Some major league baseball teams have had an eventful offseason.
Take Atlanta, for example. So far this offseason, the Braves acquired outfielder B.J. Upton, his little brother Justin, as well as third baseman Chris Johnson, pitchers Paul Maholm and Jordan Walden.
Toronto traded for or signed everyone else. Okay, not really, but talk about an overhaul. Since the end of the 2012 season, the Blue Jays have added R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, Jeremy Jeffress, Esmil Rogers, Mike Aviles, Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Mark DeRosa, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the other hand, consider the Colorado Rockies.
While the above two teams were loading up to make a run at the World Series, I cannot see the goal to which the Rockies aspire. Not based on these trades and free-agent signings, anyway:
• Pitchers: Jeff Francis, Chris Volstad, Miguel Batista, Manny Corpas
• Catcher: Yorvit Torrealba
• Acquired reliever Wilton Lopez for pitchers Alex White and Alex Gillingham
• Acquired infielder Ryan Wheeler for reliever Matt Reynolds
Let’s start with the good (or, more accurately, the least bad move): Lopez is a useful pitcher who sported a 1.04 WHIP and a park-adjusted ERA+ of 185 for the woeful Astros last year. He should team with veteran Matt Belisle to form a reliable bridge to closer Rafael Betancourt. That is, on the few occasions where the team has a lead after six innings. Best of all, he is under team control through 2016. Given the fungible nature of relievers, that does not justify giving up a promising young arm like Alex White, but at least they didn’t trade White for a single season’s worth of Lopez.
The other pitching moves make it appear that the Rockies are actively attempting to field the worst starting staff in the majors. Francis earned the distinction in 2012 of being the only Rockies starter to surpass 100 innings, despite not starting the season with the team. His hits allowed-to-strikeout ratio was 145 to 76. The Rockies rewarded him with a raise.
The alleged “ace”, Jhoulys Chacin, nibbled around the plate so timidly in 2012 that he earned a demotion to Triple-A in spite of the Rockies’ having no viable alternative to replace him. Jorge De La Rosa, one of the nastier southpaws in the NL during the Rockies’ 2009 playoff run, has been fighting injuries ever since. Yet, the Rockies are counting on him heavily to rebound to his four-years-ago form.
Juan Nicasio, whose inspirational return from a broken neck last year was overshadowed by the Jamie Moyer sideshow, had his 2012 season short-circuited by knee surgery. Nicasio has the stuff to be an effective strikeout pitcher, but needs to sharpen his focus on the mound to avoid unraveling at the first sign of trouble.
Christian Friedrich and Drew Pomeranz (the centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade in 2011) will compete to fill out the rotation. Each has shown flashes of promise, but the foolish four-man, 75-pitch rotation idea last year stunted their development. Fans can only hope that the return to a typical five-man rotation will help. As is, we don’t really know how good they can be.
Further hindering the Rockies’ chances at fielding a competitive 2013 team was the team’s failure to trade one of its few marketable commodities (not named Tulowitzki or Gonzalez). Michael Cuddyer, in particular, drew interest from the Phillies and Mariners. This should have been a no-brainer. Tyler Colvin out-performed Cuddyer in every meaningful offensive category in 2012, at less than 1/3 of the cost. However, the Rockies are content to pay Cuddyer over $10 million for league-average production (actually, BELOW average, given his OPS+ of 99), while they dumpster dive for pitchers like Volstad, Batista and Corpas. This is just not an intelligent way to build a competitive baseball team.
But then, that is nothing new for the team’s ownership.
Charlie and Dick Monfort continue to delude themselves into believing that their team is a contender in the NL West, when the past three seasons have demonstrated that nothing could be further from the truth. The Giants have won two of the past three World Series. The Dodgers have become Yankees West, spending money in ways that might surprise George Steinbrenner. The Diamondbacks and Padres have more youthful talent than the Rockies do – and better management. The Rockies, meanwhile, can’t even hire a manager without looking like incompetent bush leaguers.
When they forced Jim Tracy to resign, they replaced him with former Rockies shortstop Walt Weiss, who was coaching a local high school baseball team. HIGH SCHOOL. He wasn’t a promising bench coach like Joe Maddon. He wasn’t a minor-league instructor in whom team management saw something. Had the Brothers Monfort just watched the movie Invincible? Or was it The Rookie? Maybe they saw how the White Sox and Cardinals succeeded last year with untested managers and thought, we can do that!
Whatever the case, they have such faith in Weiss that they gave him a one-year contract. Let me repeat that. They were so confident in their outside-the-box choice that they essentially told him, “We think you’ll be great. By the way, you get a grand total of 162 games to prove it or you’re gone.” Weiss says all the right things – you have to earn your way, I’m not nervous, blah blah blah – but he has less job security than the bullpen catcher. I wish him luck, because he’s going to need it.
The first question I would ask Weiss is this: Dante Bichette as hitting coach? Seriously?
Bichette may have been the most popular Rockie during his stay with the team from 1993-99, but he was the poster child for the negative Coors Field effect on hitters. Of his 274 career home runs, 137 of them came at home during the seven seasons he played for Colorado. He played for 14 seasons. Thanks to those seven seasons spent in Denver (pre-humidor), Bichette’s career Total OPS in home games was 124. His Total OPS in road games? 76.
Yet this is the hitting coach who is going to help solve the Rockies’ road hitting woes? In 2012, they were tied for last in baseball, with a measly 272 runs scored. Bichette never solved his problems hitting on the road when he was a player. Is it reasonable to expect him to do it as a coach? Or is this a hire more aimed at getting some good PR for a team coming off the worst season in its history? After all, nostalgia always works in baseball.
I just wish the team were more nostalgic about the 2009 Colorado Rockies, rather than the fluky 1995 version that never would have made the playoffs if not for the strike-shortened season. Heading into 2013, that 2009 team seems further away than ever.