November 2005

At a Loss

The way the free agent market has been developing in the past several days, I’m almost afraid to post. What’s the use in ridiculing the contracts Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry received when only a few days later Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan got Monopoly money? It’s insane. You can question the Rockies’ commitment to spending the money required to build a winner, but this offseason, they look real smart by default for not playing the games the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays (???) are engaged in.

As for Dan O’Dowd’s operations down in the bottom-feeder market, Felix Rodriguez and Jose Mesa are slightly more appealing options than the previously discussed Elmer Dessens and Shawn Estes, at the right price anyway. The Rockies are going to get some new catchers to look at, but whether they will be any better than the current crop is subject to some debate. I will duly note that the names floating at the moment are Josh Bard and Yorvit Torrealba; I don’t have anything further to say on the subject. The Post also throws out the name of Phillies outfielder Jason Michaels, which is sort of funny because I traded for him in my Rockies MLB 2K5 season. He’s another fourth outfielder/tweener kind of guy, which Colorado seriously has coming out of their ears at this point, but I guess he’s cheaper and not much of a downgrade from Larry Bigbie, who seems as good as gone at this point. Frankly I think that Clint Hurdle would be best off sticking with Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday at the corners, giving Cory Sullivan the centerfield job to lose, and maybe throwing Ryan Shealy into the mix as an outfielder in smaller road parks, a backup first baseman, and a DH in interleague games. The Rockies wasted a lot of playing time and money on Dustan Mohr last year, and it’s really not necessary to go down that road again with a similar "established" veteran outfielder type.

I’m going to get back to doing my 40-man roster review soon. I’m glad Paul Konerko stayed with the White Sox. The Orioles are rapidly becoming the new joke team of the AL East with Tampa Bay’s new dawn and the Blue Jays’ sudden spendthriftiness. The Cubs are going to spend a lot of money and not get a whole lot better, I believe. Oakland’s signing of Esteban Loaiza is a bit of a head-scratcher, but if they can get an absurd haul for Barry Zito like they got for Mark Mulder last year, they will win the AL West. Remember, Danny Haren was as good or better than Mulder last year, and the A’s got useful reliever Kiko Calero and hotshot prospect Daric Barton in the trade as well. The Tim Hudson deal with Atlanta was nowhere near as good (Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer, Juan Cruz), but as Gwen Knapp notes, Billy Beane had far less leverage in that instance than he seemingly does with Zito. And there’s still the possibility that Oakland could pull off a lower-wattage deal involving Kirk Saarloos and field a rotation of Zito, Joe Blanton, Haren, Loaiza, and Rich Harden. That’s pretty good. You know the A’s are going to get a bat somewhere, and the Loaiza signing won’t make complete sense until we find out who that bat is going to be. (Not Mike Piazza, I hope.)

Who in the NL West has gotten better so far this offseason? Not the Padres (who are making a last-ditch effort to retain Brian Giles), not the Diamondbacks (who have to trade Javier Vasquez), not the Giants (who are beginning to resemble an old-timers’ fantasy camp), and not the Dodgers (I don’t even know where to start). Can the Rockies bash their way into the postseason by beating up on their weak division siblings at Coors? Is it worth spending a little more money to be a 78-win "division champion?" Man, I love the hot stove season. Particularly since my two first picks for my fantasy basketball league (Andrei Kirilenko and Michael Redd) are injured and my football team had their winning streak snapped last weekend. Curse you, Peyton Manning.

Fishy

The Rockies don’t get compared much to their original expansion partners, the Florida Marlins, because there’s frankly no comparison. We have one playoff appearance since 1993; they have two championships. The Marlins have been completely disassembled and rebuilt since the Rockies were any good. But, they’re going to move and we’re staying in Denver. Why?

Since the early ’90s, every major league team except for the Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees without one has been agitating for a new stadium. Bud Selig, for all you might want to say about his other qualities, has managed to turn major league baseball’s antitrust exemption and relative scarcity into a hard and fast policy: if a city wants to attract (or keep) a team, public funds have to buy it a stadium. At the same time, new ownership groups have been selected not on on the basis of access to capital but on closeness to the existing cartel and willingness to work the established system. And so taxpayers have sprung for an ugly domed thing in Milwaukee that claimed several workmen’s lives and yet still has a leaky roof. The public has tripled the value of the Pittsburgh franchise for its eventual sale while seeing no improvement whatsoever on the field. They’ve built a barn in Detroit nobody likes while leaving old, charming Tiger Stadium to rot, still standing less than a mile away. And although it’s hardly a phenomenon unique to baseball, we’ve been subjected to stadium names that change more often than Reggie Sanders changes uniforms, all in an effort to prevent baseball’s owners from having to pay any money whatsoever towards improving their own business’s infrastructure. Comiskey to U.S. Cellular. Enron to Minute Maid. Bank One Ballpark to Chase Field. Joe Robbie Stadium to Pro Player Park. When does it all end?

The only team to finance its own park in the last 20 years is the Giants. It may be a coincidence, but Pac Bell Park — or whatever it’s called now, I guess nobody’s perfect — is by far the nicest of the new generation of quirky, asysmmetrical ballyards, as well as one of the most consistently filled. For their trouble San Francisco has received a black mark in the book of most other baseball owners, especially those still trying to find their free meal ticket in Minnesota, South Florida, Oakland, and elsewhere. Don’t let the fans know it’s possible to pay for your own ballpark and field a competitive team! That’s like taking away our license to print money!

As for the Marlins, I wrote when the Rockies travelled there early on the season that they were only some $30 million away from getting their own flip-top baseball-only facility right next to the Orange Bowl. Now they’re going to move over $30 million? Apparently so. And why wouldn’t they, when some city — likely Portland or Las Vegas — will be more than willing to promise them that money and so much more? MLB hasn’t quite reached the depths of the NBA, where certain owners move teams into situations where they know they have no hope of long-term success just to secure a few seasons of free rent and guaranteed minimum ticket sales. But look at the quagmire in Washington, D.C., where MLB is some four years behind schedule on finding a new ownership group for the former Expos. Are there groups with the capital to get a stadium built at least in part with private funds? Of course there are. Would baseball rather steer the team into the arms of a more cash-poor group who will guarantee not to rock the free money boat the current owners have sailing? You bet.

The Miami Herald‘s Dan Le Batard is playing the owners’ tune when he blames the Marlins’ failure on "the worst major-league city in North America." Hey, I can’t blame Miami fans for staying the heck away from Pro Player, home of the only outfield fence ad in baseball that can be seen from outer space. I can’t blame them for not coming back after the embarrassing ’98 post-championship fire sale either. They’re not one of the worst major-league cities on the continent, they’re one of the first to get smart. If Las Vegas or Portland wants to pay for their own version of the Tigers or Pirates and watch 20 years of .500 ball in half-full (but extremely profitable) tax shelters, that’s their business.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ new ownership is slashing ticket prices, loosening restrictions on outside food, and giving away parking spaces in an understanding that building a successful baseball franchise is not necessarily about ending up in the black every year. The Devil Rays, never close to the Marlins’ (or even the Rockies’) equal on the field, have it all over them when it comes to a business model.

Waiting Game

There hasn’t been much to report lately. Elmer Dessens is apparently headed for Kansas City, and more power to him. The Royals evidently plan to raise their payroll to $50 million next year, which means there will be at least one more team spending more per win than Colorado next year. Seriously, if the Rockies manage to find one more decent starter, they ought to win about 75 games next season, and I don’t see how Dessens and Reggie Sanders are somehow going to get the Royals more than 60.

If anyone still cares, Wayne Hagin, the broadcaster who went out of his way to disparage Todd Helton last spring, has lost his job with the Cardinals. The Cubs’ comical overpaying of Scott Eyre should prove again the wisdom of Colorado’s plans to extend Brian Fuentes’ contract. Less wise would be giving anything other than a minor-league contract to 40-year-old Jose Mesa. Given the ridiculous prices that even relief specialists are receiving in the current free agent market and that save for Fuentes the Rockies assembled their entire bullpen from waiver claims last year, Dan O’Dowd would be wise to tread cautiously.

CBS SportsLine has offseason checklists for all of the NL West teams. Unfortunately Scott Miller resorts to the usual cruise control reporting that the national baseball media uses with the Rockies; it’s "trade Todd Helton" this and "pitching at altitude" that. Plus he badmouths our Kims. Byung-Hyun and Sunny were our second and third best starters last year, thank you very much. Miller does stress continuity, which I approve of, but minus several points for the gratuitous Barmes/vension gag. A companion piece has nice things to say about Fuentes.

The Rockies seem to at least nominally still be in the running to acquire the services of Matt Morris, a useful starter whose price tag probably won’t be out of control thanks to his injury history. They’re competing (according to ESPN Insider) against the Royals and Mariners, both of whom should be significantly less competitive than Colorado next year, and Texas, the other place (besides here) where pitching goes to die. Morris is adjusting to life without a blazing fastball by concentrating on sinking stuff, and his double play and groundball/flyball numbers from last year look interesting. He’ll give up homers but he hasn’t walked too many recently. He’s worth a look at the right price, in short. If the Rangers remain somewhat gunshy from the Chan Ho Park blooper signing, Colorado could sneak in there. If the Rockies were able to sign Morris and bring back Byung-Hyun Kim, that would mark the first and second times in franchise history that Colorado acquired an above-average starting pitcher as a free agent for a reasonable dollar figure. And you know we’re all about moral victories around here.

MVPs

I was all ready to get angry, and the writers went and picked the right guys in both leagues. How annoying.

I suppose I could give some links now about the Rockies’ ongoing pursuit of Elmer Dessens, but who cares? Elmer Dessens? Wake me up if they decide to talk real money with Matt Morris.

Mo’ Awards

So some more awards have been announced. Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Cox won AL and NL Manager of the Year, and I’m fine with that. Chris Carpenter won the NL Cy Young, and had not Roger Clemens already won a bunch of things I might be a little mad, but obviously that’s not the case. I’m mildly angry about Bartolo Colon winning the AL Cy Young, but I’m saving my tantrum energy in case Andruw Jones somehow wins the NL MVP.

No major Rockies news to report yet. They’ve talked informally to Paul DePodesta about taking on an advisory role, but DePo is wisely waiting to see how the market shakes out. The rumor sites duly list Colorado’s interest in Matt Morris, but I’ll believe that when I see it. If Morris’s choices are really Seattle, Kansas City, and the Rockies as ESPN Insider claims, he might as well come here. (Speaking of the Mariners, is this Ichiro trade business for real, or as the Daily Quickie speculates, is it just the evil New York Media stirring up trouble again?) Paul Konerko will get his money somewhere, although the White Sox ought to be able to afford him. And our division rivals in Phoenix are going to lose one of their best pitchers.

More when we get those MVP announcements.

Rookies of the Year

Winners are Huston Street and Ryan Howard, probably the right two guys. Three Rockies on the NL ballot, albeit quite a ways back: Garrett Atkins (fourth), Jeff Francis (sixth), and Clint Barmes (eighth). It’s a shame that Barmes got hurt, because there really wasn’t a single rookie position player who played all season in the NL and put up impressive numbers. Which, yes, is a veiled slap at Houston’s Willy Taveras (.666 OPS in 152 games) and Atkins (.238/.301/.347 on the road). The Phillies still have no place to play Howard assuming Jim Thome returns to health. They might as well trade Thome and pay however much of his remaining salary it takes to do so; you have to figure that Howard at the minimum plus three-quarters of Thome’s money isn’t too bad of a deal. The question is why they signed Thome in the first place. All the teams lining up to give Paul Konerko big dollars for multiple years should take heed.

Huston Street is the man; it only took him half a season to build up a reputation as the second- or third-best closer in the American League. And that should be something teams looking to sign B.J. Ryan or Billy Wagner should pay attention to.

The Rockies’ free-agent shopping list is out there and it’s not pretty. There are more guys on here I am praying they don’t sign than guys I would be happy to see them add. Neifi Perez? Shawn Estes? Terry Mulholland? Elmer Dessens? No, no, no, no. As a corollary to our already-established "better than Mike Esposito" rule, I’d like to introduce the related "better than Omar Quintanilla" rule. Dan O’Dowd, Neifi Perez is not better than Omar Quintanilla. Actually, after a quick glance at Esposito’s hitting stats, I’m not sure he wouldn’t be a more efficacious option as a backup shortstop. Aren’t we trying to remake the image of the Colorado franchise here? How does bringing back guys who have already been bad for us to be bad some more help in this?

The one guy on the Post list whom we should have interest in is Byung-Hyun Kim, whose national reputation is still colored primarily by his remarkable 2001 postseason but was the Rockies’ second most reliable starter in 2005. If Dan O’Dowd elects to sign Shawn Estes over BK, this page will be a Royals blog next year.

Unintended Consequences

Here’s why it never pays to ignore any team in baseball, even one as lowly as the Rockies: it’s a small, closed community. Reputations matter, and folks have very long memories indeed. What am I talking about? Well, remember the three-way Orioles-Red Sox-Rockies deal that fell apart on Boston’s end way back in July? At the time, it was reported that it was Boston assistant GM Josh Byrnes (now GM in Arizona) who was at fault for promising Colorado Kelly Shoppach and Adam Stern for Larry Bigbie. Now according to ESPN.com’s Sean McAdam, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino was simply using Byrnes as a scapegoat. It was the higher-ups who made Byrnes and GM Theo Epstein pull out of the deal, and at the time Byrnes was the one who had the least to lose by taking the blame. In conversations with Colorado’s management and the local media, Lucchino threw Byrnes under the bus so that Epstein’s reputation might remain clean enough for him to continue dealing with Colorado and the numerous organizations who hold Dan O’Dowd’s word in high esteem.

Now Epstein is leaving his job with the Red Sox, and the reason according to McAdam might have something to do with Lucchino going one too many times to the well on the Shoppach story. After once deflecting blame towards Byrnes to help Epstein, Lucchino’s purposes were now served in his negotiations with Epstein over a new contract to make the young GM look bad. So Lucchino spread a story about his stepping in to save face for Epstein, Theo got wind of it, and basically said, "That’s it." He’d had enough. The younger generation of baseball minds — the Epsteins and Paul DePodestas — have very little use for the P.R. games the wily old guys like to play. They’re in it to win baseball games, or at least they thought they were.

Apparently Theo Epstein will take a year off to do social work with his brother, and good for him if that’s the case. There are things more important than winning all the time, things more important than always seeming to have the upper hand. You have to wonder if Larry Lucchino appreciates that.

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