Before the season it seemed so simple. The Colorado Rockies were counting on Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer to be studs in the corners of their outfield. The team could then simply let things fall where they may with the likes of Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon, Brandon Barnes, and Corey Dickerson.
While each of those guys had some upside, you can’t blame the Rockies for thinking that the competition would yield tidy results. They were probably counting on an outcome like this or some variation thereof:
- CF Platoon: Stubbs/Dickerson
- 5th outfielder: Blackmon
- Triple-A depth: Barnes
When a quirky roster situation emerged at the beginning of the season the team decided to carry six outfielders. Combined with an injury to Cuddyer, the Rockies had the chance to get every one of the outfielders an extended look. It was at that point that a welcome and well-known problem presented itself. Illustrated in the form of slash lines below:
- Blackmon: .352/.385/.614/.998
- Dickerson: .375/.393/.714/1.108
- Stubbs: .297/.341/.446/.787
- Barnes: .343/.398/.447/.845
At this point you might think that defense has created separation among the group, but not so: Stubbs and Barnes are elite defenders while Blackmon and the much-improved Dickerson present minimal drop-offs. Blackmon and Barnes tout the most versatility in terms of Weiss’s willingness to play them in the corners, but that is splitting hairs.
So what you have here is four guys playing well and nowhere to play them when Cuddyer returns. At this point we should note that Cuddy’s production pre-injury was nothing to sneeze at either: .317/.373/.533/.906 through 16 games. And if you think playing Cuddyer at first base is a solution, you will quickly remember that is not much of an option with Justin Morneau batting .329/.356/.593/.949 so far and holding his own against left-handed pitchers (.300 average in 20 games).
When faced with such a situation, a surplus of quality players at the same position, the natural solution seems to be a trade. In the case of the Rockies and their historical issues on the mound, the solution becomes: trade one of those outfielders for a pitcher.
It’s not that simple, though, and frankly it probably is not an option. As Drew Creasman notes over at Purple Row, the Rockies will likely opt for depth over the risk of trading one of these guys, especially given the uncertainty of the return you could get for one of them.
I have crafted and perpetuated the following motto in the last couple years: video game trades don’t happen in real life. Yes, it would be awesome if the Rockies could trade Stubbs for a solid starting pitcher or if they could just turn and deal Cuddyer to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija. People think those options are real and then get mad when the Rockies do not act.
Those options are not real. Those kinds of clean, convenient trades do not happen in real life. Pitching is the currency of Major League Baseball. These points just start to explain why nobody should be surprised or upset if the Rockies’ front office does not trade one of these outfielders for pitching.
Here are some more reasons, one outfielder at a time, why there will not be a deal for an outfielder.
Michael Cuddyer – the Qualifying Offer
The questions about a Cuddyer trade will be asked a lot in the coming weeks and months. It makes sense: he is a veteran in a contract year on a deal that overpays him, right? Why wouldn’t they trade him?
The Rockies place tremendous value in Cuddyer’s presence in the locker room. That will be the answer offered in many cases when folks ask about trading Cuddy. But the real reason might have more to do with the cold-hearted business of baseball: the now infamous qualifying offer.
I refer you to a tweet from Jon Heyman all the way back on April 1st.
hear rockies figuring theyll make qualifying offers to de la rosa & cuddyer. me: if so cuddyer could become 1st to take it
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) April 2, 2014
Of all the scenarios with Cuddyer’s uncertain future in Colorado, the Rockies probably figure that the best value they could possibly envision in return for losing him is the high draft pick they would receive if a team went crazy and signed him after he turned down a qualifying offer.
We should also stop for a moment and look at the second half of Heyman’s tweet: with Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew toiling away in free agency waiting for the amateur draft to pass, future Q.O. players might be more willing to take the deal. And of that group Cuddy might be the guy most likely to do it of them all.
If that entire complicated scenario plays itself out then the Rockies get to keep Cuddyer, something they surely will not complain about because they love him. The logic of trading a player in his walk year is that the team knows they will lose him anyway so they might as well get value for him; the Rockies are not ready to assume that Cuddyer is gone after the season and they would presumably like to see if they can keep him.
Granted they could end up keeping him for a big number if he does get to that stage and accept the offer, but it would only be for one more season. The Rockies would likely find that risk to be well worth it for a combination of the reasons offered here.
In the end, the Rockies probably want to wait and see with their beloved silver-fox outfielder. They can afford to do so because of the protection offered by the qualifying offer. They will not trade Michael Cuddyer in 2014.
Charlie Blackmon – too valuable
When he was a risk to not make the team I thought a trade for Blackmon was very much in play. The combination of his hot start and the versatility he offers make him too valuable at this point. Unless a team goes crazy with an offer because they either believe in his hot start or have a thing for his beard, @Chuck_Nazty isn’t going anywhere.
Corey Dickerson – too high an upside
Dickerson will quickly become the player opposing teams frequently ask for in a trade package; that is probably as good a sign as any that the Rockies should hold onto him long term. Any deal involving Dickerson would have to be a blockbuster, like say if the Rockies put together a giant package for David Price that involved him and multiple top pitching prospects…and before you get excited and say that the Rockies should do exactly that…just, no.
This team cannot afford to overpay in prospects in a trade for “proven” players. The good thing is the Rockies have no history whatsoever of pulling the trigger on such deals. Dickerson isn’t going anywhere.
Drew Stubbs – $4 million
While the Rockies are thrilled with the production from Stubbs, they probably are not thrilled with the amount of money they pay him. The likelihood that another team would trade for Stubbs and take on that cap hit is quite low. The Rockies would rather pay Stubbs to play for them than for another team, especially given the value of his defense.
Brandon Barnes – seriously?
Look, Brandon Barnes has won me over. I was not a believer before the season; you probably could have called me a “hater,” insomuch as the term is used in similar contexts. He has been a pleasant surprise and I am a big fan. But even if the Rockies believe his strong start is for real, it is unlikely other teams agree. They certainly won’t agree to the extent that they will give up anything of value in a trade. Barnes also brings valuable speed and defense and plays well off the bench. He will stay with the Rockies for the foreseeable future.
MLB trade rumors are always fun. And yes, the Rockies might have possibilities to make a move with this surplus of outfielders. Maybe they will surprise me and make a trade, but I find it unlikely with any of these players.