February 25, 2013
A Snag in the Grand Plan
Last Thursday, we learned that Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd is still searching for rotation reinforcements, and that his options are mostly limited to the trade market, because a bid for Kyle Lohse is considered unlikely. Over the weekend, a source named a name to ESPN’s Buster Olney.
Jeff Niemann among Rays pitchers drawing Rockies’ attention
The Rays have pitchers, and the Rockies need them, so it makes perfect sense that O’Dowd and Friedman are in touch. Meanwhile, Colorado—per last week’s report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal—has a surplus of catchers and other position players from which to deal. Tampa Bay does not have a glaring need for catcher or infield depth, even after sending Elliot Johnson to the Royals as the player to be named later in the aforementioned Shields-Myers trade, and, interestingly enough, Friedman and O’Dowd struck a barter just 11 days ago, when the latter added Reid Brignac to his existing stockpile.
A 6-foot-9, 260-pound behemoth, Niemann no longer throws 94, like he did at the beginning of his career, or 92, like he did in 2010, but the downward plane on his hard stuff enables him to generate ground balls, and he has a complete assortment of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance. Unfortunately, he also has a complete assortment of shoulder ailments in his injury history, most recently a strain that cost him the last month of the 2012 season. Niemann made only eight starts last year, mainly because of a fractured fibula that put him on the disabled list from May 15 to September 1. But while the leg injury was a freakish occurrence caused by a batted ball, the arm trouble that cropped up in the fourth inning of his return fits a worrisome trend that dates back to 2005.
Nonetheless, Niemann’s ability to induce grounders appeals to the Rockies, who added Chris Volstad on a minor-league deal earlier this offseason but are looking for more proven hurlers whose style is impervious to the thin air at Coors Field. Niemann, who turns 30 on Thursday, matches the job description, having posted a career-high 51.4 percent ground-ball clip in 2012, over an admittedly limited, 38-inning sample. The northpaw is owed $3 million for the coming season, a salary that he garnered by forgoing his second year of arbitration eligibility, and is projected by PECOTA for 1.1 WARP over 19 starts.
With pitch-framing wizard Jose Molina back on a $1.8 million club option, Jose Lobaton returning to spell him, and Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez providing depth, the Rays are likely comfortable with their situation behind the dish. Ben Zobrist’s versatility mitigates most of their concerns at second base, where Ryan Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Sean Rodriguez are set to vie for playing time. And Friedman addressed the designated-hitter opening by bringing back Luke Scott earlier this month, essentially rounding out his Opening Day roster.