This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
Colorado didn’t make too many moves this offseason, but one big trade combined with the continued development of some very promising young players could lead to one of the most competitive Rockies squads in recent memory taking the field in 2007.
After staff ace Jason Jennings rejected the team’s offer of a 3-year, $24.5 million extension, GM Dan O’Dowd moved quickly, shipping Jennings and minor league reliever Miguel Asencio to Houston for centerfielder Willy Taveras and pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh.
This trade is pure genius for the Rockies. Jennings was a fan favorite to be sure, and the only player on the team known outside of Denver, but he only has one year left on his contract, and Buchholz and Hirsh both project to be major league starters for many years to come. Meanwhile, Taveras fills two huge holes for the Rockies, both as a centerfielder and as a leadoff hitter with speed. The package the Rockies got in return for Jennings is reportedly the same package the Astros offered the White Sox for John Garland.
Looking at the two pitchers, Buchholz was once a highly touted prospect, but his career progress has been derailed a bit by a 2004 surgery to fix a torn labrum. His velocity finally returned to its original 92-94 mph range, but he still needs to develop his breaking ball and changeup, and posted a disappointing record of 6-10 with a 5.89 ERA last season. Still, Buccholz is only 25, and has plenty of time to get back on track.
Hirsh is the real key to the trade for the Rockies. The intimidating 6’8” righthander has a biting 93 mph fastball with good sink, along with a hard slider and a developing changeup. He was Pitcher of the Year in the Texas League in 2005 and in the Pacific Coast League in 2006, and was the MiLB.com Triple-A Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2006 as well. He is only 24 years old and projects to be a no. 3 starter or better.
Along with Hirsh, Buchholtz, and returning starters Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis, the Rockies also dealt two B-Grade minor leaguers to the Orioles for Rodrigo Lopez, re-signed Josh Fogg and Byung-Hyun Kim, and signed Brian Lawrence, giving them 8 major-league calibre starting pitchers. Given the grueling task starting pitching becomes at Coors field, this is probabally a wise move, and one that allows Hirsh to begin the season in AAA, lets Kim return to the bullpen, and still leaves one pitcher left over as insurance or trade bait.
Meanwhile, on the offensive side, the Rockies return a powerful young lineup whose oldest player will be first baseman Todd Helton, who is only going to be 33. Third baseman Garrett Atkins, leftfielder Matt Holliday, and rightfielder Brad Hawpe all OPS’d over .900 last season, and holes at second base and shortstop were filled in the final months by a revived Kazuo Matsui (.345/.392/.504 after coming over from the Mets) and late-season call-up Troy Tulowitzki.
With a lineup that has no longer has any real weak spots and starting pitching to spare, the Rockies have had a strong offseason and could be a sleeper pick for the Wild Card in 2007.
Offseason Grade: A-
Acquisitions: Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz, Brian Lawrence, LaTroy Hawkins
Losses: Jason Jennings, Jose Mesa, Choo Freeman
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer
CF Willy Taveras – .278/.333/.338, 33 SB
2B Kazuo Matsui – .267/.310/.379, 10 SB
1B Todd Helton – .302/.404/.476 , 15 HR
LF Matt Holliday – .326/.387/.586, 34 HR
3B Garrett Atkins – .329/.409/.556, 29 HR
RF Brad Hawpe – .293/.383/.515, 22 HR
C Yorvit Torrealba – .247/.293/.439, 7 HR
SS Troy Tulowitzki – .240/.318/.292, 1 HR
LHP Jeff Francis – 13-11, 4.16
RHP Aaron Cook – 9-15, 4.23
RHP Rodrigo Lopez – 9-18, 5.90
RHP Josh Fogg – 11-9, 5.49
RHP Brian Lawrence – no stats
CL Brian Fuentes – 30 SV, 3.44