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Thursday Rockpile: Jeff Francis in rotation helps make it stable, but don't take him for a staple

Thursday notes include a word of caution for the Rockies to not get too complacent penciling in Jeff Francis' name every five days in 2013, and a variety of winter updates, notably the possibility of a Michael Cuddyer trade emerging.

Don't get too comfortable there, Jeff.
Don't get too comfortable there, Jeff.
Doug Pensinger

Jeff Francis' return to the Rockies rotation after helping stabilize the club in 2012 is a bit of a mixed blessing, as Francis certainly retains more value and is not quite as eligible for senior discounts on road trips as the crafty veteran LHP the Rockies brought in last winter, but he's also in that grey area where the lines between giving veteran respect to a pitcher who's earned his stripes and potentially letting a better, younger option take hold of the job can get bent to the detriment of the team. As long as that better option never materializes, Francis will be a solid enough placeholder, but when that moment inevitably will arrive, I hope the Rockies aren't too nostalgic with one of their few homegrown pitching success stories to stand in the way of progress.

As the above linked Troy Renck article alludes to, the Rockies rotation for 2013 now at least has a somewhat complete five starter set that we can put down in pencil until the team acquires another arm. Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Francis, Juan Nicasio, and the young pitcher du jour. And as the article points out, there are still serious questions about the projected efficacy of all five of those starters heading into next season. Some of that is unavoidable given the nature of the Rockies collapse last season, but beyond health, simple regression to a mean should help the Rockies some next year. Not enough to be serious about playoff contention, but those suggesting that the team may be worse in 2013 than it was in 2012 are being a bit too pessimistic.

Renck tweets that Michael Cuddyer's two year, $21 million contract may be appealing now given high contracts being handed out elsewhere for outfielders this off season. I still don't know if it would be appealing enough for a team to part ways with a starting pitcher, unless it was a similar contract. It's also difficult for me to match up Cuddyer with a suitable trading partner for the Rockies. For example, the Phillies are looking for an impact right handed bat, but certainly wouldn't give up Vance Worley for the 30 something Cuddyer, even if they may for Dexter Fowler. As such, I'm not sure what to expect in value beyond the salary relief should Cuddyer get moved, but even that may be worth it to Colorado if the Rockies can turn that over with another player into a more optimized use of budget dollars. The best fit for Cuddyer may wind up being with Cleveland, believe it or not, as the Indians are actively looking for an outfielder in free agency and getting spurned by everybody thus far. They have a couple of starters, including one Ubaldo Jimenez, rumored to be available.

Speaking of Jimenez and the trade that sent him to Cleveland, in another Renck article, he also gives an endorsement of the Wilton Lopez for Alex White deal. For me, that deal boils down to what White's future holds, and now that we've seen two clubs be a bit too eager to pass on it, I'm not confident he'll ever live up to his former prospect hype. When the Indians were shopping for Jimenez, White was the prospect they were willing to give up somewhat easily, while adding Pomeranz was the much more difficult choice for them. The suggestion on Indians blogs at the time was that White was destined for the bullpen in Cleveland given their depth. Now White's been dealt again with the same insinuation from the Rockies. We're not talking about him cracking the top five of the Diamondbacks, Tigers or Nationals rotations over the next few seasons, but the Rockies and Indians. White's a reliever already, he just doesn't realize it yet, and apparently neither do a lot of pundits. Thankfully, we can also include the Astros in that blind optimist camp.

That last Renck article also includes a few additional tidbits, such as the return of Mark Strittmatter to the organization after he left with Clint Hurdle a few years ago and a recap of the high price for Dexter Fowler I laid out a few days ago.

The winter is the time for reminiscing on summers past, Jordan Pacheco's history in LaCrosse for a collegiate summer league and Walt Weiss's days in Huntsville as an Athletics farmhand are featured in local articles.

Baseball Prospectus' Zachary Levine says that Weiss must regain the Coors Field advantage for the Rockies, and that cutting down on the outs giveaways that Jim Tracy would grant opponents through excessive bunting and baserunning would be a big start. I couldn't agree more. The bunt should be all but forbidden at Coors save for obvious late and close situations, even for pitchers.