If the Colorado Rockies were hoping that Spring Training performance would clarify their various roster battles, they were very much mistaken. There were several roster spots available or semi-available (3rd, 4th, and 5th outfielders, utility infielder, backup catcher, 5th starter, bullpen spots), but none of the candidates involved played themselves out of contention. Yesterday's reassignments settled some of the questions, but some roster battles remain alive.
First off, the guys who didn't make it: infielders Josh Rutledge, Paul Janish, and Ryan Wheeler, catcher Mike McKenry, and outfielders Jason Pridie and Tim Wheeler. Pridie and T. Wheeler aren't surprises. The organization seems to want Rutledge to get every day at-bats in AAA. McKenry evidently lost the backup catcher job to Jordan Pacheco, who was out of options. Janish and/or R. Wheeler are somewhat surprising, since their demotions mean that...
The Rockies appear to be going with six outfielders to start the season. That isn't a common configuration. Holding six outfielders means that either the bullpen or the backup infield spots will be shortchanged. It seems highly unlikely that the Rockies will run with a shorthanded bullpen, which means that Charlie Culberson, who apparently won the spring battle, will probably be the only "true" infielder among the backups on the roster to begin 2014.
Of course, Pacheco has a history of playing third and first base, providing some flexibility. Although perhaps "playing" should be in quotation marks, since defensive metrics thought he was putrid out there. We really don't want to see him on the field not wearing the catcher's armor.
Whoever wins the roulette of 5th starter and final bullpen spot will affect the calculus. Since Boone Logan seems destined for a short stint on the DL to start the season, there's going to be a temporary opening in the bullpen. The 5th starter spot is also fluid, as Jhoulys Chacin is going to miss a month's worth of starts. If Franklin Morales is tapped for the starter spot, Jordan Lyles will be optioned to AAA and Tommy Kahnle will fill the last bullpen spot. This leaves the bullpen with only one lefty (since Morales and Logan won't be available), but that shouldn't be a huge disadvantage in the hopefully brief time Logan is on the shelf.
If the Rockies decide that they need another southpaw in the 'pen other than Rex Brothers, they could give the starting spot to Lyles and shift Morales to the relief role. This would coincide with losing Kahnle back to the Yankees, since he was a Rule 5 draftee, and if he doesn't make the 25 man roster he goes back to his original team. If the team were dead-set against losing Kahnle, they could have optioned Chad Bettis to AAA, but they apparently think he's too strong a talent to leave off the Major League roster.
Anyway, while that roster crunch might be resolved in the next few days, it will just re-emerge when Logan is ready to join the big league club, which hopefully won't be more than a week or two after opening day. As the brilliant Purple Row members theorized in yesterday's Rockpile, it seems likely that the six outfielder logjam will be the group affected by Logan's return.
Apparently the derby between Brandon Barnes, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson was too close to call, so all four look to make the Opening Day roster. It's impossible to determine how playing time will be allocated, since the only open spot is in center field (unless Michael Cuddyer is at first base). Regardless, it results in a bench with lefty-righty versatility, strong defensive options, and great base runners. Just not much in the way of middle infielders.
Confused yet? Me too. How easy would everything be if the Rockies didn't sign Morneau and just shifted Cuddyer to first? Answer: a lot freaking easier. I tell ya, the Rockies better win a lot of games this year to make all these roster headaches worth it.
Of course, they'll probably make some reassignments today that totally invalidate this piece, but such is the peril of late-March baseball blogging.