Winter hush falls over Rockies

December 10, 2009 | 5:32 pm | 45  

If what has happened — or, more to the point, hasn’t happened — at baseball’s winter meetings is any sort of gauge, the 2010 Colorado Rockies are going to look a lot like the 2009 Colorado Rockies. Of course, we mostly expected that before the meetings started, but as the days have passed and the rumor mill has spun a bit, the Rockies seem to be eliminating their question marks with answers they already know.

Rafael Betancourt accepted arbitration, eliminating the possibility of a return by LaTroy Hawkins to replace him. Whether the Rockies can sign Betancourt to a multiyear deal remains to be seen, but the team’s biggest question — who would be pitching the eighth inning — has been settled.

The Rockies may have focused their search for a backup catcher on the man they would otherwise need to replace, Yorvit Torrealba. The Rockies aren’t budging on their reported offer of two years and significantly less than the $6 million Ivan Rodriguez received from the Washington Nationals. Chris Iannetta will return to the starting job in 2010 — with a new three-year deal in place — so the Rockies have no motivation to overpay for a backup, even one who has played such a key role in the past. Torrealba is still in the picture for a couple teams, including the Mets who are more focused on Bengie Molina. But given the lack of a lucrative offer elsewhere, a Torrealba return to Colorado appears the most likely scenario at this point.

So, barring a major move such as trading Ryan Spilborghs or Brad Hawpe — both unlikely at this point, but you never know — the Rockies are shopping for only one major piece for 2010: either infield/bench help or, depending on what rumors you pay attention to, a second baseman who would push Clint Barmes into a super-utility role. Orlando Hudson, Jamey Carroll, Fernando Tatis and Robb Quinlan are some of the names linked to Rockies in various incarnations of that roster spot.

Other than that, the Rockies’ remaining moves are likely finding cheap depth via minor league deals, trying to sign the rest of their arbitration-eligible players — among them Huston Street, Barmes and Betancourt — to multiyear deals and watching with mild interest to see where Jason Marquis lands.

So it’s time to reset the debate with this question: Is a boring offseason a good thing or a bad thing for the Rockies? Discuss.

45 Comments »

  • David Martin | December 10, 2009 | 5:42 pm

    Why, for the fourth straight year, are the Rockies simply handing the starting job back to Iannetta…why just because he is younger and has a higher ceiling does he just get a free pass to be the starter? If Torrealba is re-signed, why not let him prove that his clutch hitting down the stretch was a fluke?

    The new look of the site is great, by the way.

  • Steve Foster | December 10, 2009 | 5:54 pm

    Thanks for the compliment on the look of the site.

    While I was disappointed in the way Iannetta’s bat quieted when he came back from the injury last season, he has proven power, he’s better defensively than Torrealba and there really aren’t any serious options available on the market to replace him. Catchers who could be had by trade would be marginal upgrades at best — probably not worth the cost in players — and those available as free agents (other than Torrealba) are players like Miguel Olivo and Bengie Molina, low OBP guys who aren’t much of an upgrade either. I’ve always thought that Iannetta, even when he’s struggling, puts in a decent at bat, certainly good enough to bat seventh or eighth in the lineup, and I’m fine with the Rockies sticking with him. Torrealba had a nice run, but if I had to bet on one of two things happening — Torrealba picking up where he left off and Iannetta putting it all together — I would bet on Iannetta.

    Don’t forget, Mike McKenry and Wilin Rosario are coming through the system and they’re more promising options down the road.

  • Steve N | December 10, 2009 | 6:08 pm

    Yeah, nice to see this site update and see some activity here during the Winter meetings. Was wondering what was up. :)

    My impression from Jim Tracy’s recent comments is the starting catching job would be very much up in the air if Yorvit does come back. He said something like good competition will only make the club better.

    And you guys read about J. Tracy’s call to Jason Giambi? Said they’d love to have hm back if he can’t find a DH job elsewhere. I wouldn’t mind having him back.

  • Mark S | December 10, 2009 | 6:30 pm

    It has been so nice to see all folks involved keep this site alive, the upgrade looks great! I’ve depended on you when the Rocky was alive, and almost even more so now that you’re independent. You’re all doing great work. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of the more competition the better for the catcher position. I also think Chris is ready for a break-out year. Please keep up the good work, and happy holidays!

  • Steve Foster | December 10, 2009 | 6:40 pm

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Giambi back given how clutch he was down the stretch, but he’s clearly looking for a larger role and there’s some question about where he would fit with the Rockies. Unless the Rockies trade Brad Hawpe or Ryan Spilborghs, the Rockies bench looks like Seth Smith, Eric Young Jr., Torrealba (or whoever ends up as the backup catcher), Spilborghs and one more player, likely a right-handed bat who can spell Ian Stewart at third base or play second to free up Clint Barmes for a utility role. My bet is that some American League team comes along to offer Giambi a role as a DH.

  • Mike | December 10, 2009 | 7:36 pm

    Hey, great to hear about Torrealba possibly coming back. Very happy with Ianetta coming back too. When he is hitting well, he is a lot of fun to watch. Although Marquise seemed to struggle the 2nd half of the year, which I think could have been helped if the offense did much in his games. I would love it if he came back. Remember when the Rocks were struggling he was a very bright spot, and probably, in my opinion saved the season. If he didn’t perform the way he did we would not have been in the playoffs! I’m excited for Jeff Francis to come back. Should be a good compliment to the team. My one question is: What are the real chances that Giambe comes back? I feel he helped us out so much that we have to make a push for him. I know he want’s to play more that a limited role with us, I don’t blame him at all. But if we could get him back I think we would be serious contenders. What do you think?

  • ProgMatinee | December 10, 2009 | 8:01 pm

    depth is a good problem to have, but I really think the Rox should look into trading 2 very good players for 1 great player. Something like Hawpe and Barmes for Uggla would be a great success as it would free up playing time for both Spilly and Seth and upgrade the bat from the 2B.

    PS:agree that the site looks great!

  • fred | December 10, 2009 | 9:03 pm

    Fernado Tatis, he’s a has been that never was. was suppose to be a stud with Texas when h came up but fizzled fast and hard. Orlando Hudson, no thanks but the Rocks can’t stand pat like they did after 2007. Remember what happened in 2008, not to mention the start of 2009. Don’t be complacent just be smart.

  • C Thistle | December 10, 2009 | 9:29 pm

    I like boring (in this case). Why mess with success. I think Iannetta will be the monster he was in the WBC during the season this coming year, and all the talk of an overloaded left handed lineup will be gone.

  • Mark | December 10, 2009 | 9:35 pm

    ProgMatinee, I like the way you think, but the Rox would probably need to give up an arm to get Uggla. They would have to substantially up the ante to get him, like throw in De la Rosa instead of Hawpe, and we know that ain’t gonna happen. The Monforts have shown over the last few years a reluctance to sign free agents, who aren’t in the twilight of their careers, or trade during the off-season.

    As for who is behind home plate, the amount they’ve committed to Iannetta today I hope doesn’t become an albatross like the money they’ve committed to Manny Corpas a few years ago.

    I do feel like while the other teams are wheeling and dealing during the off-season, the Rockies are content to sit out of the free-agent games. They did acquire Marquis last season, so they do have some surprises. Maybe they have another surprise up their sleeves this off-season…?

  • Agbayani | December 10, 2009 | 9:41 pm

    David M, repeat after me:

    CHRIS IANNETTA DID NOT HAVE A BAD YEAR IN 2009.

    He put up an .804 OPS — that’s a 103 OPS+ He can, and probably will, do a bit better in 2010. But a 103 OPS+ from a catcher is nothing to sneeze at.

    He also threw out 26% of potential base stealers.

    Torrealba? I can’t believe they’d offer 2 years to him, particularly with McKenry about a year away. $6 million? Even a worse idea.

    Torrealba really did put together a nice run in September. Kinda makes you forget what he did all year, right? Namely:

    .732 OPS, 87 OPS+, caught stealing 14%

    And those batting numbers were pretty clearly the best of his 4-year Rockie run. The previous 3 were OPS+ of 78, 76, 72.

    Iannetta had a disappointing year coming off a really good 125 OPS+ year. He definitely had a rotten second half. BUT HE DID NOT HAVE A BAD YEAR. And there’s no reason to think he won’t have at least as good a year next year, or the year after, or the year after that (he’s 26). Torrealba is 31 ….

  • David Martin | December 10, 2009 | 10:43 pm

    Agbayani (Bennie?),
    I never said Iannetta isn’t good. It just seems that the leadership Torrealba has shown has been huge in both of the Rockies recent playoff runs. Iannetta is clearly more talented and has the higher ceiling, but why not let Torrealba prove that the hot streak was a fluke before you simply hand the starting job back to the guy who played himself out of it two out of the last three years?

  • Steve Foster | December 10, 2009 | 11:55 pm

    As much as I like the idea of Uggla at second base — a right-handed bat who would fit nicely in the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup — it’s pretty unlikely. The Marlins would never take on Hawpe and Barmes because the reason they’re trying to drop Uggla is to reduce payroll. Hawpe already makes more than Uggla will get in arbitration. Considering the number of suitors for Uggla at the moment, the price is probably too steep for the Rockies. It’s worth considering, but probably not going to happen.

    Still, I’d like to see the Rockies do something substantial with that last bench spot. Barmes is streaky and while Stewart seems likely to improve next season, I would feel better if there were a reliable option behind him. Melvin Mora is an intriguing option and I have heard worse ideas than Fernando Tatis, although he wouldn’t be at the top of my list.

    But as far as boring offseason versus making moves for the sake of making moves, I very much favor a quiet offseason. The Rockies are coming into their own thanks to the patience of Dan O’Dowd, and the team has significant players — especially pitchers — about to bust of out the minors. Making moves for the sake of making moves leads to short-sighted trades like what the Diamondbacks did earlier this week losing Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth. I would hate to see the Rockies send away someone like Chacin, Rogers or Friedrich for a minor upgrade.

  • Agbayani | December 11, 2009 | 12:30 am

    Steve, I’ve gotta agree on the D’backs. I don’t understand that trade at all.

    As for Yorvit: sure, sign him if the price is right. I’d only want to go one year and quite a bit less than he made last year. Iannetta just signed for 3 years, so that shows that O’Dowd’s head is in the right place even if his heart is with Yorvit.

  • ProgMatinee | December 11, 2009 | 7:56 am

    I should have qualified the Uggla suggestion with “get a third team involved”.

    It doesn’t fit the Rox character to give up youth and it doesn’t fit the Marlin’s character to receive established players.

    Getting a team like BoSox involved who would take Hawpe and/or Barmes (if they moved Pedroia to SS) and then send the youth to the Fish.

  • Curt in Florida | December 11, 2009 | 7:56 am

    I took a look at Melvin Mora. Can back up Stewart at third and play the outfield, but he will be 38 when the season starts and slipped badly at the plate in 2009. A Steve Finley-like risk. Maybe even a John Mabry-like risk.

  • Curt in Florida | December 11, 2009 | 8:06 am

    As much as I’d like to see him back in Denver, I don’t think Jason Giambi will be back. He gets the sentimental vote, and he did a terrific job last fall, but a lefty hitting PH isn’t a top 2010 priority. Neither is a backup 1B. If he wants ABs, he’s going back to the AL for sure. The only other place he’ll get more ABs is Japan.

  • EdtheUmp | December 11, 2009 | 8:22 am

    Fellas…

    I’m not much into the writing/comments part of this site but I enjoy the back and forth this site provides.

    Very insightful comments by all.

    My take is simple. With Chris signed(I still think he is a star in-waiting)go for a low end backup and stick with Chris through thick and thin. IF Yorvy signs, great. If not, so be it.(the fact he can’t throw

    And for what it’s worth…Rockies win the West in 2010 going away.
    They have virtually all the pieces in place. As is always the case in baseball, injuries will be the deciding factor. Since the other West teams will also have the aforementioned injuries, the Rockies have superior bench strength(both offensively and defensively and AAA players in waiting. Can’t wait for spring training. GO ROX!!

  • EdtheUmp | December 11, 2009 | 8:27 am

    Oops, you now see why I don’t engage very often.

    My final comment re. Yorvy was…the fact he can’t throw out my mother is a HUGE negative in the game of baseball.

    He may be a good guy et al, but a backup he is…no BIG money for a backup.

    Thanks for your patience.

  • Steve Foster | December 11, 2009 | 8:51 am

    I like Torrealba as a backup, because he has been valuable to the Rockies and has existing relationships with Rockies pitchers. Consistency on the pitching staff, particularly in the bullpen, is a new development for the Rockies as the franchise matures, so having two catchers who already know their preferences and tendencies has a certain value. The Rockies could get another backup for less than they have offered Torrealba (someone like Josh Bard?), but have put a small premium on continuity. They are, however, holding the line on their offer, not giving Torrealba any more as a backup than they would give their presumed starter Iannetta under his new contract.

  • Steve Foster | December 11, 2009 | 8:57 am

    As for Giambi, I think it’s unlikely he will be back with the Rockies next year. He played a crucial role for the team in September, but it’s worth wondering where we would have fit in August before the rosters expanded.

  • Reader f/k/a Mike | December 11, 2009 | 9:12 am

    “why not let Torrealba prove that the hot streak was a fluke”

    Haven’t you been through enough of this at PR? Do you really think that after ~1800 PA’s of hitting .250 that Torrealba suddenly turned into a .300 hitter at age 30?

  • Reader f/k/a Mike | December 11, 2009 | 9:19 am

    Chances are the Rockies don’t have a lot of money to offer for that RH 1b/3b spot they’re trying to fill, which likely explains their reported interested in guys like Robb Quinlan. It doesn’t help that the job probably isn’t very appealing to any FA that has choices, given that it’s a backup role.

  • Karl | December 11, 2009 | 9:35 am

    I like Yorvit as a backup, but in terms of the market, I would like the Rockies to renegotiate again and just do a one year deal with a mutual option. The market is not dictating that their are dollars to be thrown around even for a sentimental vote.

    I would bet the players and owners have a fight coming more likely in regards to collusion with respect to the lack of deals out their right now. The trades aside, the market has not seen a big splash in my opinion. I think in the end Holliday and Bay are going to get only four year deals at the most.

    As for the Rockies, standing pat right now is ok in the scheme of things. Giambi would be nice to have again late, but it’s doubtful. A bench with EY and Spilly is pretty good in the NL West. If they get Giambi or another righty that can play multiple positions on a one year deal I think they will be set.

    I would think that the players would like to get deals done now so they have stability, especially in Chris’ case. As for Yorvit, the longer he stays unsigned I would think the less money he gets.

  • fred | December 11, 2009 | 10:17 am

    Let someone else have Torreaba. Phillips is cheaper and better defensively.

  • Curt in Florida | December 11, 2009 | 10:48 am

    Fred’s comment suggests that danger awaits YT should he wait too long. He could become the next Jody Reed (turned down 3 years at $8 million and signed a few months later for $300K with his tail between his legs). Come on, YT, stop playing games.

  • roxnsox | December 11, 2009 | 10:54 am

    I agree that Chris is likely to bust out (again). He’s only 26! I am very happy with the new deal to keep him around. Does anybody think the WBC took something out of him? (It doesn’t seem like it should have that big an effect, but how could he tear it up in that tournament and then flop later in the season?)

    Yorvit is what he is; the hot streak was not a fluke, but it was Yorvy – a streak. He has occasional very clutch hits – fine. And I’ve said it before, along with many of you: a catcher has GOT to throw some runners out at second!

    Ed the Ump – I like your comments. However, we’re not all Fellas here ;-)

  • roxnsox | December 11, 2009 | 11:01 am

    …and great discussion, everyone. Good to be back on ITR! Even with a quiet winter, hopefully Steve, Jack and Tracy can get us together now and then.

  • Roger | December 11, 2009 | 11:24 am

    Let Tore go.
    Phillips can handle it and if one goes down you have mchenry and buller and I am sure they are going to pick up another high level minor league free agent.
    Its a backup

  • Mike | December 11, 2009 | 11:28 am

    Since I believe the Rays have the first non-protected draft pick in 2010 we need them to go out and sign Marquis so we can have their 1st round pick. :) Never hurts to hope.

  • Steve N | December 11, 2009 | 11:37 am

    New reports this morning are saying the Rox and Yorvit are $400,000 apart on a contract. YT wants $6 million Rox offered $5.6 million. Yorvit is heading to NY to talk to the Mets about an outstanding grievance so speculation is he may use them as leverage or more. Likely a deal won’t get made ’till nest week of later.

  • Julian | December 11, 2009 | 11:49 am

    I’m confused by the catching situation. I understand the desire to create stability by giving Ianetta the three year contract. What I wonder is will he be the starting catcher in two or three years given McHenry and Rosario coming through the system, and, if he is not the starting catcher in two or three years, then will we be overpaying him as a backup.

    Given that we have extended Ianetta’s contract for three years, and have McHenry and Rosario coming through the system, it would seem that we would want to have a one year contract for a backup catcher not a two year contract.

    Also, I thought we signed a backup catcher to a minor league contract who did OK in a limited stint with the Rockies last year (I can’t remember his name). I haven’t seen his name in any discussions about the Rockies’ catching situation next year. Would he be a suitable backup catcher for a year?

    Can either Chris or Yorvit serve as the backup first baseman to get a right handed bat in that role? (I know that there has been discussion of Hawpe playing that role, but of course he and Helton are both left handed).

  • ProgMatinee | December 11, 2009 | 12:16 pm

    I think Yorvit is very valuable around the clubhouse and with the young latino pitchers especially. I think its worth slightly overpaying for that.

    I think locking up Ianetta for relatively cheap is also a good idea. He has the skills to be the an All-Star even though he hasn’t fully shown it consistantly yet.

    In 2 years I think you give Rosario a shot to make the club just like they did with Chris in 2007. Hopefully he makes it, you let Yorvit go then and start evaluating whether you like Ianetta or Rosario long term and either trade 1 or move him to another position…

  • Steve Foster | December 11, 2009 | 1:23 pm

    On Marquis and free-agent compensation: He’s a Type B free agent, which means the Rockies will get a pick in the supplemental first round. But whatever team signs him will not lose a pick, so who ends up signing him is inconsequential other than to see how much his solid year with the Rockies means to him financially.

    More on the catching: Julian, the catcher you’re thinking of signed to the minor league contract is Paul Phillips, who a few others have noted in this thread. He did a solid job when Torrealba and Iannetta were out in late May and early June. He could handle the backup job, especially if Iannetta bounces back and plays every day. But the Rockies are looking for a little more from their backup and Phillips is probably better as insurance like last season.

    Mike McKenry is moving through the system steadily, but struggled a bit early last season at Double-A. Not sure he’s going to make it as a starter, but he could end up pushing for the backup spot in 2011, which would be the last year of Torrealba’s contract if he comes back. Tracy Ringolsby, in his list of top Rockies prospects over at Baseball America, suggests Rosario could be pushing Iannetta for the starting job in 2012, which would be the last year of Iannetta’s contract. Rosario’s still very raw, so don’t expect him to rush through the system. The Rockies have pushed him the past two seasons, but he’s likely to see full seasons at Double-A and Triple-A before he tastes the big leagues.

  • Curt in Florida | December 11, 2009 | 2:26 pm

    The latest report this afternoon is that the Phillies, Mets, Nats, Orioles and Mariners are “interested” in Marquis. I have no preference for where he goes (see Steve’s comments above). What I DO NOT want is for the Phillies to get Roy Halladay. That would just be unfair.

  • David Martin | December 11, 2009 | 2:35 pm

    Reader f/k/a Mike said:
    “why not let Torrealba prove that the hot streak was a fluke”

    Haven’t you been through enough of this at PR? Do you really think that after ~1800 PA’s of hitting .250 that Torrealba suddenly turned into a .300 hitter at age 30?

    No…I don’t think that Torrealba has turned into a .300 hitter, and I do not believe that Torrealba is the greatest catcher since Johnny Bench. However, I am also not yet convinced that Chris Iannetta is better than him.

  • Curt in Florida | December 11, 2009 | 2:36 pm

    Interesting list of tomorrow’s non-tenders at http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/

  • Julian | December 11, 2009 | 2:42 pm

    Thanks, Steve. I really appreciate your detailed response. I feel a lot better about the lengths of the contracts offered to Chris and Yorvit.

  • James | December 11, 2009 | 6:54 pm

    David – what do you need to be convinced? Clearly statistics mean nothing to you. Even with Torrealba’s hot end to 2009, Iannetta had a far superior season at the plate. That doesn’t even factor in defense, where Iannetta is at worst average, and Torrealba is one of the worst catch and throw guys in the league.
    I don’t know where you’re getting that they are just handing Iannetta the job as well. All of their public overtures are that they want to bring in someone to challange for the “Starter’s” job – which by the way will still likely only be about 100 games – vs. 60 to the “backup”. Iannetta is the favorite because as Steve said, he is the most likely of the two to produce.

  • Andrew | December 11, 2009 | 9:25 pm

    Funny how the Rockies won all those games when Torrealba was not with the team. Clearly indispensable leadership.

    Thanks for the rundown

  • Nick | December 12, 2009 | 8:36 am

    Why did the Rockies non-tender Atkins? If he went to arbitration, wouldn’t he only get like a million, maybe two based on his miserable 2009?

  • ProgMatinee | December 12, 2009 | 9:21 am

    I think there is rule that says something like a player cannot have a decrease greater than some percentage while remaining on the same team. I think its probably to avoid collusion.

  • Jack Etkin | December 12, 2009 | 9:28 am

    Nick,

    A team cannot cut the salary of one of its players more than 20 percent. Atkins made $7.05M in 2009, which means the Rockies would have to pay him no less than $5.64M next season. That’s a steep price for someone they view as a bench player.

  • Nick | December 12, 2009 | 11:46 pm

    aha. didn’t know that part. makes sense now. thanks jack.

  • Rich M | December 16, 2009 | 7:16 am

    Great website guys!

    Steve Foster is right on the mark with the post above about the catching and the depth that the Rockies have in McKendry (backup type) and Rosario (2012 at the earliest). Giving YT two years and that much money – great insurance but that’s still a lot to pay. My preference is to get an inexpensive catcher that can hit left handed – JOSH BARD.

    Quiet off season is alright, however I do expect that the Rockies will address that right hand hitting corner outfielder with a power bat. ODowd is simply waiting out the market, and in my opinion he does his best work towards the end of the off season (example Jason Marquis). Trading something like Hawpe for Quentin, althought the money doesn’t match up very well. Or take a cheap flyer on Baldelli!

    I still like Orlando Hudson too, but his price has to come down a lot!

    And yes I love Jason Giambi and what he brought to the club in 2009, however he doesn’t fit the Rockies 2010 season or long term situation – at all. He only fits at a drastically reduced price (not likely), when rosters are expanded in September, or the playoffs when you can afford to go with less defense off the bench.

    Really like the site guys – strong posters too – keep up the good work. Thanks!