Rockies’ center-field competition a four-horse race
Most teams that have openings in their starting lineup are holding spring training competitions for two players or, in some cases, three. The Rockies? They’ve got four players contending to be manager Walt Weiss’ primary center fielder.
The quartet features Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson—homegrown players who were with the club in 2013—plus Brandon Barnes, who came over from the Astros with Jordan Lyles in the trade that sent Dexter Fowler to Houston, and Drew Stubbs, whom the Rockies acquired from the Indians for Josh Outman. Carlos Gonzalez is entrenched as the left fielder, and Michael Cuddyer was shoehorned into right field when the team made first baseman Justin Morneau its primary offseason investment.
That leaves four players for one full-time job, plus two who could see time off the bench. Weiss told reporters, including MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, that it might take the rest of the Cactus League season for him to sort out the glut.
Harding pointed out that Weiss went out of his way to mention Barnes, who—in the skipper’s words—“gets left out” of “a really competitive situation.” A right-handed hitter, Barnes performed well against left-handed pitching in his first full big-league campaign, amassing a .284 True Average, though he scuffled to a .216 clip against righties. He would be best deployed as the short end of a platoon, and the Rockies have the lefty-swinging pieces to do precisely that.
But Barnes must also contend with Stubbs, who has a much heftier paycheck ($4.1 million) coming his way. The 29-year-old offers more thump and brings a .285 lifetime TAv against southpaws to the table. He can handle all three outfield positions, having served as the Reds’ everyday center fielder in 2012, but is a plus defender in the corners and a mediocre option up the middle. The latter consideration also means that Stubbs likely would need a partner.
That’s where Dickerson and Blackmon enter the picture.
Dickerson, the owner of a .267 TAv versus righties during his rookie campaign, has more pop than Blackmon but would ideally be limited to left field, based on Jason Parks’ scouting report in last year’s Rockies top 10 list. Blackmon turned in a .272 TAv against opposite-handed hurlers in 2013 and is a better defensive outfielder, so he probably entered the spring as a modest favorite to come away with the long-end gig.
The Rockies also had the option of moving Gonzalez to center field, but they decided against that last month. Weiss said in late February that the choice was made with an eye on Gonzalez’ durability. The 28-year-old hasn’t cracked 135 games in a season since his breakout 2010 effort, and the Rockies need their second-best position player healthy if they are to contend for a wild card spot.
Finally, Harding noted that batting-order considerations could play a role in the decision. Whoever lands the job has a good chance of securing the leadoff spot in the lineup along with it.
Francisco Cervelli a popular trade commodity
In the weeks since pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, rumors have suggested that the Yankees might part with a backstop for help at another position. Now, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo, those discussions are centering on Francisco Cervelli instead of John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine.
Cervelli missed most of the 2013 season after undergoing surgery on a fractured hand and served a 50-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis scandal during the second half. But in the 61 plate appearances that he managed to log, he amassed a .321 True Average on the strength of six extra-base knocks.
The 28-year-old’s injury history might worry some of his suitors: It includes three recorded concussions, a surgery on his right wrist in 2008, and a broken foot in 2011. But Cervelli hits better than most backup catchers, and he is owed only $700,000 this year after forgoing his first arbitration hearing.
General manager Brian Cashman could move Cervelli for infield depth or bullpen help. The White Sox, one of the “many teams monitoring him” this spring, per Cotillo, might be able to supply the former. Back on February 25, George E. King III of the New York Post mentioned that general manager Rick Hahn had deployed scouts to watch the Yankees’ surplus catchers, and that Gordon Beckham or Jeff Keppinger could be on the table in return.
The market for Cervelli is likely to resemble that of Jose Lobaton, who went to the Nationals in a deal that expanded so that the Rays could obtain right-hander Nate Karns. Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin identified the Diamondbacks, Indians, Mets, and Rockies—in addition to the White Sox and Nats—as clubs with “interest or need” before Lobaton landed in Washington.
Cashman must either trade Cervelli or retain him as the no. 2 catcher behind Brian McCann, because he is out of options. Murphy and Romine would compete for the gig if Cervelli were shipped out.