Daniel Winkler is no longer part of the Rockies organization. He was nabbed by the Braves Thursday morning as part of baseball's Rule 5 draft in which the Rockies also lost Taylor Featherston to the Cubs (who later traded him to the Angels).
In short, the Rule 5 draft is when all players not on a team's 40-man roster who have spent at least four years in a system if drafted out of college, and five years in a system if drafted out of high school, can be selected and placed on another team's active major league roster. The player must then stay on the 25-man roster of his new team for the duration of the following season or be offered back to the original club. Winkler's situation gets somewhat complicated due to his injury, but since that's not what I wanted to get into in this piece, here's a link to the comments of yesterday's post on the topic where there was a discussion regarding several possible scenarios.
Now while the Rockies still stand a good chance of getting Winkler back, I'm finding Thursday's news extremely irritating. As I continue to replay the chain of events that led to Winkler landing in a Braves uniform in my head, I just get angrier and angrier, and angrier.
The whole thing is essentially a microcosm of what it's like to be a Rockies fan over the last few seasons. All the main players are there: a devastating injury, poor decision-making from the club, and circumstance bending over backwards and pissing out its nose to ensure things turn out as horrible as humanly possible for this franchise.
Let's start with the wretched timing of the injury that required Winkler to go for Tommy John surgery in June. If the injury occurs just a little bit earlier, he doesn't amass enough innings for his brilliant 1.41 ERA in Double-A Tulsa to attract attention from a club like the Braves and get selected here. If the injury occurs just a bit later, Winker's already protected because he would have already been with the major-league club the way pitchers were going down in Denver last June. Winkler only gets selected if the injury occurs within a very narrow window of time that it just happened to fall in.
The second reason the loss of Winkler is so irksome is because it feels like the Rockies are victims of a loophole in the system. Now make no mistake, this does not get the Rockies off the hook when it comes to blame (I'll get into that more in a second), but the way this entire deal went down feels kind of crummy.
The entire point of the Rule 5 draft is to ensure that clubs are not stashing large quantities of players in the minors who have been with the organization for a long period of time and would otherwise be in the majors if they were in another organization. What happened with Winkler doesn't fit that description at all. He's both not on the major league roster, and left unprotected because of injury. The Braves got him fair and square, but from a Rockies perspective it feels like they had an opportunity to do this because of odd circumstance more than for the reasons this draft intended.
Of course, the Rockies themselves have to be put under the microscope as well. Yes, the injury was brutal; yes, the timing of it was awful; and yes, the system is working against them here in a fashion that it wasn't intended for when it was designed, but at the end of the day the Rockies still held a card in their hand that could have prevented this entire thing from happening. By placing Winkler on the 40-man roster, they could have eliminated any possibility of the most revolting chain of events from occurring, namely Winkler being plucked by another club and then sticking while finding success in a uniform that's not purple.
I understand 40-man roster spots are precious. I understand that there's a real chance that Winker wasn't going to be selected, and I understand it's still a decent bet the Rockies get him back, but this seems like exactly the type of high-floor arm this club can't afford to let get away. So while it certainly would have been inconvenient for Winkler to suck up a 40-man roster spot this winter, it seems like a small price to pay to ensure that the situation we have now – a situation that's completely out of the Rockies' control – didn't occur.
The situation only gets more infuriating when you take a gander at the current 40-man roster. Here's just a few names that should catch your eye:
- Yohan Flande
- Christian Bergman
- Brooks Brown
- Chris Martin
- Jorge Rondon
- Chris Rusin
- Charlie Culberson
- Rafael Ynoa
Gee, sorry honey. There's no room for this nice new couch you bought in the living room because I'm hoarding tons of crap in there and can't move any of it out right now. Guess we're just gonna have to leave this nice new piece of furniture outside tonight and hope nobody steals it.
The idea the Rockies couldn't move any of those names off the roster to prevent Winker from getting scooped up is ridiculous. The worst case scenario for dropping the least useful player from that group is a blip on the radar compared to the storm that has the potential to form now that Winkler's gone and out of the club's control.
To make matters even worse, Winkler had the potential to be exactly the under-the-radar-type arm this club has desperately needed over the last three years. One of the big defenses you'll see in allowing Winkler to get away is his low MLB ceiling, but I don't buy that line of thinking. While the Rockies could always use more help at the top of the rotation, I maintain my now two-year-long argument that the bigger problem is the clown show they've been hosting at the bottom of the rotation that's just filled with so much terrible. It's almost impossible to win unless everybody else has a great game when they start.
In the table below, you'll find a list of abysmal pitchers who have started for the Rockies over the last three years and the number of total starts they've made over that time. I didn't even include all the below average names, just some of the most nauseating ones. (Sorry, Jeff Francis has to go on this list thanks to a 5.85 ERA during his second tenure with the Rockies)
You might want to put on a bio-hazard suit before you look at this:
Together, that group of arms has made 190 of the 486 starts for the Rockies over the last three years. In other words, if you pick a random Rockies game from 2012, 2013, or 2014, there's a 39 percent chance that one of those guys started it.
This is why you make sure you keep the Daniel Winklers of the world around. So what if he's not a top of the rotation pitcher? Being an average guy who can just keep the team in the game every fifth day has tremendous value when you're a club trotting this garbage out to the mound in what ends up being more than a third of the games year after year after year. Unless he turns out to just not be a major league pitcher at all, he fits a glaring need.
Maybe Winkler flames out and all this proves irrelevant. Maybe he gets offered back when the Braves experience a roster crunch. The ending of this story is still quite murky, but at this stage it's almost impossible not to conclude that the Rockies made a tactical error in failing to protect a guy who has the potential to act as a buffer against the single biggest problem plaguing this club over the last three years.
For now, all we can do is sit back, wait, and see how much it burns them. Nothing is anywhere close to being final here, but the first step on a potential road to disaster was taken this month, and it was so, so unnecessary.