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Thursday Rockpile: In which I read too much into the Brad Emaus trade, because I'm bored.

Carlos Gonzalez anticipates being healthier in 2012 than 2011, and his off season workout program has been going well, according to the Denver Post.

The Rockies traded utility infielder Brad Emaus to the Red Sox for a PTBNL or most likely, cash. The Red Sox remain one of the handful of teams the Rockies seem to have the most consistent trade relations with. I had been wondering if that would change with Theo Epstein moving to Chicago, but if this minor deal and Aaron Cook's Red Sox signing are any indication, that might not necessarily be the case. Emaus' departure has the most direct impact on Chris Nelson and D.J. LeMahieu, who figure to fight for the MLB second base job, but optimistically, it could also mean that the Rockies are clearing space on the Colorado Springs roster for one of those two in anticipation of another move, or maybe that they are clearing a path of ascension for Josh Rutledge. Pessimistically, and probably more likely, it could just mean that the organization felt Brendan Harris is a more worthy keeper than Emaus, but I don't really want to consider that option for the time being.

Rutledge's 2011 emergence as a legitimate starting 2B prospect makes the Emaus and Russell Wilson departures more palatable, given the team's utter vacuum at the position Rockies fans should normally be more aghast at losing two potential hopes for the future. 2B remains the one great mystery for the team going forward, which I guess would be a good way to segue into a continuation of Sunday's discussion of the team's plan this off season. After the jump, I'll discuss how subsequent off season developments have revealed that the Rockies see a lineup that includes both Michael Cuddyer and Tim Wheeler in 2014.

As I mentioned on Sunday, the Rockies plan in a nutshell this off-season has been to shed the baggage of internal development disappointment and to replace those cast off parts with veteran stop-gaps as they await the next wave. Casey Blake and Ramon Hernandez were signed to relatively small risk and small cost contracts and have clear replacement options at their positions on the way.

The Michael Cuddyer signing defies this prototype as he was signed for the kind of money that makes him a key figure in the Rockies plans for the next three seasons. As was the case with third and catcher, however, there are internal options for replacing him in right field approaching soon, Tim Wheeler should be ready to see MLB time this upcoming season and Kent Matthes might as well. Charlie Blackmon should start the season with the Rockies as a back-up and could conceivably also play his way into a starting role. At first, I thought the Cuddyer signing was a showing of a lack of confidence in any of those three internal options, but the team's actions since have proven quite the opposite of that. The Rockies have been unwilling to deal any of the three this winter, particularly Wheeler, who is of interest to several other teams.

Additionally, the failed Martin Prado negotiations are an indication to me that Seth Smith's availability is more about Wheeler being seen as closer to ready for a full time role in the organization than I had previously realized, as the Rockies insistence of hanging on to Wheeler would almost have to put him in the same boat as Nolan Arenado or Wilin Rosario. Dan O'Dowd has shown a willingness to talk about young position players projected as reserves (see the Eric Young Jr. rumors or yesterday's trade of Brad Emaus) but won't give up projected starters. That Wheeler's essentially been taken off the table in trades for other projected starting position players such as Prado shows that the organization sees him in the latter category.

This indicates to me that Cuddyer's future with Colorado will likely see him spending more time at first base in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He has been signed as the temporary successor to Smith in right as Rockies fans await the coming of Tim Wheeler, and then eventually to be the temporary successor to Todd Helton in 2013 and/or 2014 as we await the readiness of Matthes or perhaps Kyle Parker.

In prioritizing this right now, the Rockies did leave openings in the rotation and at second base that they hope to fill by trading Smith. The Rockies are making a variety of interesting and fairly significant bets on Cuddyer:

  • That his full time RF value added to whatever Smith brings back in trade will provide more bang for the buck for the Rockies than a Smith/RH platoon plus whatever FA pitcher or 2B they could have signed with the leftover money would in 2012
  • That he'll be a better internal 1B replacement option in 2013 and 2014 than converting Smith would have been.
  • That Cuddyer's sub-par production in 2010 and 2008 were from more anomalous injuries than the lingering problems that afflict Josh Willingham and Carlos Beltran.

In each above case, there's a bet against circumstantial statistical evidence otherwise, so the Rockies are taking a healthy amount of risk on internal opinion. That said, should the team be right about Cuddyer, the current projected 2014 lineup is intriguing to me:

  1. CF: Fowler
  2. 3B: Arenado
  3. LF: Gonzalez
  4. SS: Tulowitzki
  5. RF: Wheeler
  6. 1B: Cuddyer
  7. C: Rosario
  8. 2B: Rutledge

Cuddyer would be the oldest player in the lineup at 35, Arenado the youngest at 23. Everybody else would be in their late 20's primes between 25-29 years old. The Rockies winter has set them up to be marginally NL West competitive in the next two seasons, moreso in 2013, but legitimately World Series competitive by 2014. The team needs to hit on two, perhaps three of the Arenado/Rutledge/Wheeler/Rosario group, and they don't really seem to have plan B's in place for Arenado or Rosario as far as I can tell (Matthes/Blackmon and DJLM are the apparent plan B's for Wheeler and Rutledge, respectively) but they've laid some solid groundwork here.