The juxtaposition that characterizes the end of Todd Helton‘s career has bludgeoned us all over the head in the last few days.
On Saturday he tossed out three hits and was a key contributor in a game that looked to put the Rockies’ offense back on track. It seemed perfectly reasonable to think that showing would translate into a stretch of healthy offense as the team continued its home stand.
On Monday night Helton looked a tick behind, showing his age in a manner that makes us all sad. That resulted in three strikeouts from the king of the foul ball, the wizard of the two-strike count, the all-timer who is supposed to only whiff on the rarest of rare occasions. I will never, ever get used to the visual of Helton striking out.
On Tuesday the juxtaposition played out in a single game. The real Toddfather (looking at you, Reds fans) blasted a second deck home run on an inside fastball from young stud Jose Fernandez. He followed that moment of glory by striking out with two in scoring position in the 4th inning and then popping out meekly to end the game when he represented the tying run in the bottom of the 9th.
Loyal as we all are, from fans to coaches to the front office, and much as we will always revere Todd Helton, the fact is that the Rockies are not getting enough production from first base. Jordan Pacheco has been a spectacular disaster as a platoon-mate with Helton, meaning that the Rockies could seriously use an upgrade at that spot.
Here is an idea of how bad things have gotten: Helton is batting .265/.343/.392. He has seven home runs and 32 RBI. His OPS is .736.
Helton’s wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is 90, with the league average being set at 100. Among first baseman, that puts him somewhere among the ranks of Mark Reynolds (93) and Carlos Pena (88); the latter was recently designated for assignment by the Astros.
Pacheco’s fall from grace has been catastrophic. His lack of power probably means he never profiled as a first baseman, but he was still a competent hitter in 2012. In 505 plate appearances Pacheco batted .309/.341/.421. At the very least it was reasonable to think that Pacheco was a competent big league hitter. This year he is batting .231/.271/.302, with one home run and 17 RBI. As a platoon player he is not exactly an ideal option, as he is batting .183 against left-handed pitching.
Seriously…production from first base is sorely lacking.
One option, one that would not involve a trade, would be to increase Cuddyer’s playing time at first and seek an offensive upgrade via a different outfielder. This option provides some less appealing but also less awkward options, such as Charlie Blackmon (who has come on as of late) or Xavier Nady (.266/.324/.359 with no home runs so far in Triple-A). This would also potentially be a path to give Corey Dickerson a second shot at consistent Major League production with more playing time.
The team could also conceivably try to trade for outfield pop, but I have a hard time envisioning that scenario given the fact that we recently thought the team had too many outfielders.
Would the Rockies ever dream of trying to trade for a first baseman? A guy who would actually be acquired specifically to take playing time from Helton and relegate him to a true back-up role? Jonah Keri wondered about this alternative for the Rockies about one month ago. He wrote:
But a more likely scenario (assuming the Rockies stay in the race) would involve a trade, maybe something like acquiring Adam LaRoche from the Nats if the rumors that Washington might want to buy and sell at that position at the same time are true.”
LaRoche is batting .247/.329/.421 on the year with 13 home runs and 43 RBI. However it is hard to imagine the Nationals giving up any offensive firepower, seeing as they are sorely lacking in that department and apparently remain convinced they are contenders this season.
There would be an upgrade in power there, but not much else. That kind of acquisition is probably better suited for a proven contender, as opposed to a flailing contender such as the Rockies are these days.
Justin Morneau? Cuddy’s former teammate might be available. He is batting a solid .273/.331/.405 with a meek seven home runs and 52 RBI. In his case, presumably a move away from Target Field would result in an increase in power numbers. It is unclear what it might take the Rockies to get him and he is a free agent at season’s end.
For me it is impossible to imagine this kind of trade because of the respect the franchise has for Helton. For better or for worse, the Rockies know about loyalty. To trade for LaRoche or Morneau would be to trade for a slightly better version of the player Helton is in his old age. I just think the Rockies would never do that, even if they were in first place right now.
It might be tempting to disparage that loyal line of thinking, but remember for a moment all of the seasons Helton suffered through as the only star on teams full of duds. After all of that and all of the time Helton has given us as a classy face of the franchise, maybe a more fitting way to handle this unfortunate dilemma is to make subtle changes in-house.
But if that is the way the Rockies will go, they need to upgrade the other half of the platoon and they need to do it like, right away. Among their many problems on offense, the lack of production from first base ranks near the top of the list. Subtle or not, they need to implement a plan to try and change that.