting pitcher (up to 3, most likely 2) -- I really want to avoid the situation in which Esmil Rogers starts another MLB game for the Rockies.
2. Lefty killing outfielder (1) -- say what you will about Seth Smith not being given enough chances against lefty pitching, but under Jim Tracy it's not going to happen.
3. Gap year starting infielder (up to 2) -- I'm not a believer that Nolan Arenado should be playing in the majors in 2012, though he's doing everything he can right now to change my mind.
In addition to these needs, it would be nice to get another impact bat -- but let's not worry about that for now. To fill these needs, Colorado has about $20 million in payroll flexibility (to get back to 2011's payroll), as they have $62 million committed to 12 players that will play on the roster in 2012. If I were in charge, this is how Colorado's off-season would go.
1. Non-tender Ryan Spilborghs -- yes the righty outfielder is great with the fans and the marketing team (I like the guy a lot too), but he's been a terrible player since 2007, especially defensively. He's not even worth the MLB minimum at this point, but his minimum price to Colorado would be about $1.5 million. Boom, that clears a spot for Lefty killing outfielder.
2. Offer Arbitration to Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, and Ian Stewart -- the first two fellows provide above league average production against right-handers, and they'll do it for under $6 million combined in 2012. Mr. Stewart? Well, he's relatively cheap and he's pretty much the definition of a Gap year infielder at this point. Starting quality is another thing altogether. Talent gets you more chances than you would otherwise deserve. These moves take the payroll flexibility down to $12 million, with 15 roster spots taken.
Then again, if the option presents itself, it might well be worth it to...
3. Trade Huston Street to the Cincinnati Reds for one of their young 3rd basemen -- hey, why not? Rox Girl turned me on to the Reds for this situation, and the idea has really taken hold. Colorado's got a pretty solid bullpen, and the Reds have a penchant for overpaying decent relief arms (see Cordero, Francisco -- who is a free agent). Street's making about $4 million too much for the innings he's producing, while both Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier would provide intriguing options that could be stashed in AAA if necessary. And if Cincy doesn't want to do the deal, no harm no foul. If they do, that takes Colorado's payroll flexibility back up to $18 million, 14 roster spots.
4. Sign/Trade for 2 pitchers on this list (in order of desire):
Danks is obviously the prize pig here, and it would require a MLB player plus a PuRP to get him...dare I say Alex White and Tim Wheeler? Nolasco's stuff Bedard's a straight gamble given his history, but he's the only affordable guy with top of the rotation potential -- and my philosophy as GM is that you pay for talent. Maholm is a guy who has quietly been above average the last few years. Piniero's a groundballer with proven MLB competence (but an injury history) coming off of a down year. Nolasco is still young and talented, but the Marlins might ask for a haul in return -- and the same goes for Volstad.
The latter three are going to be better than Rogers, Clayton Mortensen, Greg Reynolds, etc., which is reason enough to bring them in -- I'm particularly interested in Capuano. Let's say that I'm able to convince Maholm and Millwood to come back to Colorado -- that's $4-6 million for Maholm and $1 million for Millwood, payroll flexibility at $5-12 million, 16-17 roster spots.
5. Sign/Acquire 1 of these Lefty killing outfielders (in order of desire):
Mr. Jones provides the best mix of affordability (less than $2 million), lefty-mashing ability (.286/.384/.540 in 2011), and yes, defensive utility on the market. Gomes is a close second, but he's not a good defender at all. Willingham and Cuddyer are superior bats, but their length of commitment/age ratio (both are seeking 3 years and will be at least 33 on Opening Day) and lack of defensive flexibility (sorry, I'm not buying Cuddyer as a 3B) push them down this list.
Johnson is in the same Type A boat, but he would definitely also be a great addition in the infield (need 3). Pagan is a non-tender candidate who has had success in the past and could definitely fill the reserve outfielder role well. Let's say that we are able to get Jones or Gomes for $2 million, giving Colorado $3-10 million flexibility and 17-18 roster spots.
6. If I've pulled off the Street-Francisco trade with Cincinnati, look to get Frank Francisco or George Sherrill to replace him
Francisco is a guy who always seems to wind up on my fantasy team, and that's because he's shown an excellent K rate. In a crowded bullpen market, Francisco's price demands will be lower than they would have been. Sherrill played 4th banana in the excellent Braves bullpen this year, but he's a good situational lefty if Jim Tracy absolutely has to have one. That's $6 million in flexibility, 18 roster spots
7. If not, roll with the bullpen the Rockies have now -- it's pretty darn good, actually
8. Sign 1 of these gentlemen to play 2nd base (in order of allure):
Johnson is markedly the best bat of the group. Unfortunately, he's also markedly the worst fielder and will come with the highest price tag. Ellis and Barmes are both wizards at fielding, they're both familiar with Colorado, and they're both on the wrong side of 30. I can see Ellis getting up to 2/10 with a likely amount being 2/7, while Barmes is more like 2/7 and 1/3. Even at the higher cost, I'm more confident that Ellis will be a league average or better player in 2012 than Barmes.
In a scenario in which Street is still on the roster, Colorado has very little payroll flexibility and 19 slots, with the rest being minimum salary players. If Street is gone, the Rockies have a few million to work with. Maybe instead of getting Jones/Gomes they step up to Willingham if the price is right, or instead of Maholm/Millwood they are able to lure in Bedard and Piniero.
Whatever the case, Colorado's payroll would be around $80-85 million, but the pieces would fit a little better.
No Street Trade: Colorado gains Paul Maholm, Kevin Millwood, Andruw Jones, and Mark Ellis -- loses Ryan Spilborghs
Street Trade: Rockies get Erik Bedard, Joel Piniero, Jones/Gomes, Juan Francisco, Frank Francisco, and Mark Ellis/Kelly Johnson -- lose Spilborghs and Street
If applied correctly, the salary relief from a Street trade can be used to upgrade the team at several positions. I'm sure that there are plenty of trade scenarios that also make sense, so please let me know of any good ones in the comments section!
Nolan Arenado Watch -- because that's totally a thing now
He was given a day off last night, but in case you missed it, Baseball America had a nice article on Arenado's 2011 improvement. Tim Wheeler went 2-3 with 2 XBHs and 2 BBs in the game, while Joe Gardner threw 3 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and punching out 4.
Baseball Reference Nugget of the week -- brought to you by NBA season ticket holders
If Juan Nicasio, Alex White, and Drew Pomeranz all join Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel in the starting rotation next season, Colorado's average starting pitcher age will be 24.8 on Opening Day.