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Wednesday Rockpile: The 2011 Off-Season in Review; Looking to 2012

Michael Cuddyer has been the Colorado Rockies' main off-season acquisition.
Michael Cuddyer has been the Colorado Rockies' main off-season acquisition.

Now that baseball has settled down for a long winter's nap (and the terrible year for the Rockies that was 2011 is ending), it's time to assess how the Rockies have done so far this off-season and to take a look ahead to 2012.

The off-season began with gaping voids at 2B, 3B, SP, and bench depth--and now that we're three months into the off-season, those voids are only slightly less gaping thanks to the addition of Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez, Casey Blake, Brandon Wood, DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Hoffmann, Tyler Chatwood, and Kevin Slowey. These guys replaced Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart, Huston Street, Ty Wigginton, Ryan Spilborghs, and Casey Weathers -- only one of which (two if you ascribe special value to closers) who was an above average MLB player.

In the sense that the Rockies acquired more players that are likely to be league average or better this off-season on a rate basis (Cuddyer, Hernandez, Blake) than they let go (Iannetta, Street maybe), this off-season has been a success. The major additions this off-season, Cuddyer and Hernandez, replace league average players with...league average players, except more expensive (in Cuddyer's case) and older ones. So in that sense the off-season has been a little confusing.

Cuddyer makes Colorado's bench stronger insofar as it pushes Seth Smith, who despite his defensive inadequacies and troubles hitting left-handers has been an above average hitter and an asset in the 2/3 of games started by a righty, to the bench. There's no denying that having Smith as a bench bat in case of injury or for late inning matchups is superior to having Ryan Spilborghs or Ty Wigginton, especially if Colorado were to sign lefty killer Cody Ross as a 5th outfielder to round out a deep, productive outfield. The problem? Smith is almost certainly going out of town, likely to replaced by the inferior Ross as the 4th OF.

When the Rockies signed Cuddyer, they lost a bunch of trade leverage on Smith. It basically meant that the Rockies had to trade him, as his projected value to Colorado was much lower than it would be to other teams. Colorado sold low on Street (still a good reliever), Wigginton (hey, maybe we shouldn't have guaranteed $8 million to this guy), Stewart (though the return wasn't bad), and arguably Iannetta (depends on where you stand on Chatwood). Smith, an above average hitter with 3 years of team control left who I would have been fine starting for Colorado in 2012, was supposed to be different in that he was going to bring back a substantial major league return like Martin Prado or Jonathon Niese. This still remains a possibility, but forgive me if I do not hold my breath.

Colorado had plenty of salary flexibility coming into this off-season thanks in large part to the big decrease in Todd Helton's salary as well as Aaron Cook's departure. Early in the off-season the Rockies then created more room by dumping Street and Wigginton's salaries for essentially nothing. All I can say is that Michael Cuddyer had better be worth the money and Seth Smith had better be traded for something that actually fills a hole on this team, because that's the only way that this off-season's strategy makes sense for 2012. Getting Paul Maholm or Kevin Millwood to fill out the rotation and actually give us some innings would help too.

I won't be ashamed of Colorado's everyday 2012 line-up if it includes Blake and LeMahieu at 3B/2B, Smith on the bench, and a rotation that includes Slowey, but I can't shake the feeling that it could have been better.

Fun with ZiPS projections

Baseball Think Factory's Dan Szymborski has his 2012 ZiPS projections out for the Rockies, so now is a good time to look at his version of the 2012 Rockies. First of all, it's important to note that these are his projections of how a player would do with full playing time in the major leagues (so no, he's not projecting Joe Mather to get 350 plate appearances in 2012). Any current free agents that last played for Colorado in 2011 are listed with the Rockies.

The quick version is that ZiPS projects Colorado to have five above average hitters in 2012, one of which is Jason Giambi and another of which is Seth Smith. The former won't play much and the latter will probably be gone, so that leaves Colorado with a solid 3-4-5 (Tulo-CarGo-Cuddyer) but not a ton of heft outside of that. That isn't to say that Colorado's line-up will be only 3 deep. Dexter Fowler, Hernandez, and Helton are projected to only be slightly below average, while Nolan Arenado isn't actually that far behind.

Of the 2B/3B options, it's surprising to me that Casey Blake rates so low (ageism, I tells ya), below guys like Arenado, Brad Emaus, and is equivalent to DJ LeMahieu and Chris Nelson. Going strictly by ZiPS, the 2B/3B starters should be Emaus (not even on the radar screen at the moment) and Arenado. Of interest is that a couple of the worst ZiPS projections are for 2B/3B candidates Jordan Pacheco (73 OPS+) Thomas Field (72 OPS+) and Jonathan Herrera (63 OPS+). I cannot emphasize how much I don't want Herrera to play a role on this team.

As for pitching, Colorado fares pretty well, with five starters projected to be above average (Chacin, JDLR, Hammel, Pomeranz, and Nicasio). The problem is that none of them are projected to pitch more than 178 innings. Millwood looks like the best innings eater available, while Chad Bettis is projected to be around league average if Colorado puts him the rotation (Slowey isn't bad either). Tyler Chatwood...does not project well, yikes. This is a function of the Angels pushing him too fast through their system more than anything else.

Looking toward the future in these projections is always a fun exercise, but I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't looking forward about 100 days or so to Opening Day.