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Christian Friedrich and the Colorado Rockies say goodbye after nearly eight years together

The Rockies' 1st round pick in 2008 never figured it out in the Majors.

Happy trails to you, Christian Friedrich.
Happy trails to you, Christian Friedrich.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I remember the first time a co-worker I was close to got fired. I was a content coordinator at a magazine, along side a guy named Paul in web development. He looked sort of like Todd Helton, during Helton's thick goatee phase, but younger and with a stronger chin. Paul had a tattoo sleeve of which he was very proud.

His office was right across the hall from mine, so we'd talk four or five times a day when one of us was coming or going. Small talk, you know. I was always polite, but also always pushing to end it, always with the same refrain.

Well OK, then. I should probably get back to it. Have a good one, man. Good seeing you.

I'm not one for small talk. I go out of my way to avoid it.

But being in close quarters, it was kind of tough to avoid Paul. That was fine, though, because Paul was a good dude.

He'd beat me into the office me every single day, and leave later. He was the director of web development, whatever that meant, so he had a few more responsibilities on his plate than I had on mine.

But even so, he was that low-profile kind of hard worker who's also a cool guy, and he didn't want to ruin his cool reputation and tattoos and facial hair and weekend concert stories and dirty jokes by letting people know that—gasp—he was corporate, too.

We'd go to an Indian buffet for lunch a few times a week, Paul and me, along with Alex and Mike, two other guys in our magazine's Internet division. We'd talk about work sometimes, or we'd make fun of each other, because that's what guys do. We compared tattoos, ate way too much murgh tikka, and then struggled to walk the four blocks back down Wilshire Boulevard to finish the second half of the work day.

One evening, at about six o'clock, there was a bustle across the hall. Paul was getting some stuff together, as I'd find out 30 seconds later when he walked out of his office, right past mine without even a glance. He would almost always stop to chat, but he didn't that day. I didn't think much of it, since I saw him five days a week for months on end. We could talk about music and weird websites and bars in Los Angeles the next day over all-you-can-eat Indian food, right?

I never saw Paul again.

★ ★ ★

Lord knows the Colorado Rockies' Dickerson-for-McGee swap with the Tampa Bay Rays has been dissected to death around these parts. I'm proud of what we've published, and what our audience has contributed in the comments and on social media; that's what we collectively do, after all. But for some reason, I think we dropped the ball on one aspect of the trade and its aftermath that deserves even so brief a mention.

When the Rockies designated Christian Friedrich for assignment last week, it was the culmination of a long road—nearly eight full years, to be exact—for the former first-round draft pick. On Friday afternoon, then, Friedrich got his denouement, however final and unsatisfying though it may be, when the Los Angeles Angels claimed him off waivers.

In baseball terms, it's just a transaction. Across the game, hundreds of players will be designated for assignment this year. Some will get spit out the bottom of it all, like Wilin Rosario. Others will run through waivers with nary a claim to their name and return to their original organization firmly off the future radar, like Kyle Parker.

Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

And then there's Christian Friedrich. After eight seasons, 212 games, 117 starts, 691⅓ innings, and 3,047 batters faced, it's all unceremoniously over because a 20-year-old who hasn't yet sniffed Double-A needs a roster spot. After eight years of Tri-City, Asheville, Asheville again, Modesto, Tulsa, Tulsa again, Colorado Springs, Denver, then Colorado Springs again, and then a conversion to the bullpen in Denver, that's it. That's all. Thanks for coming out.

It wasn't supposed to go like this for Friedrich. Entering 2010, he was the 22nd best prospect in the game per Baseball Prospectus and the 33rd best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. To put that into perspective, this year Brendan Rodgers was named baseball's 20th best prospect by Baseball Prospectus. Jeff Hoffman ranked 24th, David Dahl sat at 31st, Jon Gray ranked 33rd, and Ryan McMahon came in at 36th. That's pretty sobering.

Prospect lists don't matter at the game's highest level, of course, and the Rockies' latest roster move is an example of that. Now, a chapter of Christian Friedrich's life is over. He will never again throw a pitch for the Colorado Rockies.

★ ★ ★

Lest you think I feel sorry for Christian Friedrich, though: not counting September roster expansion, there are 750 men in the world fortunate enough to be Major Leaguers on any given day. Every single day in 2015, Friedrich was one of those 750 men. Even approached conservatively, Friedrich is more or less one of the best thousand baseball players in the world at this moment in time.

Further, he's earned money—a lot of money, a total many of us won't see in our lifetimes—to play a game with a bat and a ball, a thing most of us would likely do in a heartbeat for far less money. The day he began his pro career, Christian Friedrich became a millionaire. He made half a million dollars last year, and a pro-rated amount of that for several years before that. Financially, he's set. Or, he ought to be. And though finances and career achievement mean relatively little next to family, friends, emotional well-being, they certainly count for something.

Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

So no, this isn't to feel bad for Friedrich, or even to eulogize him, since maybe he'll be a revelation in Los Angeles. Maybe you're looking at the AL West's best new left-handed situational reliever. Maybe Christian Friedrich has a decade more of baseball ahead of him. I sure hope so.

Maybe Friedrich's lucky, really. He's not Rosario, destined to play out a season halfway around the world in the hope of rebuilding value back in the States. He's not Parker, sentenced to Triple-A purgatory after going unclaimed, a former first-round draft pick passed on by every team in Major League Baseball. No, for Friedrich, luck is a new Major League organization, with a Major League job ready, assuming he can pitch well in Major League spring training.

The Best of Purple Row

In a conference call with media members last week, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich kept his emotions under control in a way expected of a player development guy, but he did let through just a little bit of remorse about Friedrich's aborted career.

"It’s tough to say goodbye to Christian, if it actually is goodbye," Bridich said before the Angels ended up claiming the reliever.

"But that’s why you try to build up as much depth as you possibly can."

In 57 days, perhaps Christian Friedrich will be part of that depth conversation for the Los Angeles Angels when they open their season in Anaheim against the Chicago Cubs.

★ ★ ★

The most fun I've ever had writing a feature was the piece I did on Justin Miller this offseason. Miller was far more generous with his time and in discussing his career with me than he ever needed to be. I love the piece that resulted from that, the product of an eager and forthright interview subject to which I am still grateful.

Miller covered quite a bit in that interview, including his dismay at John Axford signing elsewhere this winter. Axford, you see, helped Miller with his slider in Denver last summer—really, Axford helped Miller with his career in Denver last summer. When Ax left, Miller felt the blow from a baseball perspective and also, I have a hunch, from a human perspective.

Here's what Miller had to say, in full, about Axford's departure:

As far as Ax leaving, it’s tough. He helped me out a lot, especially with my slider this year. I saw him throw in a game, he came in, and he was throwing his fastball like 98, and his slider at 90, 91. At that time, I was throwing my slider at like 85, 86, and I was like, ‘how the heck does this guy do this?’ And he was telling me what he did, and jumped my slider up from 85-86 to like 88-90, and it was still having good depth to it, so he definitely helped me out with that, so, I gotta give props to him.

That first sentence, that first gut reaction is what stuck with me from Miller's comments about Axford. Even hearing it on the playback, I can pick up just a hint of sadness, of remorse, of depth in Miller's voice. The rest of that passage is mechanical. It's technical talk. It's stuff you and I and other baseball fans like because it's insightful, but it's procedural. But that first sentence, man, that's the stuff. That's the thing that grabs you, even if for only a split second. These guys are teammates, and they're friends. They mean something to each other.

It was an ever-so-slight reveal of emotion in Miller who, throughout the rest of our conversation, acquitted himself as a very level-headed, laid-back professional. That's not to say Miller is mad at the Rockies for not retaining Axford; far from it, in fact. Miller knows baseball is ruthless as well as anybody, himself having been told sorry, Justin, it's just business by the Rangers and Tigers before he landed with the Rockies.

The day before Purple Row published the Miller feature, I saw a tweet he sent to Friedrich. Just a simple what's up, man. The stuff you probably say to friends, or coworkers, and never think twice about because it's so casual. Friedrich didn't respond, at least not on Twitter, but that's not a big deal. These guys don't check Twitter every day. Besides, those two would hang out in the bullpen again soon, right?

Now just two weeks later, Miller and Friedrich are no longer teammates.

Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I don't know, part of me feels this is sort of silly. You're not wrong if you're reading this, and you say big deal, Friedrich kind of sucked with the Rockies in 2015 because, well, Friedrich kind of sucked with the Rockies in 2015. He gave up a lot of hits, too many walks, too many runs, lefties hit him too hard, he didn't miss enough bats, and he never asserted himself in any bullpen role that mattered.

That analysis isn't wrong, per se, and players themselves will be the first to admit their struggles and work to correct them, so it's probably not foreign to Friedrich. Nor is it a surprise, I'm sure, that he's now part of a new organization. With no minor league options remaining, this had to have been something in the back of his mind throughout the offseason. Should it just end there?

★ ★ ★

Alex told me about Paul getting fired the next day. Paul was young and, like I said, the magazine's director of web development. I have no doubt he landed on his feet, and in short order, knowing his skills and experience. A month later, Alex handed in his two weeks' notice, leaving the company to freelance and set his own schedule.

Mike, the fourth member of our mötley buffet crüe, took over Paul's job. Three months later, I left the company for greener pastures. I later learned that Mike moved on that month, too. So it goes in corporate America, I guess. Churn 'em and burn 'em, as the organization marches on with new blood, new energy, and new stories to tell.

So it goes in baseball, too, I guess. Justin Miller will march on with the Rockies this spring. He's out of minor league options, like Friedrich last year, and he needs to make the team. John Axford, a hired gun who's been everywhere in his career, will try his hand in yet another new city. Christian Friedrich will join just the second organization of his professional career. Churn 'em and burn 'em, goes the game, and the organization marches on with new blood, new energy, and new stories to tell.

Image via Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Image via Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

But wait—there's more.

Like Friedrich, Jake McGee—the much-ballyhooed reliever the Rockies acquired last week—has never known another professional organization besides the one that drafted him. After nearly twelve years with the Rays, covering 467 games, 919⅔ innings, and 3,765 batters faced, McGee goes from being the longest-tenured player in the history of his old organization to the newest, freshest face among his teammates this spring.

So it goes in baseball, then. The coming and going of players, even the poetry in how one long-tenured pitcher's exit opens the door for another even longer-tenured pitcher's entrance. It's all just roster moves, transactions, words on a page. And yet it's all life-changing and career-impacting, too.

Soon, we'll all make roster move small talk again.

Well OK, then. I should probably get back to it. Have a good one, man. Good seeing you.