Let’s get optimistic and say that the Rockies will survive their tough schedule early and still be relevant come the end of June (OK, so it’s really optimistic). Let’s say that they are not necessarily in first place, but enjoy a competent enough record that they can still do something this season. If there is still at least that potential for success, then they need a lineup to get excited about. Presumably the team will have thumped their way to moderate success up to that point and will need to continue in that matter. So, how about this lineup?
Once you get to spots 5-8 you could debate the exact order in which those guys would fall, but the point is this: that lineup looks like it can rake, right? You definitely would not want to face that group at Coors Field, and you might even be nervous about them if they were playing away from home. That leaves Rockies GOAT Todd Helton, who will presumably start plenty of games, as a nice pinch hitting option and late defensive replacement. It also gives you DJ LeMahieu as a plus glove off the bench, Jordan Pacheco‘s amazingly consistent bat, and Eric Young Jr.’s speed to play with. So yes, the Rockies might just have a good offense, but it should start with Walt Weiss writing in the best possible starting lineup every day.
That lineup presumes one of two things about the third base position. Either Nolan Arenado wowed enough people that the Rockies elevated him all the way up to the Opening Day roster, or they let him season in Triple A for enough time to keep him under team control for more years and then brought him up to the big club. Either way, his eventual arrival to the Rockies roster means somebody has got to go. And that somebody should be Chris Nelson.
The Rockies should trade Chris Nelson.
A former first round pick, Nelson was a disappointment until the second half of last season. He then enjoyed a mini-explosion of sorts on offense, finally flashing the skills that made him a high pick in the first place. But before that, Nelson came up short in a series of chances to seize a permanent spot with the Rockies, including multiple shortcomings at 2nd base. So the Rockies might not have much leverage in a potential deal that would include Nelson right now, but they also have to worry about another swoon from him to start 2013 that would lampoon his value completely.
If a team like the Oakland Athletics (as Troy Renck suggested last week in the Denver Post) or the New York Yankees (whose desperation is getting depressing) buy into Nelson’s last two months of 2012 as justification to pursue a trade for him right now, the Rockies should seize that opportunity. If they must wait and trade him during the regular season, they will gamble on the fact he can continue to produce and retain his value. And if he does, they should trade him before the middle of the summer.
Trading Nelson opens up a path for Arenado whenever he is ready this season. What if Arenado regresses and needs to spend the entire season in Triple A? What if the Rockies dig themselves a last place hole right away, such that it makes sense to keep Arenado in the minor leagues? Even in those scenarios, it still makes sense to trade Nelson right now.
The Rockies have plenty of placeholders at third base, and their production does not drop off much from Nelson’s (if at all). Start with Jordan Pacheco, a .300 hitter last season. His 2013 Steamer and Bill James projections are eerily similar to Nelson’s, albeit with less power. But it’s all relative, as they say. We’re talking about 5 home runs instead of 9 or 4 home runs instead of 7, and nearly identical projected OPS marks.
Worried about defense? First of all, you should be. But second of all, just because Nelson was better than Pacheco does not mean he was a good or even average defender last season. As long as the person playing third is not Arenado, the Rockies have a hole there on defense. It will be more glaring with Pacheco or Eric Young Jr. (if he ever actually plays there), and perhaps less glaring if DJ LeMahieu plays some time at the hot corner. Either way, defense is certainly no reason to keep the more athletic Nelson around.
Nelson, LeMahieu, Pacheco, and Josh Rutledge have all earned playing time for the Rockies this season (not to mention Jonathan Herrera). At some point one of them needs to go in a trade. If there is a market for Nelson, and even if that market is underwhelming in many regards, he needs to be the one traded. If it’s possible, this should happen sooner rather than later as the Rockies juggle their glut of infielders in preparation for Opening Day.