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2012 Player Reviews: The Front Office

Doug Pensinger

After a season in which a team loses 98 games, the easiest and laziest thing for a fan base to do is demand a change in the front office. For some, it is automatically assumed that awful results can only be the results of awful offseason moves; and while that is often the case, sometimes factors outside of general manager’s control can hijack a season.

In this piece, we are going to try and determine just how much blame we can fairly place on the Colorado front office for the 2012 season by quickly running through the ten biggest moves the Rockies made going into last season. Hopefully with hindsight, we’ll be able to distinguish what moves were really terrible decisions and what moves just turned out rotten due to circumstance and bad luck.

1) July 30, 2011 – The Rockies trade Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later (Drew Pomeranz), Alex White, Joseph Gardner , and Matt McBride.

Even though this goes back to 2011, this is where we have to start since both Pomeranz and White played a big part in the 2012 rotation mess. Despite their poor performances last season though, it’s very hard to grill O’Dowd for this trade. The Rockies correctly identified Ubaldo Jimenez as a fading star and cashed him in for as much value as they could while it was still possible. This was also a complete 180 from the Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins experiences in which the Rockies got nothing from once productive players as they held onto both until the bitter end.

The obvious problem with the Ubaldo trade has been the return. White pitched so poorly this season that he has already been shipped to Houston for reliever Wilton Lopez while Pomeranz experienced growing pains but still shows promise for the future.

This trade remains one of the most important in Rockies history in my mind. The club came up in a big spot and dealt to best pitcher in franchise history for two legitimate prospects. I think the Rockies hit a line drive off the bat with this one, but now that we are seeing what these prospects are becoming, it’s like that line drive is headed towards the left fielder. There’s still a decent chance that Pomeranz develops and the ball gets over the fielder’s head, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later for this swap to be considered anything other than a loss for both sides.

2) November 20, 2011 – The Rockies trade Ty Wigginton and cash to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ladies and gentleman may I present to you addition by subtraction? Even though the Rockies were still on the hook for a portion of Wigginton’s salary, this was a good move by Dan O’Dowd. The Rockies made a terrible mistake when they signed this man to a two year deal prior to the 2011 season and cut their losses here. Not surprisingly, Wigginton provided Philadelphia with below average hitting, below average defense, below speed on the base paths, and pretty much below average everything in 2012. Over the last four seasons, Wigginton has combined to post a -2.6 rWAR and a -1.6 fWAR - JUST ATROCIOUS - And yet for reasons that continue to befuddle me, clubs keep giving him deals. It's actually almost comical at this point, like a carton a sour milk - You know it's bad, but you just have make sure. I guess folks just don't know how bad the Wiggy is until they've tried it.

3) November 30, 2011 – The Rockies trade Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Tyler Chatwood. The Rockies also signed Ramon Hernandez as a free agent.

This is the hardest set of moves evaluate in the entire 2011/2012 offseason. First off, you have to package these two together. The Rockies saw the Chris Iannetta era coming to an end and they brought in Ramon Hernandez to split time with, as well as mentor Wilin Rosario. There’s four distinct pieces here and all of them turned out differently.

Iannetta was the same old, same old in Anaheim with a low batting average and decent on base numbers, Ramon Hernandez had a disastrous season, Wilin Rosario showed so much power at the plate that he made most Rockies fans forget about the other two, and Tyler Chatwood is still a young but unpolished arm that many scouts like.

4) December 7, 2011 – The Rockies trade Huston Street and cash to the San Diego Padres and received Nick Schmidt (minors) to complete the trade. Nine days later, the Rockies signed Michael Cuddyer as a free agent to a three year, $31.5 million deal.

Again, we have to package these two deals together. The Rockies dumped Street’s salary and made one of their biggest free agent signings in years with Cuddyer. This deal, while still ongoing, is likely going to be a net loss. Cuddyer is a good but not great hitter who doesn’t provide much value defensively or on the base paths. It wasn’t a horrendous signing, but there's no getting around the fact that this money could have been spent better – Most notably on either Carlos Beltran or Josh Willingham who were both available last offseason.

5) December 8, 2011 – The Rockies trade Casey Weathers (minors) and Ian Stewart to the Chicago Cubs for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu.

This was O’Dowd’s coup of the offseason. He turned two failed high draft picks into two productive members on the major league roster and both are under Colorado control through at least the 2016 season. Colvin and LeMahieu may never become stars, but they can certainly be pieces on a winning ball club, especially when you consider that they are both sneaky good with the glove.

6)January 16, 2012 – The Rockies trade Seth Smith to the Oakland Athletics for Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman.

This one is tough to evaluate. One part of me feels like the Rockies should have gotten more from Smith, but then again, a corner outfielder who can only hit right handed pitching and is due a minimum of $2.4 million over each of the next three seasons is only so valuable. Smith was decent in 2012, posting a 107 wRC+, but he was only able to post above average overall numbers at the plate because of his limited playing time. Oakland correctly gave Smith 361 plate appearances against righties and only 80 plate appearances against lefties.

For the Rockies, Moscoso was a disaster in Coors Field while Outman could turn out to be a useful bullpen piece. Call this deal whatever you want but either way its long term impact won’t be huge for either club involved.

7) January 21, 2012 – The Rockies trade Clayton Mortensen to the Boston Red Sox for Marco Scutaro.

This deal should have been complete score for O’Dowd. He filled a hole on the roster with a 36 year old shortstop turned second baseman moving to the friendliest hitting environment in all of baseball while coming off a season in which he posted a .781 OPS. But in 2012, nothing works out for the Rockies. Colorado instead gets a .684 OPS out of Scutaro in 95 games before trading him to San Francisco for Charlie Culberson. Of course, once with the Giants in one of the least friendly hitting environments in all of baseball, Scutaro posts an .859 OPS in 61 games and becomes the NLCS MVP.

Scutaro playing better with the Rockies would not have saved the 2012 season, but it could have netted a much bigger return than Culberson come the end of July. O’Dowd made a great move here, but he has little to show for it.

8) The signing the Rockies didn’t make.

The single biggest thing the Rockies failed to do last offseason was acquire enough starting pitching. It’s an incredibly valid complaint from any fan as Colorado ended up with some of the ugliest pitching numbers in the history of baseball. The problem with this criticism arises when you look at what the club would have had to do to get a good arm into Coors last offseason. Listed below are the free agent starters who were available last winter and the deals they ended up signing…..

Yu Darvish (Rangers – 6 years, $60 million + 51.7 million posting fee)

CC Sabathia (Yankees – 5 years, $122 million)

C.J. Wilson (Angels - 5 years, $77.5 million)

Mark Buehrle (Marlins – 4 years, $58 million)

Paul Maholm (Cubs – 2 years, $11.25 million)

Chris Capuano (Dodgers – 2 years, $10 million)

Bruce Chen (Royals – 2 years, $9 million)

Edwin Jackson (Nationals – 1 year, $11 million)

Hiroki Kuroda (Yankees – 1 year, $10 million)

Roy Oswalt (Rangers – 1 year, $5 million / Did not sign deal until May 29th)

Erik Bedard (Pirates – 1 year, $4.5 million)

Chien-Ming Wang (Nationals – 1 year, $4 million)

Freddy Garcia (Yankees – 1 year, $4 million)

Jason Marquis (Twins – 1 year, $3 million)

Bartolo Colon (A’s – 1 year, $2 million)

Jeff Francis (Reds – 1 year, 1.5 million)

Livan Hernandez (Braves – 1 year, $750,000)

Brad Penny (Giants – 1 year, league minimum)

Joel Pineiro (Failed to pitch in the majors)

Brandon Webb (Failed to pitch in the majors)

Dontrelle Willis (Failed to pitch in the majors)

Doug Davis (Failed to pitch in the majors)

Take a look at that list. How many names on there do you see that are A) affordable, and B) actually provided decent value in 2012? Perhaps the Rockies could have gone after Paul Maholm or Chris Capuano, but much of that is hindsight as they would have had to give them multiyear deals that exceeded $10 million to even be in the conversation. Knowing what the market was, signing only Jamie Moyer from the starting pitching free agent class wasn’t as terrible a move as it sounds.

Instead, the best way to acquire an innings eater would be through the trade market. So that’s exactly what the Rockies did…

9) February 6, 2012 – The Rockies trade Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom to the Baltimore Orioles for Jeremy Guthrie.

Yeah – OUCH!!!

The intent behind this deal was solid though as the Rockies tried the “don’t overpay for cheap garbage on the free agent market when you can get your innings eater via trade” routine. I think this is the correct way to go, they just got an outcome that would make the biggest pessimist on Earth envious for not thinking it was possible.

When the Rockies traded for Jeremy Guthrie, they were getting a 32 (soon to be 33) year old pitcher who had tossed 808 innings over the last four seasons, and he did this while posting a 4.21 ERA in a hitters ballpark in the A.L. East over that span. There was no reason not to believe that he could be a stabilizing force in the Rockies rotation in 2012. Why he couldn’t pitch well in a Rockies uniform we’ll never quite know for sure but I think there is more to this than just the "Coors Field got in his head" plot as indicated by the over .900 OPS opponents had against him on the road during his time in Colorado.

As dreadful as this move turned out to be, I again have a hard time killing the front office for it. This was the equivalent of playing Texas Hold’em and going all in with three of a kind on the flop and then having your opponent hitting a straight draw on the river card. A good plan with disastrous results – There’s no other way to put it.

10) Keeping Jim Tracy as manager

I hate trying to evaluate a manager. There’s so much you don’t know when it comes to what’s going on in the club house. By all accounts, Jim Tracy was popular among the players; but whether that was a good thing or not remains debatable.

From a game tactic point of view though, it certainly seemed as though Tracy was getting out managed on a nightly basis by the end of his tenure with Colorado. From his sacrificing of precious outs via the overuse of the bunt to his lineups that seemed to favor veterans over young players who needed a chance to prove themselves, Tracy frustrated a large contingent of fans. Many here on Purple Row wanted him gone before the start of the season, and it’s a hard position to argue against now, but I just can’t get too wrapped up in this one. The Rockies were not a bad team in 2012 because of Jim Tracy and his lineup decisions. It’s possible he made the situation worse, but any manager was going down with this ship.

So when we look at all the off season moves made last season, there’s not a single one that I can point to and say it was a truly terrible move knowing what we knew about each player at the time with the possible exception of the Cuddyer deal. There were certainly some things I would have liked to have seen done differently, but foolish transactions last winter are not what sunk the Rockies in 2012.

Instead, I chalk the majority of the failed season up to two main points.

  • The failure of the front office to draft and develop enough prospects in the latter half of the last decade creating a drought of young players ready to help the team over the last several seasons (especially in the pitching department).
  • The injuries / disintegration of what was a very valuable top half of the rotation as recently as the spring of last year in Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De Le Rosa, and Jhoulys Chacin. This, combined with not having a healthy Troy Tulowitzki created a hole that the young players had no prayer of filling.
There are certainly more pieces to this puzzle, but when you really dig to find what went wrong in 2012, the biggest factors I can find are bad luck with injuries and mistakes made on the farm that went under the radar while the big club was going to the postseason twice in three years.

The end result is a fan base and a front office in a very complicated relationship.