On the long, long, long list of problems for the Rockies this season, the acquisition of Jeremy Guthrie from the Baltimore Orioles sits at the very top. Seeking a blend of veteran stability and youthful promise on their pitching staff, the organization traded starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom for Guthrie.
As of today, Guthrie is an unmitigated and miserable disaster, among the worst the Rockies have ever seen (which is no small task). His ineptitude has forced the team to aggressively pursue trading him, presumably just to get him and his fancy yet defective bikes the heck out of town. In the meantime, and to the dismay of the Colorado faithful, Jason Hammel is in the midst of an inexplicably quick transformation from enigma to staff ace. Consider these statistics: last season Hammel struck out 94 hitters in 170.1 innings; this season he has struck out 77 in 81.2 innings. His record stands at 7-2, including a one hit shutout within the last week. And that’s without even mentioning that Lindstrom, the second part of the two-for-one deal, has been solid when healthy, striking out 14 and walking only 4 in 13 innings of work.
With things as bad as they are, one cannot help but wonder where the Rockies would be if they had kept Hammel and Lindstrom. Understandably so, considering the fact that this team’s starting staff is on pace to be historically bad. Indulging these kind of “what if?” questions can be risky on the one hand, but it can be useful and surprisingly entertaining on the other. So what if the Rockies never made the trade for Jeremy Guthrie? Here are some innocent, somewhat supportable musings.
Jason Hammel might be in the minor leagues.
For my own part, I am happy for Hammel. Even with the frustration that he never broke through like this in Colorado, it is a nice story. Having said that, if you watch him pitch, this version of Hammel is nothing like the guy who completely fell apart last year and eventually ended up in the bullpen. Rather than try to break down what is different about his delivery or his pitches, I will just say that something really changed for him in Baltimore and that these changes are immediately and readily visible. Perhaps this can be linked to a shortcoming on the part of the Rockies coaches, but whatever the reason, there was no scenario where the Rockies were going to enjoy a dominant Jason Hammel. Anybody who believes it was possible for Hammel, after the debacle that was his 2011 season, to ever look like he does right now in a Rockies uniform is down on the organization to the point of the delusion. The Orioles saved his career, and it is very hard for me to believe that would have been possible in Colorado.
Adam Jones might not be rich.
He might have received a contract extension anyway and I do not want to overstate Hammel’s importance to the team, but one can still at least wonder. As likable as Jeremy Guthrie is, he was a central figure in the status quo as the Orioles lingered at the bottom of the AL East standings. Jones might have been in line for big money anyway (he probably should have been), but the team’s early success certainly seemed to accelerate the process. The shakeup that was this trade is a huge part of that success.
The Esmil Rogers saga might have mercifully ended much, much sooner.
Rewind back to the spring: Lindstrom stays, there is one less spot in the bullpen, and maybe the team quits trying to talk itself into Rogers before he ever has the chance to crash and burn in the early months of the season.
The damage to the Rockies’ improved clubhouse culture would be immeasurable.
Guthrie is a key part of the remarkably successful effort to improve the culture in the Colorado clubhouse. The team might be terrible, but thanks to recently acquired players like Guthrie, Michael Cuddyer, and Ramon Hernandez, things in the clubhouse are right on track!
OK OK, I’m totally kidding. Hello? Anybody?
And finally, most importantly:
The Rockies would still stink.
The starting pitching would still be miserably bad (see above note about Hammel in Colorado) and the bullpen would still be pretty good. The offense would still be pretty good but not nearly enough to save this season. It would have been the same bundle of disappointment with different packaging.
What if the Rockies had not traded for Jeremy Guthrie? Other than not having him as a punching bag and punchline for future jokes about the worst transactions in franchise history, not much would be different. All of which brings me to this question: is the fact that things would not be much different comforting or upsetting?
Don’t look at me.