The stove heated up Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. First the Rockies made two bullpen signings in the morning, and then things went crazy in the evening.
It's no secret the Rockies bullpen was a disaster last year, and these arms help stabilize things there without breaking the bank. Motte will be paid $10 million over two years while Qualls will get $6 million over the same time period. If you think that's too much money for a pair of aging relief pitchers, Joakim Soria just got $25 million from Kansas City. Any free agent pitcher who doesn't stink on ice is making a fortune. It's just where the market is right now.
Even as someone who's been pushing for a nuclear rebuild since the club shifted direction and traded Tulo last July, I don't mind these deals. Somebody has to cover the late innings during games (especially early in the season before more defined rolls are set), and Qualls and Motte are as good a choice as any for this team. Jeff Bridich gave some good information about their roles yesterday:
"Both guys are going to have opportunities to pitch late in games. Those guys are in the mix for high-leverage, late-inning, eighth- or ninth-inning roles."
Motte will be 34 in June while Qualls turns 38 in August, and while both pitchers have seen better days, they each represent a strong veteran presence the young guys can lean on until they're ready to take over these roles. Another way to think about it is that there are over 200 relief pitcher jobs at any given moment in MLB, and that number probably stretches over 250 most times thanks to injuries. These two wouldn't rank near the top of many bullpen lists at this stage of their career, but I think they're solidly in that top 200, which means they can bridge the gap between last year's dumpster fire, and the next set of quality relief arms the Rockies develop themselves.
Motte and Qualls also bring another important quality: low BB/9 rates. Last year Motte only walked two batters per nine while Qualls walked just 1.6 per nine. Compare this with three relievers who have already been shown the door one way or another this winter in Rex Brothers, Tommy Kahnle, and John Axford. Each of them had a BB/9 over five last season. The theme here is clear; the front office wants pitchers who make their opponents earn their way on base. Alleluia!!!
Despite giving the bullpen a slight bump in 2016, these moves don't clearly signal the team is trying to contend or rebuild. They could fit both plans. Each of these arms could be shopped at the deadline for more prospects if they have a strong first half, and both could give you over 50 appearances if they stay on the team and eat those late inning opportunities.
One final note on Qualls before we move on. He's made more appearances than any pitcher in baseball over the last ten years, and it's possible that he ran out of gas late last season as nine of his last 14 appearances were for less than an inning. This is a big reason why Houston didn't resign him and is probably the biggest concern with the contract. Every pitcher hits a wall at some point, and Qualls may have hit his at the end of 2015. The Rockies are betting against that. We'll see.
The best news for the Rockies yesterday didn't come in the morning though. Instead, it came in the evening when the D'Backs pushed all their chips into the middle of the table trying to cash in on the 2016 pot. In order to get Shelby Miller, the snakes had to give up the following:
1) Ender Inciarte - who just posted 5.3 rWAR in playing all three outfield positions for them in 2015 as a 24-year-old. He was under Arizona's control through 2020.
2) Dansby Swanson - who was just drafted No. 1 overall last June and could have been a rock solid shortstop for the D-Backs right through the Rockies next contention window.
3) Aaron Blair - who was the No .3 overall prospect in the D-Backs system behind only Swanson and Archie Bradley. He's also the No. 61 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. (For a Rockies reference, Jeff Hoffman is only 12 spots higher on that same list at No. 49 overall) Not only was Blair highly ranked, but he was close to the show and will probably be donning a major league uniform by summer.
This deal could easily turn into highway robbery. You can read the reactions of D-Back fans here as they go from the euphoria of landing Miller, to the anger of losing three potential long term pillars.
The news gets even better for the Rockies though. Not only did Arizona deal themselves a crippling blow for the 2018-2019 time frame, but they also upgraded their rotation in 2016. If you subscribe to the theory that the Rockies weren't going to win anyway in 2016 and should sell off pieces, this is the perfect recipe for long term success. The D-Backs probably have the best starting pitching in the division at the moment, and now the Dodgers and Giants are going to be forced to react. This move could help weaken all three teams long term if they all go all in for 2016.
Please sell off major league assets with short term value this winter Rockies! You'll be better off in the long run.
Two more big, connected moves occurred Tuesday evening. Ben Zobrist signed a four-year /$56 million deal with the Cubs. Then with Zobrist available to cover second base, Chicago then dealt Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Adam Warren.
It's hard to tell how this move could impact the Rockies but there's likely to be some ripple effects on the markets for Carlos Gonzalez and DJ LeMahieu. Zobrist signing in Chicago leaves both Washington and the Mets without a second baseman as they are in a race for the NL East. Meanwhile, if the Cubs still sign another outfield and choose to start Zobrist mostly at second, that leaves one less outfield option on the board for teams who wanted to make Zobrist their everyday corner outfielder. It's too early to tell exactly how this might play out, but the other clubs who wanted Zobrist will now adjust their plans.
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Jeff Bridich joined MLB Network's Hot Stove coverage yesterday following the Qualls and Motte signings. Here's the video of that:
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This news is not surprising following the summer trade, but these lines really hit home ...
"The house has an elevator, a wine room, a home theater and a fully equipped gym embellished with a Rockies logo. The gym's equipment, including a treadmill and weights, is also for sale."
It's like Tulo's selling off a part of his soul that was supposed to be connected to the Rockies forever. Just think of the countless hours Tulo spent training there trying to make the Rockies a better team, and now it's all gone. Oh how badly I wish this turned out differently!