July 2005

Rockies 9, Phillies 2

The Rockies avoid the sweep thanks to a 9-run inning off of Jon Lieber and another solid home start by Jeff Francis. Omar Quintanilla was 1 for 3 in his first game with the big club. Ryan Shealy was 2 for 4. Dustan Mohr had a double and a homer but sadly was not traded. J.D. Closser responded to his near-demotion with a 2 for 4 day including a double.

The big news today is no news at all. The Rockies were unable to move Larry Bigbie, Mohr, or Desi Relaford. The official site has a bill of sale to present to you on this issue. Don’t believe the hype. Colorado bungled this trade season badly and if there was any justice in the world heads would roll for it. Zach Day, J.J. Davis, Bigbie, and miscellaneous Yankee "prospects" are not building blocks for the future. Quintanilla is going to be a good one (and even right now, he’s approximately a million billion times better than Aaron Miles), but whatever happened with Boston, the fact is the organization is now saddled with more singles-hitting tweener outfielders than they could possibly have any use for. They still don’t have a catcher. And, extraordinarily, they’ve failed to add even a single acceptable starting pitcher candidate (Day doesn’t count) even while sending off Shawn Chacon and Joe Kennedy.

I watched ESPNews all day today and not a mention was made of the shoddy handling Boston made of their "agreed-upon" deal with O’Dowd. The sad fact is nobody cares when a successful team with a national following reams one run by gibbering idiots. They expect it, actually. Still, would you rather be a fan of the Rockies, who gave up a roll call of popular players for basically nothing, or Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay, who refused to back down on their demands for solid returns and ended up doing not much at all?

Except for Mohr, whom I suppose is not too long of a shot for a waiver deal, the Rockies’ lineup today reflected the youth movement that we’ve been promised since before spring training started. About time. With Shoppach off the board, there is no defensible reason for not giving J.D. Closser the bulk of the starts at catcher the rest of the year. Atkins-Luis Gonzalez-Q-Ryan Shealy isn’t a bad little infield. Matt Holliday should stay a fixture in left. Bigbie, Jorge Piedra, and Cory Sullivan will have to work it out amongst themselves who will grab the other spot after Brad Hawpe returns. Still, and I can’t emphasize this enough: We already had options for the infield. We already had a bunch of slap-hitting outfielders. We already have demonstrated that a decent to good Coors bullpen can be assembled using smoke, the Rule 5 draft, and mirrors. Where’s our catcher? Where’s our strikeout starting staff? For whom does the bell toll, Dan O’Dowd? It tolls for thee.

Phillies 8, Rockies 7

Aaron Cook dug the Rockies a hole they couldn’t get out of, even with a pair of Matt Holliday homers. The Colorado bullpen was really good (again), but even a rare 11-hit performance by the offense couldn’t overcome Cook, who gave up 11 hits himself (and 7 earned runs) in four and a third. Did they rush him back? Does it matter?

Meanwhile, Dan O’Dowd looks stupid (surprise, surprise) as he ends up stuck with Larry Bigbie as the Boston deal falls apart. The Red Sox grabbed Jose Cruz, Jr. from the Diamondbacks so they don’t want Bigbie even if they can’t send Shoppach to Tampa Bay for Aubrey Huff. What does it say about O’Dowd that the Red Sox would rather work with Chuck LaMar, who’s like a "South Park" character when it comes to negotiating trades (and I’m not just talking about the overextended run): "Han-LEY! Han-LEY! Han-LEY! Hanley."

The Rockies will try and create the illusion of progress by designating Desi Relaford for assignment (as they should have done in, oh, April) and calling up Omar Quintanilla. Make no mistake, though, if they don’t move Bigbie before the deadline, this trade season has been a spectacular failure. The Rockies’ shopping list was not iffy relief prospects, more tweener outfielders, and a second baseman. Not only haven’t the Rockies gotten any of the pieces they needed (besides Quintanilla), but they burned off two of their best offseason trading chips in Byrnes and Chacon. The Rockies are going to be awful the rest of this year with the starting pitching they have, and they’re going to be equally bad next year. No more second chances, Dan.

I want to believe the best about what the team is trying to do but the end result of their manuevering thus far strains credibility past its breaking point. This isn’t Pittsburgh or Kansas City. The Rockies’ attendance woes are their own fault and I fail to see how trading Preston Wilson,Shawn Chacon, and Eric Byrnes for buckets of dirt (thrifty dirt) gives them any chance whatsoever of improving the product on the field.

So, Oakland looks pretty good, huh? Think the Brewers have a shot at .500? What are the White Sox going to do in the wake of the Frank Thomas injury? There’s too much good season left to waste much time thinking about Colorado baseball.

Update: For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Rumor Central (subscription required) says four or five other teams have an interest in Bigbie and he could still be traded before the deadline, which is in less than three hours.

Down to the Wire

Boston.com reports Bigbie for Shoppach/Stern is dead. On the other hand ESPN says Tampa Bay is now out of the Man-Ram discussions and the Red Sox and Mets will work it out by themselves if it gets worked out at all. Apparently Chuck LaMar wanted Jon Lester and Hanley Ramirez. Is it any wonder the experts say LaMar "doesn’t know how to trade?" I doubt Shoppach is going to be involved in a Mike Cameron-for-Manny deal, so the Bigbie trade may well be resurrected at the last moment.

Shawn Chacon pitched well in his Yankees debut, helping defeat the Angels (and move the A’s to a mere 2 1/2 back). Aaron Cook unfortunately has not been so great in his first major league start of the year.

Still Mo’ Trades

Now, this is more like it. Hours after the Eric Byrnes-for-Larry Bigbie trade was announced, Colorado flips Bigbie to Boston for a younger, cheaper lefty-swinging outfielder who hits for average and can play some center, and a potential long-term solution at catcher (link courtesy of Purple Row). Bigbie for Kelly Shoppach and Adam Stern (or, in the long view, Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy for Shoppach, Stern, and Omar Quintanilla) is a deal that improves the Colorado organization while costing them little.

Shoppach Kelly Shoppach is the prize here, so let’s do him first. Kelly is 25 (born 4/29/1980) and is regarded as a fine defensive backstop. More pleasing to mine eyes are his high walk numbers and 22 homers for the PawSox last season. He’s killing ‘em in repeating AAA this year: 21 jacks, .260/.360/.527. And the Prospectus says Pawtucket is a pitchers’ park! BP projected him to have a higher (major league) VORP than either Closser or Ardoin this year so the Rockies ought to plug him right in. Any trade that brings an end to the ugliness of the Danny Ardoin era is sunshine and posies to me. The Baseball America book has him as the #8 guy in the Red Sox system and notes that he was voted best defensive catcher by International League managers last year. He strikes out a lot, but if he can hit homers and draw walks, who cares? Shoppach was a second-round pick by the Red Sox out of Baylor in 2001. He’s 5’11", 210 in case you were planning on buying him a suit. He swings righty.

Stern Adam Stern is more of a sleeper, but his line in AAA is sweet: .303/.365/.474 in 76 ABs. Stern was only in Pawtucket because he was recovering from a broken right thumb he suffered in spring training; he’s a Rule 5 guy originally from the Braves’ organization. He’s 5’11", 180 and was born 2/12/1980 (the same month as me, incidentally). Unlike most Atlanta prospects, he went to college. The Braves took him in the third round out of Nebraska in ’01. It’s easy to see what attracted Theo Epstein to Stern: a .378 OBP in AA Greenville last year. Stern has no home run power whatsoever (14 on his career) but he’ll hit some doubles and he can steal a base. John Sickels says Stern "has a solid lefty swing and should hit for average at all levels." BA has him at #23 in the Boston system. If the slight uptick in walk rate Stern has showed this season isn’t a fluke, he’s going to be a real useful player.

A starting lineup next Opening Day of Hawpe, Stern, and Holliday in the outfield, Atkins, Barmes, Quintanilla, and Todd Helton on the infield, and a battery of Jeff Francis and Shoppach isn’t awful for the price the Rockies will be paying. Aside from the vexing question of who’s going to pitch the second, third, fourth, and fifth games.

Update: As of very early Saturday morning the Boston Herald was reporting that Shoppach was among the prospects to be included in a package sent to Tampa Bay as part of a three-way Manny Ramirez deal also involving the Mets. ESPN is calling that same deal as good as dead. The Boston Globe seems more sanguine about a Manny deal going through but is less certain that Shoppach will be included. It’s possible that Man-Ram will get his way (although how New York is going to offer him greater privacy is beyond me) and the lesser Bigbie deal will occur as here described. The Denver Post seems a beat or two behind but does note that Anderson Machado is gone (Anderson, we hardly knew ye) and Desi Relaford will follow him by the trade deadline one way or another. The future is now!

Phillies 8, Rockies 5 and Phillies 5, Rockies 3

Hey, in all the trade excitement, I kind of forgot that the Rockies continue to go out and do the work involved in losing ballgames, which they have set to with aplomb the past two days. Thursday’s game featured multihit performances from Garrett Atkins and Eric Byrnes and an about average outing from BK Kim, who gave up five in 6 2/3. The loss was charged to Mike DeJean, who was bled for 3 runs in the top of the ninth. Randy Williams struck out both guys he faced, if that counts as a silver lining. Philadelphia’s Chase Utley had two doubles and a homer.

Today poor planning on the part of management cost the Rockies a game as Jose Acevedo got smacked around on short rest, allowing a four-run second and lasting only three innings total. Matt Holliday continues to hit well (3 for 4 with a double and a homer) but the rest of the team combined for four hits. Danny Ardoin was 0 for 4 with four strikeouts. Byrnes went right back below .200 with an 0-for-4 outing. Farewell, Eric. I can’t say you will be missed.

Mo’ Trades

Eric Byrnes for Larry Bigbie. Ah, yeah. Bigbie is lefthanded, and cheaper. The Rockies still have way too many outfielders who don’t hit home runs.

Meanwhile, the expected crazy stuff is going down right before the deadline. The Padres found a team to trade Phil Nevin to that he couldn’t veto, the Rangers. For their trouble they get Chan Ho Park. It’s like bad contract-palooza. Torii Hunter could be out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. That could be it for the Twins’ playoff chances. Meanwhile the Mets, Red Sox, and Devil Rays are working on a super-colossal Man-Ram deal. Who knows, trading franchise players has suddenly become good luck for Boston. I’m watching Oakland and Detroit as I’m writing this and it honestly looks as if the A’s may never lose again. Kirk Saarloos is their fifth starter and he’s better than anyone the Rockies have now or in fact have ever had. That’s kind of depressing.

Word On the Trade

ESPN’s Trade Scorecard: "Low quality" for both sides. Dan O’Dowd in the Denver Post: "We just didn’t feel like Chacon and Kennedy were part of the core." On the subject of O’Dowd, an ESPN fan poll ranks him 26th among current general managers, just ahead of luminaries Dan O’Brien, Dave Littlefield, Allard Baird, and Chuck LaMar. Has anyone ever held a job longer for doing less than Chuck LaMar? Interesting stat from SI’s power rankings: the Rockies are 1-17 against lefthanded starters on the road.

Hey, Baseball Prospectus is having a free preview, so you can read what they have to say about the trade from the Rockies’ and Yankees’ points of view until August 3rd. Chris Kahrl: "Two live arms are, I suppose, a market-appropriate price for a pitcher you don’t like having around, and who on top of that is due for another big arbitration raise. It’s probably too much to expect or to wish for something that might change the franchise’s fortunes." Also: trade reports from Baseball America, the New York Daily News, and the New York Times (reg. required), which notes that the Yankees have used an ML-leading 12 starters so far this year. Chacon and potentially Hideo Nomo could make 13 and 14. The irony of the mighty Yankees looking to Colorado for pitching help is not lost on the New York Post. The Rocky Mountain News plays up the angle of the local kid being thrown to the wolves in the big city. Seriously, what do people think the over/under should be on starts made by Chac in New York the rest of this year? Four? Five?

Out in the blogsphere, RDR is fightin’ mad, and Purple Row has a more measured take. What do I think? Well, on a team as bad as the Rockies, no one is untouchable. I don’t think Chacon is either as good as some have it or as truly awful as he was last year. He’s not a number one starter in anyone’s book but the Rockies weren’t paying him to be one. The question is whether moving Chacon will improve the team either directly through the performances of Sierra and Ramirez or indirectly through how the team spends the money that otherwise would have been earmarked for Shawn’s 2006 salary. I doubt two average middle relief prospects will be as valuable to the organization as the starter with the highest VORP on the major league team this year. The other question is more complicated. Will the Rockies go out and spend money on a difference-maker (logically a catcher) next year? Well, they really shouldn’t, because when you look at the talent they have available for ’06, how much difference can a difference-maker make? Maybe push them into fourth place?

If the Rockies really couldn’t do anything better than two Yankee arms for Chac, they should have held on to him. They’re not going to be able to sign a better starter for the money they’ll have available, and they don’t have an ML-ready guy to step in for him next year. At the very least they could have waited until the offseason when more teams are willing to move players around. This deal does nothing to make the team better short- or long-term and with a franchise in as dire straits as Colorado, that’s pretty hard to do.

Breaking News

The Rockies have traded Shawn Chacon to the Yankees for two minor league righthanders, Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra. So much for our passable five-man rotation.

RamirezRamon Ramirez is a little (5’11") guy with a weird career path. Born 8/31/1981, he was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Rangers as an outfielder in ’96 and ended up starting his pitching career with the Hiroshima Carp in 2002. He’s still only 23 and his strikeout numbers are pretty good, so we shall see. He does tend to allow home runs at a pretty good clip and therefore hasn’t posted real impressive minor league ERA numbers. He has good numbers at Dayton so far this year (good K/BB, only 3 homers in 81 innings) but he’s old for Single-A. He’s spent most of his time starting this year but the experts say he’s middle relief material in the bigs. Baseball America has him at #23 in the Yankees’ system. John Sickels doesn’t list him at all this year (or in ’03 or ’04).

Sierra_1 Eduardo Sierra is taller (6’3") and younger (born 4/15/1982). He’s a Dominican as well, originally in the Athletics’ system until they flipped him to New York for Chris Hammond a year and a half ago. You can sum Sierra up in one word: walks. And lots of them. He’s at 5.93 BB/9 this season with AA Trenton and was at 8.3 last year with Tampa. High walk rates and Coors Field go together like Shaq and Kobe. This guy hasn’t started since low-A and was obviously not long for the Yankees, who can’t bear to pay a middle reliever the minimum when they could possibly pay him $5 million. BA ranks him #16 in the New York system based solely it seems on the fact that he can throw mid-90’s. Sickels, again, demurs.

I’m not excited about either of these guys, and you shouldn’t be either. The only reason either of these fellows even appears in the prospect books is you have to put some names under "New York Yankees."

Philibusters

PhilliesWhat’s the deal with the Phillies? They’ve easily had the most talent in their division every year since Atlanta’s Big Three broke up, yet they always seem to have to scuffle to stay in third place. Every year I seem to pick the Phillies to go to the World Series or at least win their division and they make me look silly. What’s their problem, exactly?

Well, one problem might be management. Larry Bowa seemingly did everything but salt the outfields at Citizens Bank Park on his way to being shown the door. Charlie Manuel is no Earl Weaver. Another thing is a slight tendency to hyperventilate about how close they are and overpay for guys they don’t need that badly, like David Bell, Kevin Millwood, and even Jim Thome. Bobby Abreu is a terrific player, one of the best in baseball, but if you ask any serious Philadelphia fan they will give you a long speech about his inability to do anything worthwhile in the clutch. They can’t beat Florida to save their lives. And while their rotation is usually pretty solid overall, they haven’t had a shutdown, #1, money-in-the-bank guy since Curt Schilling went to the desert.

This year, injuries and questionable team construction may doom the Phillies to yet another almost-but-not-quite year. They’re over .500 (52-50) and hardly out of it in the tooth-and-claw NL East, but the omens don’t look good. Jim Thome is breaking down (.207/.360.352) and blocking the fine Ryan Howard (.264/.339/.491) while he’s at it. Thome is hardly the only Phillie signed to an epic-length contract that looks done right here and now. Mike Lieberthal is plodding along at .236/.325/.400. Bell stands at .246/.298/.355. Jimmy Rollins, who just got a colossal extension this year, is at .276/.317/.409. The Phillies play in one of the most extreme examples of the new generation of brand-named bandboxes yet they’re only 9th in the NL in slugging percentage. They do get on base though (tied for first in OBP) and they’re third in total runs scored. A middle of the lineup with Chase Utley, Abreu, and Pat Burrell will do that for you. Centerfielder Jason Michaels is very quietly having a great year (.303/.407/.404) as well. If Manuel was smart enough to hit Michaels leadoff instead of Rollins, the Phillies would lead the league in runs. Obsessed with the outmoded concept of "good speed" in the leadoff slot, Manuel is subjecting his "contending" team to the seventh-worst OBP from the leadoff slot in the majors. (Colorado is 27th. Et tu, Cory Sullivan and Aaron Miles?)

On to the pitching. You can lay some of the blame on the ballpark, but Philly’s pitching has taken somewhat of a step backwards this year. Their staff is 12th in the NL in ERA, 11th in opponents’ OPS, and second in home runs allowed. Their strikeout and WHIP numbers are good but when they get hit, they get hit hard (13th in slugging allowed). For this four-game series the Rockies will draw Robinson Tejeda, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, and Jon Lieber. (They will face Byung-Hyun Kim, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook, and Jeff Francis respectively.) Tonight’s starter Tejeda actually has the best numbers among the group, posting a 2.90 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and only two homers allowed in 49 2/3 innings pitched divided between starting and the bullpen. Lidle and Lieber have been basically the same guy this year — 4.63 to 4.69 ERA, 5.68 to 5.64 K/9, and identical WHIPs of 1.32. Myers has been better (3.24, 8.51, 1.17). Like any team they have some soft touches in middle relief, but you don’t want to mess with the back end of their bullpen, which features two guys with sub-1.00 WHIP (Billy Wagner and Aaron Fultz) and strikeout machine Ugie Urbina.

Success in this series for the Rockies will depend on knocking the likes of Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber out of their games early and continued good performance from Colorado’s own middle relief corps. I hardly like to make a prediction after being so dead-on with the Mets, but I think a split is probably in order with Philadelphia claiming the first two games and Colorado taking the second. Fans should pay particularly close attention to Aaron Cook’s start on Saturday. A good performance could mean Jamey Wright getting tossed out of the rotation (finally) and the Rockies going with an acceptable Kim-Francis-Cook-Acevedo-Chacon fivesome for the rest of the year.

Mets 9, Rockies 3

Hey, how ’bout that Jamey Wright? He’s…not very good. After giving up solo home runs to Marlon Anderson (twice) and Ramon Castro, Wright began the 5th by allowing a bunt single to Mets pitcher Victor Zambrano. Zambrano would come up again in the inning as New York scored six runs, all charged to Wright. Marcos Carvajal ended up striking out the side (and six total in three innings) but did allow both of the runners he inherited from Wright to score. The Rockies loaded the bases against Danny Graves in the ninth, possibly giving him flashbacks to his historic meltdown against St. Louis earlier in the year while he was pitching for Cincinnati, but it wasn’t happenin’ for Colorado tonight.

With Todd Helton unavailable, look at the lineup the Rockies fielded: Sullivan, Miles, Holliday, Atkins, Byrnes, Shealy, Relaford, Ardoin, Wright. That’s not imposing. Zambrano had a good night for the Mets, striking out five and walking a couple as he usually does. But despite a high pitch count, the Rockies let Zambrano through the crucial sixth and seventh innings and then could hardly mount a comeback against one of the worst relief pitchers in baseball. Just another one of those games.

Apparently Doug Mientkiewicz was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with an 8-run lead. I didn’t notice while I was at the ballgame, thanks to that ever-alert Denver P.A. announcer who only occasionally mentions pitching changes. Wouldn’t want to distract anyone’s focus during the jumbotron baseball cap shell game, now would we?

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