So far this off season, we've had to watch in frustration as the rest of the division acquires more depth in the starting rotation while the Rockies seemingly stand pat. The Giants have already signed Tim Hudson to a two year deal, the Padres inked Josh Johnson for what they hope will be a bounce back season, and last night the Dodgers added Dan Haren to their roster with a $10 million signing.
It's likely that all three of these pitchers have already thrown their best season in the majors, but it's also likely that at least one of them ends up playing a pretty positive roll for one of our division foes. Hudson is aging well and has not posted a BB/9 above 3.0 since 2006, Johnson is an interesting rebound candidate for a Padres team that desperately needs help at the back end of the rotation, and Haren is a guy who despite a disappointing 2013 had a 3.29 ERA and held opposing batters to a .626 OPS in his last 16 games. He's also pitched in at least 30 games for nine straight seasons and has averaged 214 innings a year during that time.
In other words, the Haren signing unfortunately decreases the chances of a gaping hole opening up at the bottom of the L.A. rotation. If you're looking for some good news on this front however, Dan Haren gives up a metric ton of homers when he pitches in Coors Field, so it should be nice to have him on the mound as an opponent a few times next season.
Now unfortunately, a lazy (and in all likelihood) incorrect narrative has surfaced surrounding Rockies in that they are not going to do anything this off season, and it seems that three other teams in the division already having invested at least $8 million on starting pitching has only increased these cries. However, we have a few pretty large clues to tell us that this is not going to be the case.
First up, let's take a look at the off season two years ago. Here's a list of what I consider to be ten of the most significant moves from that period.
November 20, 2011
Traded Ty Wigginton and cash to the Philadelphia Phillies.
November 30, 2011
Traded Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Received Tyler Chatwood.
(Signed Ramon Hernandez as a free agent to complete the catcher part of the equation)
December 7, 2011
Traded Huston Street and cash to the San Diego Padres. Received Nick Schmidt (minors) as the player to be named later (December 9, 2011) to complete the trade.
December 8, 2011
Traded Casey Weathers (minors) and Ian Stewart to the Chicago Cubs. Received Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu.
December 16, 2011
Signed Michael Cuddyer as a free agent to a three year $31.5 million deal.
December 20, 2011
Signed Carlos Torres as a free agent.
January 16, 2012
Traded Seth Smith to the Oakland Athletics. Received Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman.
January 21, 2012
Traded Clayton Mortensen to the Boston Red Sox. Received Marco Scutaro.
February 6, 2012
Traded Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom to the Baltimore Orioles. Received Jeremy Guthrie.
April 3, 2012
Selected Adam Ottavino off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Notice that all but one of the moves occurred after November 25th. We can debate the quality of these moves all we want, but one thing that's not debatable is that the last time the Rockies were active in the off season, the vast majority of their moves came after Thanksgiving. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, but it's always nice to hammer home how much can unfold in December and January.
A second pretty big clue we have suggesting that the Rockies are going to be involved in something significant before the off season is out is their rumored connections to three notable targets. The Rockies were in on the Carlos Ruiz sweepstakes until the Phillies offered a third year and Colorado also appears to have come up a close second to the White Sox on the Jose Abreu bidding war offering a six year $63 million contract (just short of the $68 million winning bid).
Now, news this weekend surfaced that the Rockies were in on Brian McCann as well before the Yankees pushed the price to a five year $85 million deal with an option for a sixth.
This tells us that the Rockies are not only willing to increase payroll next season, but that they are willing to sign an improvement at catcher, first base, or a corner outfield slot and adjust their other roster pieces accordingly. Considering that the team's big weakness on offense last season was a severe lack of depth, this is not a terrible strategy to eradicate the issue.
Another sign signaling that the Rockies think they're close is their unwillingness ship Troy Tulowitzki to St. Louis. Tulo is the type of player that you move only if you think you need to invest in a large rebuild project; otherwise, you build around him.
St. Louis has the young players to get other teams listening, and they just signed Johnny Peralta (who is entering his age 32 season, is at best a mediocre glove up the middle, has a career .755 OPS, and is coming off a 50 game suspension for performance enhancing drugs) for over $50 million to be their shortstop for the next four seasons. In short, the Cardinals had the motivation and the pieces to push for a Tulo deal and it stalled out before it could never gather any real momentum. This should tell you quite a bit about the Rockies feelings for Tulo and their current stance of how far away the team is from contending.
In order for them to be right however, the front office needs to have a few positive hits between now and March. Otherwise, they won't be playing meaningful baseball in September.
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Speaking of the Peralta signing, it's sparked an interesting controversy. Over that last 24 hours, several players have openly expressed their displeasure in a system that doesn't due enough to punish cheating in the game. Take a look at these tweets.
It pays to cheat...Thanks, owners, for encouraging PED use "@JimBowdenESPNxm: Peralta - Cards agree to 4-year deal: http://t.co/rkpdAO3QaL"— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) November 24, 2013
People really don't understand how this works. We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again.— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) November 24, 2013
Apparently getting suspended for PED's means you get a raise. What's stopping anyone from doing it? #weneedtomakeachange— David Aardsma (@TheDA53) November 24, 2013
If there's players this blunt about the issue on Twitter, it's a safe bet there's plenty of other guys raising the issue behind closed doors. There's still too much reward and not enough risk in taking performance enhancing drugs for players coming up on free agency. As we've seen with Melky Cabrera and will probably see again with Nelson Cruz later this off season, it still pays too much to cheat.
Stiffer penalties are likely coming to those who venture down this path in the future, but the details of how to properly chastise these players may require some creative thinking. The most obvious change might be to increase the suspension for first time offenders from 50 games to 100 games or even a full season, but if the players are truly serious about punishing guys who think they can cheat the system, something a bit more drastic may be in order.
I'd push for a system that forces teams to make an extremely difficult and uncomfortable decision. Upon learning of a player's involvement with performance enhancing drugs, the team will have 72 hours choose between voiding the remaining contract without penalty or retaining the player on the 25 man roster while he serves his 50 game suspension. If the club chooses to void the contract, the new team must then keep the player on the 25 man roster for 50 games while he serves his suspension before he can return to play.
In other words, if a player wants to cheat under this system, they are not coming back until a club is willing to forgive them to a point where they are willing to play a man down for a third of the season. It would mark an unprecedented leap, but if the clean players really want to take a stand, I bet this would make the Johnny Peralta's of the world think twice before disgracing the game to land a payday.