The Colorado Rockies have captured the attention of the rest of the National League West this offseason. And the team hasn’t even made a major addition.
What they have done is keep their nucleus intact for 2011 … and beyond.
It is a nucleus the Rockies felt was talented enough to win the NL West in 2010, but the team fell short after struggling with injuries and falling flat in the season’s final weeks, losing 13 of their final 14 games.
Still, it is a group the Rockies feel is good enough to create a foundation for long-term success.
First, the Rockies re-signed free-agent pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, giving him a two-year, $21.5 million guaranteed deal that gives him an $11 million option on the third year and the Rockies an $11 million option on a fourth.
Then they gave shortstop Troy Tulowitzki a six-year contract extension, turning the four-year, $39.75 million guarantee he had remaining into a 10-year, $157.75 million guarantee.
And now, pending a physical that will be given next week, they have agreed to a seven-year, $80 million deal with outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who won’t even be arbitration eligible for another year.
In the midst of all this they let right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez know they plan to put a package together for him next offseason.
The Rockies also made a few moves to supplement the roster, such as trading for second baseman Jose Lopez and signing free-agent reliever Matt Lindstrom.
Meanwhile, here’s what the other NL West teams were up to: The Dodgers brought in Jon Garland to provide a quality fifth for the rotation; the Giants patched their hole at shortstop with Miguel Tejada; new Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers started reshuffling the bogus bullpen he inherited; and the Padres began rearranging lounge chairs on the Titanic.
The Rockies made good on their word. They have said all along that once the home-grown nucleus began to produce they would make sure a player who wants to stay in Colorado would be given a financial package that would keep him in Colorado.
They couldn’t satisfy Matt Holliday, which is how they acquired Gonzalez, along with Huston Street two years ago.
But they have locked in their projected 3-4 hitters for the next seven or so years by signing Gonzalez and Tulowitzki.
The Rockies aren’t setting records or breaking banks, but they are providing lifetime financial security, and they are taking the risk that the players will, 1) live up to the on-field success they have hinted at, and 2) stay healthy. If the players do perform, the Rockies know they will have a long-range savings, but the players also know they are financially set for life.
They aren’t the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, who spare no expense in stockpiling talent. But they are confident that in the next five years they will be able to handle a payroll in the $120 million neighborhood so the Tulowitzki-Gonzalez contracts won’t strangle their ability to compete.
More importantly, they aren’t the San Diego Padres or Pittsburgh Pirates or recent rendition of the Cleveland Indians, who aren’t willing or able to make a statement to their players and fans like the Rockies, who have worked with their key players to keep them in Purple Pinstripes.
It’s a statement that the Rockies have enjoyed their recent success — two postseason appearances in four years — and want to continue to be a September factor.
It’s not something agent Scott Boras obviously can wrap his arms around. Boras, the agent for Gonzalez, doesn’t like the idea of giving away free agent years. And when the initial talks about a multi-year deal for Gonzalez were held this offseason there was little reason to feel anything would happen.
Then the Rockies got the Tulowitzki deal done. Then the questions about Gonzalez surfaced. And then Gonzalez and his family and friends in Venezuela began to question the logic in declining a long-term deal, even if it does mean he is giving up three years of free agency.
Boras’ M.O. is to not blink, and that had to weigh on the Rockies when Gonzalez came back ready to get something done. It was a scenario not unlike one that unfolded in Atlanta with Andruw Jones, who, along with his father, met with the Braves after the 2001 and agreed to a six-year, $75 million deal, despite strong objections from Boras.
Could Gonzalez have gotten more if he went year-to-year with the Rockies — the approach Boras would embrace? If he stayed healthy and proved that 2010 was the norm, and not an outlier of his career, most assuredly. There, however, is no guarantee.
Taking the deal the Rockies provided does have a guarantee, and it has an upside that will impact Gonzalez immediately.
Instead of making close to the $420,000 minimum salary in 2011, he will — thanks to a hefty signing bonus — earn $4 million. And next year, instead of a first-year arbitration salary, he will earn $5 million.
That’s $9 million Gonzalez will get in the next two years instead of possibly $2 million. That’s $7 million extra Gonzalez will earn. What’s the value of that $7 million going to be five years from now when Gonzalez would have been free-agent eligible for the first time?
And remember, Gonzalez will be only 32 when this contract expires.
If he plays up to expectations he will get an impact deal from an industry that, this winter, awarded Jayson Werth with a seven-year, $126 million deal from Washington. That’s Jayson Werth, who turns 32 in May, has had two 500 at-bat seasons in his career and has never driven in 100 runs.