Impact Analysis: Colorado Rockies acquisitions

by Bob Bonett on November 28, 2008 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


Outfielder Matt Holliday had been the subject of trade rumors for at least a season and a half. His contract is set to expire at the end of 2009, so there was little secret that Colorado Rockies management wanted more than a pair of first-round draft picks as compensation for Holliday's potential, eventual declaration for free agency.

Surprisingly, once Holliday was finally dealt, his name ended up with the small-market Oakland Athletics as opposed to a high-budget organization capable of re-signing the star hitter. In return, the A's received a trio of young players: relief pitcher Huston Street, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and starting pitcher Greg Smith.

The trade

Surprise marked the voice of most media outlets that first reported Holliday had been dealt. Considering Oakland's historic reluctance to bring on high-profile free agents in the era of general manager Billy Beane, acquiring, essentially, a rent-a-player seemed bizarre. However, soon after the deal, Oakland made it clear that they felt 2009 would present a chance for the organization to contend and two compensatory draft picks following the season would be worth losing Street, Gonzalez and Smith.

Conversely, for Colorado, the organization made it clear they favored players over sandwich picks in return for Holliday. They could have rolled the dice and waited for the trade deadline to find a taker for the team's slugging franchise outfielder. Instead, they opted to take a deal that sent them a struggling former closer, a potential five-tool outfielder and a young left-handed starter. The question for Rockies fans and fantasy owners is now whether the trio of young players will perform in Colorado, or if it will turn out to be a busted trade at Coors Field.

Street

Street has had quite a fall from grace and will look to Colorado to return him back to his days as a formidable closer. After a rookie campaign that featured 23 saves and a microscopic 1.72 ERA in 78 innings, Street returned the next year to blow 11 of his 48 save opportunities, all the while seeing his ERA nearly double, to 3.31. Since, Street has bounced into and out of the closer's role, specifically in this past season, when he finished with 18 saves and a 3.73 ERA before losing his gig to reliever Brad Ziegler.

In Colorado last year, the situation was even more volatile than it was in Oakland, with reliever Manny Corpas starting the year with the job, then losing it to Brian Fuentes early in the season. Moreover, manager Clint Hurdle announced the battle for the closing gig in Denver will be between Corpas and Street. Corpas sports much less dominant stuff – his career major league rate of strikeouts per nine innings (6.39) pales in comparison to Street's (9.07). Corpas has also demonstrated a slightly higher propensity to give up the long ball (a 0.76 career mark per nine frames, compared to Street's 0.60), there may be a chance for the former Athletics reliever to return to prominence.

Gonzalez

Gonzalez was, presumably, the deal breaker for Colorado. The young outfielder is a five-tool prospect and was one of the top players in Oakland's farm system at the beginning of the season. He projects to be a base-stealing power hitter with a decent batting average. However, what needs to be remembered with Gonzalez is that at this point, he is more of an athlete than a baseball player – the raw potential is there, but some serious fine-tuning is needed.

In 2007, he finished with a .288 batting average, 17 home runs, 88 RBIs and 10 steals between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Tucson in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization; he was then sent to Oakland in the offseason trade that brought starting pitcher Dan Haren to the desert.

This past year, after putting up a .283 average and four homers in 46 games in Oakland's Triple-A Sacramento, Gonzalez received the call. He responded with very pedestrian numbers, hitting .242 with little power (four homers in 302 at bats), few walks (13), and a high K rate (2.4 for every four at-bats).

The last statistic was troublesome, but it might be a case of his first season in the majors. An even more worrisome pattern for the lefty hitter was his .188 batting average in 85 at-bats against southpaws. He could be stuck with platoon duty if he can't improve that clip.

Playing in an Oakland system that encourages patience at the plate and minimizes stolen base attempts took Gonzalez out of his element. Though he had the inside track for an everyday outfield spot after moving to Oakland, he'll have more obstacles for 2009 production in Colorado.

Outfielder Brad Hawpe is the only Rockies option assured of a job, but if outfielder Willy Taveras isn't traded, he'll add to a mess that includes Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs and super-prospect Dexter Fowler. That's before considering highly touted youngster Eric Young, Jr., who led the Arizona Fall League in batting average, runs scored and stolen bases. The versatility of Colorado's backups and the wealth of farm depth at the position could make playing time a problem for Gonzalez.

Smith

Unless struggling pitching prospect Franklin Morales makes a comeback, Smith looks to be nestled at the back end of the Rockies' rotation. However, a sub-par WHIP (1.35 last year) and a high home run rate (21 in 190 1/3 innings) should add up to trouble at Coors. Coming off an erratic rookie campaign in pitcher-friendly McAfee Coliseum, the 24-year-old will have to adjust to life as a flyball pitcher at a high altitude in '09. His 0.78-to-1 groundball-to-flyball ratio ranked near the bottom among eligible starting pitchers last season, and he allowed 0.99 home runs per nine innings. Though Coors Field has vacillated in its effectiveness as a hitters' park in the past few years, it has traditionally favored bats.

Stellar April (2.73 ERA) and May (2.97) performances gave way to a rough last four months of Smith's rookie year. He had a 5.18 post-break ERA in 80 innings of work. Smith walked nearly as many batters as he struck out last year – 87 free passes compared to 111 K's – which could result in his 4.16 ERA rising dramatically at a hitters' ballpark. The second-year starter could be headed for a typical Colorado pitcher's year – soft-tossing Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis is a perfect example - with an ERA above 5.00 and upwards of 30 home runs allowed.

Fantasy baseball outlook

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, while the risk is evident for all three players acquired by Colorado, the reward is questionable; thus, speculative picks are what should be spent on Street, Gonzalez and Smith. Choose Street late in deep mixed and NL-only drafts if you miss out on closers. Gonzalez is a decent late-round sleeper mainly in NL-only leagues; he should get playing time but will probably be available on most waiver wires following the draft. Smith, finally, should be avoided at all costs, with the exception of a late-round desperation pick in NL-only leagues.

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About Bob Bonett

Bob Bonett started contributing to KFFL in 2008. He has worked formerly for JetsInsider.com as a beat writer for the New York Jets, and has been an avid fantasy sports player since his early teen years. He is now an undergraduate student at Hofstra University majoring in sports journalism.

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