Newly minted as the Rockies' general manager for a day, my emotional reaction is to blow it all up. After all, the Rockies collapsed in the last two weeks of the 2010 just when it seemed they were on the brink of a third post-season appearance in four years.
The Rockies went from 11 games out in the National League West on August 22 to just one game back on September 18. Then the Rockies lost 13 of their last 14 games and finished nine games out, far off the pace of the division champion Giants.
A good GM never lets emotion get in the way of clear thinking, though. Thus, we'll need to find a more rational way to get the Rockies into position where they can make it to the postseason in 2011 after making a run last season.
However, the problem is that no logical way has ever been found to solve the problem of building a roster that enables the Rockies to win in both the mile-high altitude of Denver and more normal environments. The Rockies have tried everything since their inception in 1993: going with a power-packed lineup, building an offense around speed, spending big money in free agency on premium starting pitching and even putting baseballs in a humidor at Coors Field in order to keep them from drying out in the thin air with low humidity.
Yet, the disparity remains. It happened again last season as the Rockies went 52-29 at home and 31-50 on the road. The offensive slash line splits were just as wide: .298/.368/.498 in Denver, .226/.303/.351 everywhere else.
So, what can I do to close the gap? Well, it beats me. People smarter than me haven't figured it out. Thus, I'll just do the best I can to build a team and hope it can win at any elevation.
The first order of business would be a difficult one from a human standpoint. I would call Todd Helton into my office and tell him that he is no longer the starting first baseman. While Helton has long been the face of the franchise, he is no longer a productive player. He had a .265 True Average, eight home runs in 473 plate appearances and produced right at replacement level with 0.0 WARP last season. Considering Helton is 37, there is no reason to think his production will improve.
Dropping Helton from the lineup would provide an opportunity to add a much-needed right-handed hitter into the middle of the lineup. The two free agents I'd target are Paul Konerko, who might be out of our price range following a season in which he had a .326 TAv and 39 home runs for the White Sox, and Derrek Lee, who might be a bargain after a season in which he had a combined .277 TAv and 19 homers for the Cubs and Braves.
There isn't as much difference between the two former Chicago rivals as their 2010 performance would indicate. Konerko is a year older at 36 and Lee has actually been a bit more productive over the last three seasons with a combined 9.4 WARP to Konerko's 8.9. Lee is also just a year removed from hitting 35 homers with a .308 TAv.
After all that, I've convinced myself to sign Lee. Not only am I getting better value but it gives me extra money to spend on starting pitching. To free up even more bucks, I'll non-tender second baseman Clint Barmes and his .232 TAv from last season and give Eric Young Jr. the opportunity to take over the position and try to follow in the footsteps of his father, who had a fine career at the same position.
Now that we have some more money to play with, part of it will go to arbitration-eligible right-hander Jason Hammel. Hammel provided only 1.8 SNLVAR but we need him in the rotation with Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook and Jhoulys Chacin.
That leaves one hole remaining in the starting pitching and to fill it I'll do everything I can to convince left-hander Jorge De La Rosa that it would be in his best interest to stay with the Rockies on a free-agent contract a little better than the three-year, $33 million deal the Dodgers gave Ted Lilly. Thus, I'd offer three years and $36 million and hope he doesn't get a better deal from someone else as other times might be scared off De La Rosa because they will be forced to give up a draft pick as compensation since he is a Type A free agent.
I would point out to De La Rosa that his career WARP was -1.6 before he came to the Rockies prior to the 2008 season and that it is 5.9 in the three seasons since. There also is a little more upside to De La Rosa than most 29-year-olds because he only started learning how to command his pitches since coming under the tutelage of Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca.
Should De La Rosa find more riches elsewhere then my secondary target would be right-hander Jake Westbrook. His stuff isn't quite as good De La Rosa's but his career 2.5 ground ball/fly ball ratio would seemingly make Westbrook effective at high altitude.
Another pitching move would be to re-sign left-handed reliever Joe Beimel to a two-year, $3 million contract. It wouldn't be a big expenditure for a reliable lefty who would appreciate the security after not signing until spring training had began each of the last three years.
The last situation to address is catcher and I would do this by calling manager Jim Tracy and informing him that Chris Iannetta will start 130 games in 2011 if healthy. Iannetta produced a combined 7.1 WARP in 2008 and 2009 but Tracy lost faith in him last season and Miguel Olivo made the majority of starts behind the plate. Olivo is gone after having been traded to the Blue Jays and it would be made clear to Tracy that Iannetta is our guy.
And what happens if Tracy doesn't like it? Well, it's too bad because I'm the boss—if only for a day.
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