Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
January 24, 2000
NL West Notebook
The division's biggest changesNote: I originally wrote that Kurt Manwaring was still a Rockies property. Thanks to reader Ed Skibbe for pointing out that the team actually bought out his contract, rather than resigning him, so he's not their problem anymore. -DP
Colorado in Transition
When Colorado hired Dan O'Dowd as their new general manager, some organizational change was to be expected. What O'Dowd has done goes significantly beyond that. Let's take a look at the Rockies' offseason moves.
Added: P Rolando Arrojo, P Manny Aybar, P Stan Belinda, P Rick Croushore, P Butch Henry, P Jose Jimenez, P Scott Karl, P Mike Myers, P Julian Tavarez, P Masato Yoshii, C Brent Mayne, C Scott Servais, IF Aaron Ledesma, IF Brent Butler, 3B Jeff Cirillo, CF Tom Goodwin, OF Jeff Hammonds
Subtracted: P Darryl Kile, P Lariel Gonzalez, P Luther Hackman, P Curt Leskanic, P Bobby M. Jones, P Roberto Ramirez, P Dave Veres, P Jamey Wright, C Henry Blanco, 3B Vinny Castilla, OF Fonzie Bichette
Good heavens. Need a scorecard?
Some themes are evident in the above moves. Obviously, the outfield troika of Hammonds-Goodwin-Larry Walker is orders of magnitude better than the Bichette-Edgard Clemente-Walker outfield the Rockies were using at the end of last season. This is a club that, over its history, has been content to use big bats like Ellis Burks and Bichette in the field regardless of their defensive problems; presumably, the pitching staff has thrown some chairs over this, so having some guys who can catch the ball will be a new thing to Colorado pitchers.
Of course, calling Coors Field home is a new thing to most Colorado pitchers; the turnover here has been spectacular. Exiting Rockies pitchers were responsible for 75 starts last season. Rolando Arrojo figures to step into the rotation immediately; the team can sort through Yoshii, Karl, Jimenez, and Henry in spring training to see who else joins incumbents Pedro Astacio, Brian Bohanon and John Thomson (if he's healthy) in the rotation. The Rockies have plenty of pitching depth, and won't be depending on guys of Mark Brownson quality to start for them this year unless they want to.
On offense, you replace an overpaid, free-swinging thumper in Castilla (.241 Equivalent Average last season, .331 lifetime OBP) with an underrated on-base machine(.292 EqA last season, .384 lifetime OBP) in Cirillo. Expect Cirillo to contend for a batting title and to end up a ways north of 20 HR this year. Tom Goodwin joins SS Neifi Perez as "prototypical" top-of-the-order types who can't hit; it'll hurt if either one of them is at the top of the order. At least he brought his glove.
The catching situation seemed simple at the end of last season: you take youngster Ben Petrick, who hit everywhere he played last season and ended up with the big club, and you hand him the starting job. Keep Blanco around as a defensively-adept caddy, and finally give Kurt "Batless Wonder" Manwaring his walking papers. A few months later both Blanco and Manwaring are gone, the catching platoon of Servais and Mayne has been signed, and Petrick's buried. Assuming management wasn't going to give Petrick the job, Servais and Mayne aren't a bad short-term catching solution, but I'm disappointed Petrick didn't get more of a chance to start this year.
The player to keep an eye on here is Jeffrey Hammonds. He's been an enigma since his days as the future of the Baltimore Orioles, but the future may have gotten a little bit clearer following his trade to Colorado. Hammonds hit some last season (.279 EqA with Cincinnati), but there are more important issues here. He's got significant power(17 HR in only 262 AB in 1999), he's a flyball hitter (.86 career G/F ratio), he's an athlete, and he's got a name most baseball people know. Here's a scenario: Hammonds starts the season in left, stays healthy, and has a .300 average and 25 HR by the trading deadline. O'Dowd emphasises his tools, his salary, and his age to all callers and ships him off for a couple of real prospects. Jody Gerut takes his place and hits like Hammonds for the rest of the season.
While there are general managers out there that don't really understand the Colorado effect (and one of the better ones, Reds GM Jim Bowden, already got fleeced by the Rox this offseason), this type of move should be O'Dowd's modus operandi. It'll be interesting to see how O'Dowd moves should Hammonds start out healthy and hot for the Rockies in 2000.
Team Murdoch, Version 2.0
The Dodgers have tinkered with their core this offseason, ditching well-paid mainstays 2B Eric Young, OF Raul Mondesi, and P Ismael Valdes for the services of the even more handsomely recompensed Shawn Green. Mondesi had been nothing but a problem for team management after his ugly midseasonal slumps and outbursts. He struggled through the worst season of his career (.276 EqA, .253 BA), but keep something in mind: he easily scored his career best in walks (with 71) while doing so. Take a look at Mondesi's walks and home runs, along with those of Player X:
AB per BB AB per HR pre-peak peak post-peak pre-peak peak post-peak Mondesi 18.15 8.46 ???? 22.20 18.21 ???? Player X 15.34 9.72 10.46 20.34 15.60 11.75Player X is, of course, Sammy Sosa. Just a thought.
Green is now the man in Los Angeles. He's a good right fielder, and is coming off a huge season with the Blue Jays (.306 EqA, 87 extra base hits). However, after he signed his extension, the Dodgers are paying their outfield almost $30 million. Even with Rupert Murdoch's cash, that's a huge chunk of change.
The pitching staff will start next season with Orel Hershiser taking Ismael Valdes' rotation spot. That hurts; like Mondesi, Valdes had his problems with the brass and wasn't always nice when talking about his teammates. But over the last five seasons he's been the best, most consistent and durable pitcher the Dodgers have had, and he's 26 years old. Although Chan Ho Park and Carlos Perez probably can't be as bad as they were last year, the dropoff from Valdes to Hershiser will hurt the Dodgers.
The Diamondbacks have been quiet this offseason, but with Travis Lee apparently slated to move to right field full-time, they might have just upgraded their offense for free. Lee had a poor season in 1999 that ended with an ankle sprain that kept him off of the playoff roster, but he's still only 24 years old. If he hits like he can this year, he'll pick up some of the slack that the older hitters regressing will probably create... Keep an eye on new Padres 1B Ryan Klesko (assuming he's still with the team in April). A lot has gone into analyzing why he hasn't taken the big step foward at the plate that everyone thought he had after his huge 1995, when he hit .396/.608 for the Braves. One theory is that he's been hurt by his defense, learning left field on the job and enduring quite a bit of criticism for being a born first baseman. First base is finally his again, and it will be interesting to see what he does with it... Who says there isn't a market for pitching? If the Snakes lose OF prospect Abraham Nunez to the Fish as the PTBNL in the Matt Mantei trade, they'll have given up three excellent prospects for a few months of Mantei's time.