Notes: How can Rockies strike winning chord? Break up the band
The Rockies might rebound from their latest Rocky Horror Road Show, maybe even steal a wild card, but Bovada has them at 50-to-1 to win the World Series, and that might be too kind.
This team should not be a buyer before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. No, the Rockies should be a seller, and they’re deep enough in talent to shake up the entire market.
For starters, they should trade right-hander Jhoulys Chacin to clear a spot for one of their many prized young arms. And then, to resolve their logjam in the outfield, they should trade the previously untouchable Carlos Gonzalez.
That’s right, CarGo, who comprises one-half of the duo the Rockies supposedly cannot win without, the other half being Tulo, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Well, the Rockies aren’t winning with CarGo, and they aren’t trading Tulo, the best shortstop in baseball.
The best way to build a lasting contender would be to get a decent return for Gonzalez while escaping the bulk of his remaining guarantee — about $7 million more this season, then $53 million combined from 2015-17.
The Rockies are loaded with outfielders. They need to create more at-bats for Corey Dickerson. Gonzalez, 28, lacks a no-trade clause, making ownership the only real obstacle to moving him.
Which, in the past, has been no small obstacle.
“The plan is to keep them,” owner Dick Monfort said of CarGo and Tulo last October. “Next year, yes. And my plan is to always keep them.”
A better plan would be to win the World Series, no?
Gonzalez’s trade value, like every other Colorado hitter’s value, is diminished by his road performance. Entering this season, his career OPS was .992 at home, .774 on the road. This season, his splits are even more dramatic: .983 at home, .610 on the road.
OK, but if you haven’t noticed, teams everywhere are looking for power. Gonzalez has power. He’s in his prime. And the rest of his contract isn’t outlandish, considering that a team would get his age 29, 30 and 31 seasons.
Think the Red Sox couldn’t use CarGo? What about the Mariners? The Mets? The Astros? Heck, even the Cardinals could make sense despite their glut of outfielders; they probably would need to include one in the deal, and maybe use others to get pitching (see below).
Without CarGo, the Rockies’ outfield still would include Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, Brandon Barnes, Drew Stubbs and Michael Cuddyer. The team could use the savings to extend Cuddyer, 35, or sign a younger right fielder. Kyle Parker, a top prospect, offers another option at Triple A.
The Rockies, of course, could trade one of their lesser outfielders instead of Gonzalez, but the return wouldn’t be as significant. And they already would figure to get little for Chacin, who is making $4.85 million this season and might be a non-tender candidate entering his final year of arbitration.
In Chacin’s case, the benefit would be addition by subtraction — the Rockies soon will need spots for top pitching prospects Eddie Butler, Tyler Matzek and Jonathan Gray, and they’ve got back-of-the-rotation types rising through the system, too.
The team is close to becoming truly interesting, but now it needs to take the next step.
Break up CarGo and Tulo. Try a new plan.
DID ASTROS’ SINGLETON SELL OUT?
The Astros finally got one.
Third baseman Matt Dominguez and outfielders Robbie Grossman and George Springer rejected the club’s below-market extension offers, but on Monday first baseman Jonathan Singleton accepted, agreeing to a five-year, $10 million deal with three team options that could increase the total value to $30 million.
Many fans, upon seeing that kind of historic guarantee for a player who has yet to appear in the majors, say, “Of course he should take it!” But rival agents flipped after learning of Singleton’s deal, believing he sold himself short.
“I’m speechless,” one such agent said.
Singleton’s representatives at Sosnick Cobbe Sports will point to the potential for the player to make $17 million before free agency if his first two options are exercised, plus another $13 million in his first year of free agency on the third option.
But look closer.
While Singleton got more upfront money in his pre-arbitration years, his first club option is for $2.5 million. That number is strikingly low, considering that it covers Singleton’s second year of arbitration — in 2019.
The Mariners’ Justin Smoak, a below-average first baseman, cleared $2.5 million in his first year of arbitration this season. And historically, salaries only rise. The Marlins’ Garrett Jones, who had the benefit of an extra year of arbitration but was non-tendered over the winter, will earn more than $15 million before free agency, not far off Singleton’s potential number.
As one agent said, noting that the average major-league salary is $3.39 million, “If Singleton is the MVP eight straight years, his total earnings will be $3 million over what the average salary is now times eight. When you factor in what will be the increases in average salary that occur over the next eight years, he won’t even earn an amount equal to what the average salary will be over those eight years.”
Position players face less risk for injury than pitchers, and from a performance standpoint, Singleton is close to a sure thing. First-base prospects occasionally flop — think Jason Stokes, Michael Aubrey, Lars Anderson — but almost all make it to arbitration. What’s more, young, power-hitting first basemen currently are in short supply.
Singleton, 22, entered the season as the game’s No. 82 prospect, according to Baseball America. Only two other first basemen made the publication’s top 100 — and one was the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, a Cuban defector.
Ah, but some cite Singleton’s past issues with marijuana, which supposedly increased the Astros’ risk and perhaps swayed Singleton in his decision to accept the $10 million guarantee.
Rival agents scoff at such concerns, even though Singleton was suspended 50 games in the minors after testing positive for marijuana at the start of last season and spent a month in a rehabilitation center.
Though players on 40-man rosters are not ordinarily tested for marijuana, circumstances exist in which major leaguers can be tested.
It is not clear whether Singleton would be subject to testing as part of a treatment program. But practically speaking, the chances of his being disciplined are slim and maybe even none.
Yes, Singleton described himself in spring training as a marijuana addict, but in the major leagues he hardly will be the only user. A healthy percentage of major leaguers smoke weed, as does a healthy percentage of the general population.
Give the Astros credit — they preyed on the insecurity of Singleton and his agents to secure his seven years of club control for $17 million. The team, at least, made a wise business decision. The player, in the opinion of many, need not have jumped.
WAINWRIGHT, WACHA AND . . . ?
On the surface, a starting pitcher would seem to be about the last thing the Cardinals need.
The team ranks third in the National League in rotation ERA, and not simply because of right-handers Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. Righty Lance Lynn is better than most No. 3 starters, lefty Jaime Garcia is again healthy and righty Shelby Miller remains an intriguing talent, even with his sharply reduced strikeout rate.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are 12th in the NL in runs and last in homers. Their bullpen, while sixth in opponents’ OPS and second in the predictive Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), also might require help. Yet, it still could make sense for the Cardinals to pursue a starter such as the Rays’ David Price or Royals’ James Shields, assuming one or both become available.
Because, why not?
The Cardinals are so deep in young, major-league-ready talent they can land practically any player they want before July 31. Adding a third top-of-the-rotation type behind Wainwright and Wacha would make them that much more formidable, and the Cardinals can get one for players who — for them — essentially are spare parts.
First baseman Matt Adams, Triple A outfielder Stephen Piscotty and even a pitcher such as Miller or righty Joe Kelly are among those who could fit that description. And while Shields is a free agent after this season and Price after next, the Cardinals always could sign the pitcher they acquire to an extension, though probably not for less than Wainwright’s five-year, $97.5 million deal.
The point is, general manager John Mozeliak is in position to consider all kinds of options before July 31. It’s not clear where he would stick another bat, particularly if outfielders Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk help revive the offense. The addition of another starter would enhance the Cardinals’ run prevention. If the offense finally trends upward, look out.
The Rays’ Matt Joyce is a classic example of how defensive shifts can get inside a player’s head.
Teams shift now even on all kinds of left-handed hitters, and Joyce’s batting average on balls in play last season was .251 — a whopping 46 points below the major-league average.
Joyce said he countered by hitting more than he usually does in the offseason — and working on going to the opposite field.
Well, that’s fine for beating the shift, but Joyce’s slugging percentage is a career-low .387, and about a week ago the Rays coaches told him they wanted him to start driving the ball again.
Joyce, 29, isn’t fast enough to have much value as a singles hitter. He said that hitting .235 last season “drove me nuts,” but now he realizes that for him, a high batting average will mean little if he fails to hit for power.
AROUND THE HORN
— A scout who saw the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman play left field at Class A Potomac Monday night issued this report: “Swinging well. Hadn’t really been tested. Heard he really likes it.”
Zimmerman, a third baseman his entire career, is expected to join the Nats and play his new position Tuesday night. His chronic shoulder issues still could affect his throwing, but perhaps not to the same degree, potentially giving Zimmerman greater piece of mind.
• Speaking of the Nats, Zimmerman still figures to be at first base next season, but what if the team again decides to keep potential free agent Adam LaRoche?
At that point, Zimmerman could stay in left with Bryce Harper shifting to center, his preferred position. The Nats could even try such an alignment this season if Harper returns from left-thumb surgery in July, as expected.
Such a move would enable the Nats to trade center fielder Denard Span, on whom they hold a $9 million club option for 2015. Either way, Span’s future with the team is limited: Center fielder Michael Taylor, a brilliant defender, is batting .325 with a 1.034 OPS at Double A.
• The Rays’ leading All-Star candidate is not third baseman Evan Longoria or even left-hander David Price. Left-handed reliever Jake McGee did not allow a run in 14 appearances in May, spanning 13 1/3 innings.
McGee still throws primarily fastballs — 93 percent this season — but he cites the renewed use of his curveball for a big part of his success. Previously he threw a slider, but he used a curveball in the minors and believes he is getting more consistency out of the pitch than he did with the slider last season.
• Astros manager Bo Porter said that Springer is not chasing the same pitches he did after joining the team in mid-April.
Springer’s ability to adjust and .844 OPS have made him a viable AL Rookie of the Year candidate, along with the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka and White Sox’s Abreu.
“A lot of guys come to the big leagues and try to figure out whether they belong,” Porter said. “This guy arrived and immediately knew he belonged.
• One rival player offered a withering criticism of the Braves, calling them, “the most untalented talented team I’ve ever seen.”
The player was referring to the Braves’ offense, which ranks next-to-last in the NL in runs per game, ahead of only the Padres.
• And finally, a hearty if belated congratulations to Jamie Romak, who received his first major-league promotion last Wednesday after 4,306 minor-league plate appearances — and joined the $235 million Dodgers, no less.
Romak, 28, plays both every corner infield and outfield positions, and hit 10 homers in May for Triple A Albuquerque. He also has thrived under pressure before — in 2010, while playing for Canada, he was the MVP of a Pan Games/World Cup qualifier.