Of all the horrible misfortunes that have befallen the Rockies nation this season, perhaps the most earth-shattering was the trading of Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians on July 30th. No disrespect to Juan Nicasio, who certainly feels that his broken neck shattered the earth, but he’s up and walking like a champ now, and if/when he pitches again it will be in a Rockies uniform. Ubaldo is gone, and nobody saw it coming. Next week I’ll tackle the top 10 reasons the trade was a bad idea, because that’s the side I’m on at the moment. This week, the more challenging task of finding 10 reasons it was a good idea.
10. Something Had to Be Done
This season has been a colossal disappointment. Period. The Rockies were 6 games below .500 on the day Ubaldo was traded, and you could argue that the front office had no choice but to initiate some sort of shake-up. Whether Ubaldo was the right human sacrifice, and whether it worked, remains to be seen. 10 days later, the team is 8 games below .500.
9. There’s Nothing Wrong with Taking Advantage of Others
The truth is, the Rockies were out of the postseason hunt a long time ago. The mid-season trade deadline is about contending teams buying the players they think they need to go all the way and non-contending teams selling their team’s present for another team’s future. The Rockies’ were asking top dollar for Ubaldo, as they should have been. Giving him up for four prospects who have yet to prove anything at a major-league level was a risk, but the Indians top-level prospects were gutted in this trade. They sold the farm in the hopes that they might win a championship this year. They were desperate, and the Rockies used their desperation to fill the organization with young pitchers who might sustain the franchise for many years to come. Maybe they asked for too much. But that’s what the trade deadline is about, and the Rockies played their cards cleverly.
8. Ubaldo Might Be Better Off
This doesn’t affect the Rockies in the least. But if you love Ubaldo, as I do, you’re at least a little bit happy that he could potentially have a much better career now that his home park is Progressive Field rather than Coors Field. His home-road splits tell the whole story. He started out pitching much better at home (in 2007, his ERA was 3.81 at Coors and 5.01 on the road), but as each season went on, his home ERA worsened and his road ERA got better. Ubaldo’s home ERA this season is 5.55, and his road ERA is 3.80, almost the exact opposite of his rookie season. Pitching in Cleveland could both extend and enhance his career.
7. He Also Might Have Peaked
One explanation for Ubaldo’s splits is the air at 5,280 feet. The Rockies are still too young a team with too unsuccessful a track record in developing young pitchers for us to truly know the effect the air has on an ace’s arm. But there is some evidence that the wear and tear might happen faster than they would otherwise. We can’t know for sure yet, but there’s a chance that Ubaldo had already had his best season as a Rockie and would only continue to pitch more ineffectively at Coors. If that’s the case, then I’m glad he’ll spend at least a few seasons in the muggy midwest.
6. Dan O’Dowd Can Admit He’s Human
There has been some controversy surrounding the true meaning of O’Dowd’s comments about the trade, but I see a substantial amount of humility in the things he said. In a conference call with season ticket holders, he admitted that he hadn’t made good moves this past off-season, costing the team wins by acquiring the likes of Jose Lopez and Felipe Paulino. He also acknowledged that some of the draft picks in recent years haven’t been very good, and that scouting and development need to improve. This tells me that, while the actual wisdom of the Ubaldo trade won’t be known for some time, the spirit behind it was right. I won’t lose hope in this Rockies organization as long as it’s being run by people who learn from their mistakes and take responsibility for their decisions.
5. Others Have No Choice But to Step Up
There have been a lot of out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire moments for Rockies pitchers this season, especially Jhoulys Chacin. He’s still a youngun, but the injury to Jorge De La Rosa in May and Ubaldo’s early struggles thrust him into the role of ace, long before he might have been considered ready. Now that Ubaldo’s gone, Jhoulys is really the ace. He’s had his growing pains, but in general he is wearing the mantle well. Besides Chacin, Juan Nicasio has taken on quite a load himself. Of course, he’s out for the season, but assuming he is able to pitch again next season, we have two very solid young starters anchoring our rotation. Esmil Rogers has been a little shakier, but he’s still done some very impressive work. As veterans Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel show signs of fading, it’s good to know we can believe in the next generation.
4. His Free Agency Might Have Hurt the Team
Ubaldo had a very team-friendly contract, as we all know; he’s locked up through 2012, making just $7 million between now and then. He has club options for 2013 and 2014. All of this means he should have stayed with the Rockies. However, he’s going to be a hot commodity when his contract expires. The baseball world has had a chance to see what he can do. Every season that went by without an extension would have raised his asking price. If the Colorado air had done its work on his arm, and if he’d continued to struggle with inconsistency, he would have been expensive and risky to hold onto. Even though he’s comparatively cheap now, handing his contract over to the Indians frees up payroll that can be invested in younger pitchers who might be cheaper for longer.
3. Matt McBride. Maybe.
McBride is a utility player who was drafted by Cleveland in the second round of the 2006 draft. He’s spent the interim time bouncing around among different minor league teams in the Indians organization, and they can’t seem to decide if he’s most effective behind the plate, as a corner infielder, or as a corner outfielder. That’s a bit of a concern. He hasn’t really shown spectacular talent at anything yet. He might hit for power, might play good defense, might not ever graduate to the majors. Um … this is supposed to be a reason the trade was a good idea. I guess it never hurts to have another utility guy in the system to call up when you have an injury.
2. Joe Gardner. Maybe.
Gardner is a sinkerballer who was drafted by Cleveland in the third round of the 2009 draft. He has the potential be an Aaron Cook (back when he was good) if he can be developed properly. He’s not likely to do time in the Rockies’ rotation for a while yet, but his K/9 rate in the minors is 7.5. Of course, his BB/9 rate is 3.9. Sounds like he’s already fitting right in. Gardner’s potential isn’t fully known at this point, but let’s be optimistic. He WILL be the next Aaron Cook, circa mid-2000s. Believe it.
1. The Rotation of the Future
The real gems in this deal are Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Indians fans were outraged to find that both Pomeranz and White were included in the trade, because both have the potential to be Ubaldo-like in the future. Pomeranz was initially drafted by Texas in the 12th round of the 2007 draft, but he didn’t sign. The Indians took him in the first round of the 2010 draft, and since then he has been tearing it up in the farm system. He only has 91 innings of experience, but in those innings he’s struck out 112. He’s only allowed 3 home runs. His ERA is 1.98. This is a very small sample size we’re dealing with, but Pomeranz could be great. He could be better than Ubaldo. The Rockies got rid of their present ace to invest in a guy who could be an ace for many years to come. To say nothing of White, who has similar potential. He even comes with a little bit of major-league experience. He’s currently rehabbing an injured finger, but there’s a good chance we’ll see him start a game for the big league club by the end of this season. White was Cleveland’s first-round pick from 2009, and he also has the makings of a K machine – 148 punchouts in 178 innings at the minor-league level. Both Pomeranz and White are very very green. But if they turn out to be as good as people think they might be, well, we won, my friends. We won this trade.