Rockies on the Trade Block

As the Major League regular season winds down, it becomes time for teams to start preparing for the offseason and decide what the team is going to look like for next year. The Colorado Rockies front office could have started preparing months ago, but sadly the only deadline deal made sent Marco Scutaro to the Giants for not much in return. 

According to Troy Renck of The Denver Post, the Rockies are willing to listen to offers on outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Dexter Fowler. Renck credits this information to rival executives in the industry, so we should take this with a grain of salt. While these rumors don't seem completely farfetched because of the Rockies logjam at first base and in the outfield, I wouldn't burn my Cuddyer or Fowler jerseys just yet. 

Let's start with Fowler, who had the best season of his career at the plate this year and subsequently was the best hitter on the club leading the Rockies with a 3.5 oWAR (BBref). Looking solely at Fowler's BB%, K%, and ISO (isolated power, SLG-BA), he had a very similar season to 2011 as in each of the last two years he's walked at least 12% of the time, struck out at least 23% of the time, and posted an ISO over .166. 

The difference this year is Fowler seems to be hitting the ball a lot harder. His line drive rate is up to 27.2% from 21.4% last season and his BABIP is up to .390 from .354. This led to Fowler finally completing a full season in the Majors without getting sent down to Triple-A to work on swing mechanics, which he seems to have ironed out, and his first season with a .300 average since he was at Double-A in 2008. 

Thanks to time missed by Troy Tulowitzki and a bit of a down year for Carlos Gonzalez, Fowler was the Rockies best offensive player this year. His defense, however, leaves something to be desired according to the advanced metrics. FanGraphs' UZR was never much a fan of Fowler in center, but gave him one of his lowest scores ever this season (-14.3). Now, UZR isn't perfect, and Coors Field's spacious outfield alleys can be daunting even on an outfielder with Dex's range, but the point stands that his defense at Coors isn't where he's providing value. 

Fowler turns 27 at the end of March before Opening Day 2013 and will be arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season. Fowler has said he wants to stay in Colorado and recently changed agents from Scott Boras to Casey Close, who represents many players including Derek Jeter. The agent switch certainly makes an extension in Colorado more palatable. Still, there are plenty of teams that would be interested in Fowler and have an opening in centerfield for next year. The Braves certainly come to mind as Michael Bourn is set to be a free agent this winter, Atlanta has many good young arms in the system, and Fowler is a Georgia native. 

There really isn't another time to make this decision on Fowler; the time is now. The Rockies front office needs to decide either to sign Fowler to a long term deal this offseason or trade him for a haul that can set them up to contend in years to come. Fowler had his best year at the best time and now he's forced them into this decision that can almost only end in Fowler getting a massive pay day whether they keep him or not. 

Even if somehow the Rockies can't find the right return for him in a trade this offseason—and let's be honest that wouldn't be so surprising given this team traded Seth Smith for Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso last year—Fowler will take them to the cleaners in arbitration this offseason if a long term deal isn't agreed upon.

Fowler is hardly looked at as a three true outcomes guy (HR, BB, SO) because of his lack of home runs (13), but he did have the third best OBP of anyone who struck out 120 times in the National League this season. He also had the 6th best OPS in all of baseball of batters with at least 65 walks and 120 strikeouts. The only batters ahead of him there: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Willingham, Matt Holliday, and Chase Headley. These aren't bad stats or lists to be on when you're heading into contract negotiations. 

Michael Cuddyer, the other Rockies outfielder rumored to be available, was rewarded last offseason with a very rich deal himself. The Rockies signed Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract and through one season the club has been rewarded with very little return on investment. Cuddyer, a corner outfielder with no defensive value on the wrong side of 30, is just about the perfect model for a player who doesn't figure to age particularly well. As you can see from his offensive numbers, he's already in decline (100 OPS+) and really only useful against left-handed pitching (.304 OBP vs. RHP).

The Rockies listened to offers on Cuddyer at the trade deadline this year and those talks went nowhere because this front office values him higher than every other front office. That's why they signed him in the first place, although Troy Renck claimed in his piece that there was a mystery team that matched the Rockies lucrative offer, which I'm not sure I believe even from an anonymous source.

Either way, at this point if the Rockies want to move Cuddyer the club will be picking up a significant portion of what remains on his contract. I doubt the Rockies willingness to eat enough money to move Cuddyer for the juice to be worth the squeeze as even if a team acquiring Cuddyer only has to pay half of the remaining $21 million left on his contract that team isn't going to give up a decent player for that privilege. At least Cuddyer can do some pretty amazing card tricks and is still a public relations dreamboat, which could be why they signed him in the first place. 

Renck also reports that teams will come calling about Troy Tulowitzki this offseason, but even after these last two horrible seasons for Colorado it doesn't appear that Tulo will be made available. The Rockies front office has to find ways to set this team up better for the future and listening to offers on these players is certainly an option worth exploring, but this news doesn't put Rockies fans at ease after the club made the two worst trades in baseball last winter. 

Rockies Digest Top Stories