MVPs

I was all ready to get angry, and the writers went and picked the right guys in both leagues. How annoying.

I suppose I could give some links now about the Rockies’ ongoing pursuit of Elmer Dessens, but who cares? Elmer Dessens? Wake me up if they decide to talk real money with Matt Morris.

Mo’ Awards

So some more awards have been announced. Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Cox won AL and NL Manager of the Year, and I’m fine with that. Chris Carpenter won the NL Cy Young, and had not Roger Clemens already won a bunch of things I might be a little mad, but obviously that’s not the case. I’m mildly angry about Bartolo Colon winning the AL Cy Young, but I’m saving my tantrum energy in case Andruw Jones somehow wins the NL MVP.

No major Rockies news to report yet. They’ve talked informally to Paul DePodesta about taking on an advisory role, but DePo is wisely waiting to see how the market shakes out. The rumor sites duly list Colorado’s interest in Matt Morris, but I’ll believe that when I see it. If Morris’s choices are really Seattle, Kansas City, and the Rockies as ESPN Insider claims, he might as well come here. (Speaking of the Mariners, is this Ichiro trade business for real, or as the Daily Quickie speculates, is it just the evil New York Media stirring up trouble again?) Paul Konerko will get his money somewhere, although the White Sox ought to be able to afford him. And our division rivals in Phoenix are going to lose one of their best pitchers.

More when we get those MVP announcements.

Rookies of the Year

Winners are Huston Street and Ryan Howard, probably the right two guys. Three Rockies on the NL ballot, albeit quite a ways back: Garrett Atkins (fourth), Jeff Francis (sixth), and Clint Barmes (eighth). It’s a shame that Barmes got hurt, because there really wasn’t a single rookie position player who played all season in the NL and put up impressive numbers. Which, yes, is a veiled slap at Houston’s Willy Taveras (.666 OPS in 152 games) and Atkins (.238/.301/.347 on the road). The Phillies still have no place to play Howard assuming Jim Thome returns to health. They might as well trade Thome and pay however much of his remaining salary it takes to do so; you have to figure that Howard at the minimum plus three-quarters of Thome’s money isn’t too bad of a deal. The question is why they signed Thome in the first place. All the teams lining up to give Paul Konerko big dollars for multiple years should take heed.

Huston Street is the man; it only took him half a season to build up a reputation as the second- or third-best closer in the American League. And that should be something teams looking to sign B.J. Ryan or Billy Wagner should pay attention to.

The Rockies’ free-agent shopping list is out there and it’s not pretty. There are more guys on here I am praying they don’t sign than guys I would be happy to see them add. Neifi Perez? Shawn Estes? Terry Mulholland? Elmer Dessens? No, no, no, no. As a corollary to our already-established "better than Mike Esposito" rule, I’d like to introduce the related "better than Omar Quintanilla" rule. Dan O’Dowd, Neifi Perez is not better than Omar Quintanilla. Actually, after a quick glance at Esposito’s hitting stats, I’m not sure he wouldn’t be a more efficacious option as a backup shortstop. Aren’t we trying to remake the image of the Colorado franchise here? How does bringing back guys who have already been bad for us to be bad some more help in this?

The one guy on the Post list whom we should have interest in is Byung-Hyun Kim, whose national reputation is still colored primarily by his remarkable 2001 postseason but was the Rockies’ second most reliable starter in 2005. If Dan O’Dowd elects to sign Shawn Estes over BK, this page will be a Royals blog next year.

Unintended Consequences

Here’s why it never pays to ignore any team in baseball, even one as lowly as the Rockies: it’s a small, closed community. Reputations matter, and folks have very long memories indeed. What am I talking about? Well, remember the three-way Orioles-Red Sox-Rockies deal that fell apart on Boston’s end way back in July? At the time, it was reported that it was Boston assistant GM Josh Byrnes (now GM in Arizona) who was at fault for promising Colorado Kelly Shoppach and Adam Stern for Larry Bigbie. Now according to ESPN.com’s Sean McAdam, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino was simply using Byrnes as a scapegoat. It was the higher-ups who made Byrnes and GM Theo Epstein pull out of the deal, and at the time Byrnes was the one who had the least to lose by taking the blame. In conversations with Colorado’s management and the local media, Lucchino threw Byrnes under the bus so that Epstein’s reputation might remain clean enough for him to continue dealing with Colorado and the numerous organizations who hold Dan O’Dowd’s word in high esteem.

Now Epstein is leaving his job with the Red Sox, and the reason according to McAdam might have something to do with Lucchino going one too many times to the well on the Shoppach story. After once deflecting blame towards Byrnes to help Epstein, Lucchino’s purposes were now served in his negotiations with Epstein over a new contract to make the young GM look bad. So Lucchino spread a story about his stepping in to save face for Epstein, Theo got wind of it, and basically said, "That’s it." He’d had enough. The younger generation of baseball minds — the Epsteins and Paul DePodestas — have very little use for the P.R. games the wily old guys like to play. They’re in it to win baseball games, or at least they thought they were.

Apparently Theo Epstein will take a year off to do social work with his brother, and good for him if that’s the case. There are things more important than winning all the time, things more important than always seeming to have the upper hand. You have to wonder if Larry Lucchino appreciates that.

1/2 Chac

The dice are feelin’ the pitchers so far, I tell you what. Today I rolled Ramon Ramirez, one of the two relief prospects Colorado received from the Yankees in the Shawn Chacon trade. I didn’t expect very much from either Ramirez or his cohort Eduardo Sierra, so frankly I haven’t looked at their stats all year. Was I right to be so dismissive?

Well, according to the early returns on Ramirez…yes. The righthander started the season as a starter with AAA Columbus, where he gave up 32 hits and nine walks in 27 innings. That "earned" him a demotion to AA Trenton, where he continued to start and was 6-5 with a 3.84 ERA and an improved 1.28 WHIP. He reported to Colorado’s Tulsa affiliate 7/28 and worked as a swingman. His ERA jumped back up to 5.33 (coincidentally the same number it had been in Columbus) and his WHIP trended back upwards. He’s in the Arizona Fall League playing for Peoria, again as a swingman, and he’s been no better, posting a 7.53 ERA in seven games (one start). The AFL is a notorious hitters’ league but his WHIP is back near 2.00 and that’s not good anywhere.

The good news about Ramirez is he’s not super old (24) and wherever he goes, he strikes guys out when he’s not getting pounded by them (a composite 8.27 K/9 on the year). Sporadically effective righthanded middle relievers, however, are just about the least valuable commodity in baseball. I haven’t looked at Sierra’s numbers yet (the dice haven’t told me to), but unless he’s pitching like Felix Hernandez the Rockies got out and out rooked by NYY.

Update: Tracy Ringolsby says that Colorado could be a possible landing place for ousted Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta. One word: yes. Do this! I promise, adding DePodesta’s player evaluation acumen to O’Dowd’s respected old-school scouting skills would do more to make the Rockies better than any possible free agent player signing you might care to name. Pull the trigger on this one, Dan! We Rockies fans accept that we don’t sign superstar players any more, so give us a superstar front office guy.

Here Comes the Sun

Today the dice say we’re going to look at Sun-Woo Kim, but first, a few words on the Dodgers’ firing of general manager Paul DePodesta. According to owner Frank McCourt this move is an attempt to restore order to a franchise that’s been largely in disarray the past few seasons, but it’s likely that it will only set off another volley of power struggles. The timing is peculiar, too. McCourt let DePodesta fire Jim Tracy, a good manager, because the two had ideological differences. If you’re going to fire DePo anyway, why not try to keep Tracy? The other alarming thing is that venerated Dodger relic Tommy Lasorda has apparently recaptured the owner’s ear. Lasorda doesn’t want to come out of retirement to serve as manager or GM, but he does apparently want to choose who will fill those positions, from which no good can come. If Tommy gets the next Los Angeles management team their jobs, it only stands to reason that he will expect them to always take his advice as well. McCourt and only McCourt should make the decision — as he seemingly did with DePodesta, only to dramatically flip-flop.

Paul DePodesta only ran the Dodgers for two years. One of those years, they won a division title. This year, they managed to stay in contention (sort of) with an injury-ridden team that had only Jeff Kent, Oscar Robles, and eighteen guys named "Jason." OK, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that J.D. Drew, DePodesta’s big offseason signing, got hurt. But can you really criticize the man for declining to pay Adrian Beltre $64 million to be less valuable than So Taguchi? Or for trading notorious first-half player Paul Lo Duca for much-needed starting pitching? Whatever you want to make of DePodesta’s big league moves, you can’t judge a GM’s overall impact in just two years. You can’t make a judgement on any of the guys DePo drafted in that short a time. For what it’s worth, the farm system’s overall ranking from Baseball America went up from 14th in Dan Evans’ last year (2003) to 2nd last preseason.

But if the Dodgers want to fire their young, dynamic guys and bring in retreads (Lasorda wants Pat Gillick and Bobby Valentine), that’s their business. The Angels, who have been better run for a while and now also spend more money, will continue eroding their fanbase. Hey, it took Kenny Williams a few years to figure out what he wanted to do and get the guys he needed to do it. How long will the Dodgers get before Gillick "retires" again, then tries to run the franchise from the shadows as he attempted in Seattle? This all comes as great news for the Rockies, as a divisional rival with a glorious history, superior resources, and better-looking uniforms has basically defused itself for the rest of the decade. Right on.

Okay then. Sun-Woo "Sunny" Kim was picked up off waivers from Washington in August and was pressed into starting duty immediately for the makeup doubleheader against Florida August 8th. Kim had been pretty bad for the Nationals predominantly in a middle relief role but as soon as he got to Colorado his ERA began to trend downwards. How about that? Pretty much all of his stats improved upon joining the Rockies, including K/9 (6.41 from 5.22) and opponents’ OPS (.728 from .853). I don’t think this indicates that Kim possesses Reverse Coors ability so much as he just prefers starting to relieving. Thanks to injuries and Jamey Wright’s sublime Jamey Wright-ness, Kim got to start for most of the balance of the season. He stayed good, peaking with a complete-game shutout win over the Giants at Coors on 9/24.

Kim, now 28, was signed out of South Korea by Boston in 1997. The Red Sox traded him to Montreal for Cliff Floyd in 2002, and he moved with the Expos when they became the Nationals. There’s no accounting for why Sunny found pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium not to his liking (although public questionings from the cantankerous Frank Robinson likely did not help matters along) and acclimated so well to Coors, but now that he’s here let’s enjoy it. He’s still in his arbitration period and should be a cheap, and therefore very appealing, rotation option for the Rockies. He’s better than Mike Esposito, in any case.

The prospect guides aren’t real excited about Kim’ raw stuff, although he does mix a bunch of pitches (fastball, curve, slider, change) and must be doing something right as his strikeout rate is consistently decent. If there’s one red flag in Kim’s career, it’s the inconsistent usage pattern, which could be either the problem or a symptom. He’s likely to get a crack at a fourth starter spot with the 2006 Rockies, assuming he doesn’t utterly crater in spring training. There are worse options, and for a team working on a budget such as Colorado’s you have to be both creative and lucky to win. It didn’t cost them anything to pick up Kim beyond the price of a waiver claim, and he’ll make so little that they won’t hesitate to let him go as easily as they brought him on. Kim isn’t going to work super-deep into games regularly, but he’s not afraid of Coors and he has a clean injury history. His dicey record as a middle reliever decreases his flexbility, but let’s hope that’s a bridge we won’t have to cross.

Cooking

Welcome to the TGTBATB’s 2005 offseason coverage! We’ve got plenty of time between now and Spring Training, so I figured we’d just go down the 40-man roster. I didn’t have any particular feeling as for where to start, so I just rolled some percentile dice (if you know what percentile dice are, pat yourself on the back and give yourself one nerd point). I got a 4, which corresponds to Aaron Cook. That’s lucky, because it means we’ll start our look at the 2006 Rockies with a guy who ought to be the MVP of the pitching staff next year.

Before we crunch the numbers on this very good pitcher, though, a news item about a very bad one: the Rockies confirm interest in signing Shawn Estes, most recently of Arizona. There’s not much point in spending a lot of time on this. Shawn Estes is lousy. He’s not worth the veterans’ minimum, let alone whatever seven-figure salary some stupid team will lavish upon him. Let’s not be that team, OK? Here’s a rule of thumb for Colorado with regard to free agent starters. Is he better than Mike Esposito? Esposito will work for cheap and is not terrible. Shawn Estes is not better than Mike Esposito.

Hopefully, that unpleasantness is now behind us for good. On to Aaron Cook. Cook’s line from last year: 7-2, 101 hits, 16 walks, 34 earned runs, 8 home runs, and 24 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings pitched. Other than his first major league start of the year 7/30 against the Phillies, Cook was consistently the ace of the Colorado staff. The Rockies were 9-4 in his starts. Cook was never a big strikeout pitcher, but the key to his success in 2005 was control amazing for a player who missed nearly a full season.

Many experts say the secret to pitching at Coors Field is having stuff that sinks, and Cook has a sinker that’s good at any altitude. When everything is working, his groundball to flyball ratio is more than 3 to 1. Aaron allows more than his fair share of hits (.301 opponents’ BA in ’05) but the combination of not giving up free passes, keeping the ball in the park, and coaxing double plays out of hitters led to a very respectable 3.67 ERA. Cook was actually slightly better at home (.750 OPS allowed) than on the road (.801). He must feel more confident at Coors, as he walked more than twice as many batters on the road as he did at home.

Never before in the history of the Colorado Rockies has there been a starting pitcher you could in good confidence recommend to a fantasy baseball owner. Well, next year, that all changes. Aaron Cook isn’t going to win a strikeout crown, but his ERA will be strong and he could easily win 16 games. His injury was both freak and not arm-related (Cook had a rib removed to improve his circulation). The only thing to worry about is for a guy who gets so many ground balls, the Colorado infield defense could stand to be a whole lot better.