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February 21, 2013

Rumor Roundup

A Rocky Rotation

by Daniel Rathman

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The trade market came alive, if only briefly, on Wednesday, when the Red Sox acquired Mike Carp from the Mariners for a player to be named later or cash. Those hoping for more Hot Stove action might now want to turn their eyes toward Colorado, where general manager Dan O’Dowd is understandably discontent with his current rotation.

Rockies could seek starting pitcher via trade
According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, O’Dowd is exploring deals for a reliable, number-four-type starter, who could offer 175 dependable innings to a rotation teeming with question marks. First-year manager Walt Weiss inherited from his predecessor, Jim Tracy, a starting crew that ranked dead last in the majors with a 5.81 ERA in 2012. That figure is bloated by the 81 games the Rockies played at Coors Field, and potentially also by the 75-pitch limit that the team imposed on its starters midyear, but barring a significant rotation improvement, another last-place finish might well be in store.

The greatest source of optimism for fans is that the team’s top two projected starters, left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, are healthy entering camp. De La Rosa missed all but the last two weeks of the 2012 season, after undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 3, 2011, and Chacin spent 111 games on the disabled list with inflammation in his throwing shoulder last year. The 31-year-old De La Rosa was a three-win pitcher in 2009—the only 30-plus-start campaign of his career—and Chacin has shown flashes of the stuff that made him the organization’s fourth-best prospect entering the 2010 season, amid bouts with arm trouble and inconsistency. Neither is a sure thing, but the bar has been set so low that even a 1.5-win effort from both of them could go a long way toward boosting the Rockies’ win total.

Beyond that, Weiss and the Rockies can currently do little more than hope for a breakout season from Drew Pomeranz and/or Juan Nicasio. The latter made a miraculous recovery from a skull fracture suffered when a line drive struck his head in August 2011, only to require season-ending microfracture knee surgery last summer. Fifth starter Jeff Francis, who returned on a $1.5 million hitch after coming back to Denver when the Reds released him last June, has not been the same since he went under the knife to repair a torn labrum four years ago.

Put all of that together, and O’Dowd’s 11th-hour search for rotation help is logical, albeit also challenging. The veteran GM focused on ground-ball pitchers earlier this offseason, bringing Chris Volstad into the fold as a non-roster invitee, and a reliable sinkerballer might still be at the top of his wish list. With Troy Tulowitzki now fully recovered from the groin injury that cost him 113 games last year, the Rockies should enjoy a significant improvement in infield defense, a weakness that contributed to their pitchers’ demise. Colorado ranked 28th in the majors in ground-ball defensive efficiency last year, allowing opposing batters a .254 average on rollers and bouncers, and Josh Rutledge (-3.8 FRAA) and Jordan Pacheco (-7.9 FRAA) were the biggest culprits.

Incidentally, Pacheco might one of the chips that O’Dowd has placed on the table in his search. The 27-year-old hit .309 in 505 plate appearances last year, albeit with little over-the-fence power. An infielder, turned catcher, turned infielder, it’s easy to forgive Pacheco for struggling with the glove, but without an improved defensive profile, he lacks the credentials for an everyday job. As Rosenthal pointed out, the Rockies have a plethora of catchers at Salt River Fields, and either Pacheco or Ramon Hernandez—who is owed $3.2 million in 2013 and thus is the preferred trade candidate—could be on the move.

The more difficult question is whom the Rockies might acquire. If the Dodgers are willing to send one of their surplus starters to a division rival, O’Dowd could phone Ned Colletti about either Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang. Then again, both Capuano and Harang are fly-ball pitchers, making them poor fits for Coors Field. Rick Porcello would make sense from a ground-ball standpoint, but Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski seems inclined to hold on to both the righty and southpaw Drew Smyly, who are jockeying for the last spot in manager Jim Leyland’s rotation. Reeling in Porcello would also require O’Dowd to part with much more than just a spare part.

Denver Post beat writer Patrick Saunders does not expect the Rockies to make a play for Kyle Lohse, so if O’Dowd fails to find a suitable trade addition, Weiss’ depth will be limited to pitchers already in camp. That list includes Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich, and Rob Scahill—all three of whom saw major-league time last year—as well as left-hander Danny Rosenbaum, who was plucked from the Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft. MLB.com’s Thomas Harding noted on Wednesday that although the Rockies previously viewed Rosenbaum as a reliever, they are stretching him out this spring, creating an opportunity for him to contribute to the rotation.

Lance Berkman already nursing a calf strain
In his Transaction Analysis of the Rangers’ early-January deal with Berkman, which will pay the 37-year-old $11 million, R.J. Anderson called the move “a risky, understandable gamble.”  Understandable because, with Josh Hamilton bolting for Anaheim and Mike Napoli penciled onto the Red Sox roster, general manager Jon Daniels was running out of options. Risky because Berkman underwent two surgeries on his right knee last year, and also spent three weeks on the shelf with a calf strain. It’s now Risky 1, Understandable 0.

Dallas Morning News columnist Evan Grant reported on Wednesday that Berkman is already nursing an aching calf. Earlier in the week, Berkman told Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he is still recovering from September knee surgery to repair his meniscus, labeling his current state as “80 percent.” A National Leaguer for all but 37 games of his 1,806-game career, Berkman should benefit—from a durability perspective—from his new role as the Rangers’ designated hitter, but his ability to stay on the field could play a pivotal role in the American League West race.

PECOTA projects Berkman to provide 2.9 WARP worth of value, to go with a .301 TAv—a production level that would easily recoup Daniels’ $11 million investment. But PECOTA also forecast 510 plate appearances for the switch-hitter, a volume that he has attained only once in the past three years. There is plenty of time for Berkman to rest up and silence those who have questioned Daniels’ decision to entrust him with the designated-hitter role. Just six days after the Rangers’ position players were required to report to Arizona, though, the doubters have inched their way to an early lead. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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