Tagged: Jeff Francis

Colorado Rockies Have Plenty Of Depth: Now Is The Time To Trade Atkins

Garrett Atkins is a career .298 hitter
Trade Garrett Atkins?

Many probably think I’m crazy for this statement. Perhaps I am.

After trading away the club’s star player (Matt Holliday) and losing the best closer (Brian Fuentes) in team history over the offseason, it’s easy to assume that trading Atkins, arguably one of the team’s most talented players, means throwing away the season for the Rockies.

And although I’m not one of the rare few who support the front office’s plan of building from within and starting over once those players become too good and too expensive, I think that trading Atkins could bring some positives to the team.

Without a doubt, pitching has been the Rockies’ biggest struggle for as long as I can remember. With Jeff Francis missing all of 2009, this year is no different.

Even without Holliday and Willy Tavares, the outfield is stacked. Brad Hawpe and Ryan Spilborghs will be starters, while prospect Dexter Fowler is trying to prove that he’s also big-league ready. Seth Smith, Matt Murton, Scott Podsednik, Carlos Gonzalez and even Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker are also viable options.

In 2008, the Rockies used more second baseman than I can count on one of my hands. Despite the fact that none of them have stepped into the shoes that Kaz Matsui left in 2007, there is depth at the position.

Troy Tulowitzki is a lock at short stop, and many of the second baseman can shift to play either middle infield position when he needs rest.

Todd Helton will get the first look at first base, but with his unstable lower back, it is uncertain how much or how often he will play in 2009. Behind him, the Rockies could use Joe Koshansky as the primary starter.

Baker, a very versatile player, has experience at first base, while Christian Colonel, who is having a very impressive spring, will be waiting in the minors.

Chris Iannetta has more than earned the starting catching role, and although Yorvit Torrealba wants out of his contract with Colorado, teams aren’t showing interest in paying his remaining salary, meaning the Rockies will have a veteran catcher with plenty of experience coming off the bench.

That brings us to Garrett Atkins and third base.

Don’t get me wrong, Atkins is a proven player with a lot of talent. His career batting average is right around .300, he has plenty of power and his defense is on the rise.

It may seem foolish to trade a star, but that’s what makes this idea work. Stars draw interest.

Stewart has proven that he is more than ready to start for the Rockies this year. He greatly improved towards the end of 2008 and has been playing solid all spring. Not to mention that his defense would be a step up, and that he is still just 23 years old and still improving.

The Rockies need to get him in the lineup.

Atkins will most likely be gone after this season with his contract ending, so it would be ideal to get some value for him.

It doesn’t matter how we get it, but the fact is, the Rockies need starting pitching.

As shown, there is quality depth at nearly every position, which should draw interest. Many of these players are ready for the big leagues, there’s just no room for them.

Who knows, there might not be teams that are willing to give up their top arms, but it doesn’t hurt to at least give it a shot and see what’s out there. There are several teams that are in need of a third baseman.

The Rockies have plenty of talent to replace Atkins. Losing him and gaining solid starting pitching will only improve the team.

World Baseball Classic: A Good Idea At A Bad Time

Ichiro celebrates Japan's 2006 WBC championship
Derek Jeter. Jason Bay. Alex Rodriguez. David Ortiz. Ichiro Suzuki.

This is a list of just a few of the hundreds of players who have been invited to play in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC). Many of the players invited have accepted the invitation to represent their respective country.

The 2009 WBC is less than a week away from premiering.

From March 5-23, numerous MLB players will leave their spring training camps and join the rest of their country in the WBC.

Starting in 2006, 16 different countries around the world compete against each other to determine the world’s greatest baseball country. This year’s event, much like the Olympics, will be the second installment of the Classic, with it reoccurring every four years after 2009.

I love the fact that players get the chance to compete for their country rather than a team, but not when it occurs at a time where players have to leave their teams for an extended period of time just weeks before the start of the season in order to play.

Many MLB managers give their players the ultimate decision on whether they compete in the WBC, but advise against it.

Teams worry about the possibility of one of their star players getting injured at the WBC and being unable to start the season with their team.

The bigger issue, in my mind, is the fact that players are breaking terms in their contracts.

Players have large monetary contracts and they need to earn them. By playing in the WBC, players are missing several weeks of valuable preparation.

I understand that players will be honing their baseball skills while competing, but there is more to it than just polishing your skills of the game–you can do that all winter. It’s about forming chemistry with your teammates so that by the time April rolls around, the team is ready to compete together.

We all have seen clubhouses without bonds between the players.

Players are expected and required to be at spring training.

The WBC is competition that spans across 19 days. Players competing for Team USA are allowed to practice one week before the event, which would mean that players could miss close to four weeks of spring training.

This would bring them back to their teams less than two weeks before Opening Day with a lot of catching up to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the idea of the World Baseball Classic as a whole. Anything that gives exposure to the sport across a larger audience around the entire world is going to help the game grow.

The WBC allows players to represent, play for, and fight for their country rather than the team that they have been bought by.

It brings out a sense of passion among some players that isn’t always seen in the MLB today. Much like you see in Little League, it is a passion that you are representing something much bigger than yourself.

With that being said, however, players need to seriously consider whether or not they accept their invitation to play in the WBC.

This can be seen with the Colorado Rockies.

The Rockies are relying heavily on their young starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, in 2009.

Many scouts believe that he has potential to become a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In 2008 he posted a 12-12 record with a 3.99 ERA. He showed bright spots, but also much inconsistency.

With Jeff Francis out for most, if not all, of 2009, the Rockies need Jimenez to step up in their rotation.

Jimenez will be representing the Dominican Republic in the WBC, however.

In his first spring training appearance, Jimenez struggled, to say the least. In two innings, he allowed three earned runs, three hits, two walks, and a hit batsmen, posting a 13.5 ERA.

On Sunday afternoon he battled back, allowing just a single hit in three innings pitched, but that was his final spring training appearance before leaving for the WBC.

With the Rockies relying so heavily on him this season, I believe that it is more vital for him to be with the club this spring.

Players will get at-bats and playing time at the WBC, but it is not guaranteed how much they will play. They are falling behind by not being with their teams during spring training and also potentially falling behind on playing time and at-bats.

The WBC is a good way of bringing an Olympic-style of competition back to the game of baseball, but it comes at the wrong time. Players that represent the MLB have other things to worry about during the last few weeks leading up to their season and need to focus on that as opposed to the WBC.

Rockies’ Francis Undergoing Surgery: Out For Season

Jeff Francis led the Rockies to the World Series in 2007
Jeff Francis’ return to the top of the Rockies’ rotation ended before it even began.

The left-handed pitcher, who has been experiencing shoulder pain and missed the end of 2008 due to the injury, announced Thursday afternoon that he will undergo arthroscopic surgery and will miss 2009 in its entirety.

The Rockies’ ace propelled the club to its first playoff berth in 12 seasons and first National League pennant in 2007 with 17 wins, including two postseason victories. Relying heavily on him last year, Francis struggled from April through the end, going 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA.

The surgery, which will be performed in order to discover the exact nature of the injury, generally takes six to 12 months to recover. It is believed that he has a torn labrum flap in his shoulder but the operation will officially determine the injury.

An unfortunate event to begin 2009 indeed, but the problem I see with this situation is that Francis waited until after he reported to Spring Training to decide that he needed surgery.

His throwing shoulder has been bothering him since at least mid-2008, yet no decision was made to shut him down until Thursday.

I understand being optimistic that rest will help it heal, but the pain should have been responded to earlier in the offseason so that surgery could have taken place and Francis could recover throughout the season, and at least have a shot at jumping back into the rotation late down the stretch in case the Rockies are in a race for the NL West.

Instead Francis can do nothing but watch.

The news is disappointing for Rockies fans, but the club enters Spring Training with more starting pitching depth than ever before.

Keep in mind, though, that quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality.

Aaron Cook stepped up last season, winning 16 games and molding into the Rockies’ ace once Francis struggled early. The Rockies need him to show consistency, especially late in the season, and continue to improve on his 16 wins from 2008.

Ever since being drafted, scouts and the front office have told fans that Ubaldo Jimenez, a 25-year-old pitcher with velocity that competes with anyone in the league, has the potential to emerge into a No. 1 quality pitcher and could become the best prospect the team has ever landed. I’m not doubting Jimenez’ (12-12, 3.99 ERA in 2008) talent and abilities, but after two seasons of promise but inconsistency, now is the time for the young Latin American to step up and prove himself.

Expecting for the worst with Francis, the Rockies picked up veteran Jason Marquis in a trade with the Cubs over the offseason. In my view, this is a good move for the club. In 2008, Marquis was 11-9 with a 4.53 ERA. He has proved to pitch well at Coors Field in limited experience (3-0) and can eat up a lot of innings. I see him as a good fit in the middle of our rotation.

Jorge De La Rosa is expected to be the team’s fourth starter. Last year was the lefty’s first winning season where he posted 10-8 record with a 4.92 ERA in 23 starts. The pitcher is still emerging but competed well, filling a role in the rotation last season when injuries began to pile up.

The final spot of the rotation is wide open. Josh Fogg, Jason Hirsch, Franklin Morales, Greg Reynolds, Glendon Rusch, and Greg Smith will compete for the final spot. If Morales, like Jimenez, can live up to his potential, he will be a good mix in the rotation. If it seems like his control hasn’t improved, Hirsch, Fogg, or whoever it may be that wins the job in Spring Training will need to step up.

Even without Francis, the Rockies have arms that have the potential to fill his role. It’s just a matter of if the team will step up.

Only time will tell.

Several Uncertainties Remain For Rockies In 2009

Coors Field on Opening Day 2008
Just 16 short months ago, Coors Field and downtown Denver was riding purple fever high above the Rocky Mountains. The glory years, more like year (1995), was here again and Lo-Do Magic was back.

Fans were quickly sent back to reality early in 2008, however, when the Colorado Rockies fell off the mountain and couldn’t rebound after a 20-38 start and ended up towards the bottom of an awful National League West.

Spring has arrived, however. The calendar has turned, the weather is slowly beginning to warm up and players are arriving in Arizona for Spring Training. A new season and fresh opportunities.

So as the 2009 season approaches, there is optimistic hope among fans and players alike. But the question of how realistic the goals of turning this season’s team from a 74-88 record in 2008 to the 90 wins and World Series birth the year prior remains with several “ifs.”

It’s not easy to remain positive after losing the face of the franchise in Matt Holliday. In return, they received a couple of prospects (Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez) and an established, but also often-injured closer, Huston Street.

The first question regards Holliday’s replacement in left field. Although not a stellar outfielder, his solid .320+ batting average, .530+ slugging percentage and 25+ home runs will be missed. His most likely replacement is Seth Smith. In 67 games last season, Smith hit .259, but his future is bright with the glimpses of power last season.

Gonzalez will most likely start the season in Colorado Springs (the Rockies’ AAA affiliate) while third basemen Ian Stewart will get a few spring looks, trying to make the transformation from the infield to the outfield after the Rockies resigned Garrett Atkins earlier this month.

The Rockies lost most of their speed in center fielder Willy Taveras, but the speedster lacked getting on base last year. A .308 on base percentage won’t cut it for a leadoff hitter. Last year’s backup, Scott Podsednik will get a look, but the favorite is Ryan Spilborghs, who had a breakout season last year, hitting over .300 and getting quality starts in the outfield.

Prospect Dexter Fowler is a name that gets fans excited for the future, but, like Gonzalez, may be better suited starting the year in Colorado Springs until after the All-Star break.

The hot corner seems set with Atkins getting most of the starts, and Stewart, who has gold glove potential and am improving bat, filling in when Atkins shifts across the diamond to first base when veteran Todd Helton needs some rest for his ailing back, which was surgically repaired during the off season.

Troy Tulowitzki, who grabbed fans’ hearts during his rookie season, seems to be back from his sophomore slump, but we won’t know for sure until April.

Helton says he feels good, but how will his surgically-repaired back hold up 100 games into the season in the grind of the hot summer?

The Rockies signed two proven managers during the off season as manager Clint Hurtle enters 2009 in the last year of his contract. One this is for certain, fans won’t let the Rockies ownership give Hurdle an extension on Opening Day this year until he proves himself.

Will Hurdle even be manager of the club in mid-May? Or will an early losing streak promote bench coach Jim Tracy or hitting coach and former Rockies manager Don Baylor to skipper?

And of course, saving the most uncertain for last, the pitching staff. Their 2007 ace, Jeff Francis, will likely undergo season-ending surgery before the season even begins. Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA last year) needs to prove himself again this season. With the acquisition of veteran Jason Marquis, the fellow sinkerballers could work well together. Could being a key word.

The team signed Ubaldo Jimenez to four more years last month. With the speed of an ace, the 25-year-old needs to perform consistently and work on his control. And the back-end of the rotation? It seems like the team had an open invitation to Spring Training with Greg Smith, Franklin Morales, Glendon Rusch, Jason Hirsh, Josh Fogg, Greg Reynolds, and Jorge De La Rosa all fighting for the final two spots in the starting rotation.

So the questions remain. Will Seth Smith’s lack of experience fill the shoes of an All-Star like Holliday? Can Helton return to his earlier form? 2008 was the first time in his 11 full seasons without hitting above .300 or hitting double-digit home runs. Has Tulowitzki controlled himself and developed himself into the leader and face of the franchise that he needs to be?

Catcher Chris Iannetta proved himself last year, but can he remain consistent behind the plate? And the biggest questions each year in Colorado remain with the pitching staff. Who will fill the fifth spot? Will Manny Corpas or Street close? Do the Rockies need to trade for a top-of-the-line pitcher for the second half of the season? Will the Rockies even be in contention by the second half of the season?

With the West looking mediocre at best again this year, it could be anyone’s game. If the Rockies can play consistent .500 ball, they might have a legitimate shot. Of course, that is if they can do that.

Grab your erasers because nothing is certain. The beauty of a new season, though, is that there’s always hope.