Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
In November, the Colorado Rockies signed veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins to a $2.5-million contract. Hawkins has been in the Big Leagues for 19 years, and has a 4.37 career ERA. Last year, in his age-40 season, Hawkins had a great season for the New York Mets. After signing a minor-league contract, Hawkins threw 70.2 innings for the Mets, his most since 2004. He had a 2.93 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and saved 13 games for the Mets. Simply put, LaTroy Hawkins was good last year, and has had a solid long MLB career. He will likely start the season as the closer for the Rockies. Did Colorado make the right choice?
My initial reaction was simple: LaTroy Hawkins should not be the closer. Maybe it would be different if the Rockies had as much talent as their division rivals. But they don’t, and they are underdogs in this tough division. Frankly, if the Rockies want to make some noise this season, they will need to take some chances. Instead, they signed a 41 year old player who has saved double-digit games just five times in his 19 year career. There are all kinds of warning signs when it comes to LaTroy Hawkins. Again, he’s 41, and he doesn’t have the profile of a closer. Hawkins has a career strikeout per 9 rate of 6.0. Even last season, he only struck out seven batters per nine innings, which is well below average for a closer; eleven of the top 17 closers last season (by number of saves) had a K/9 rate over 9.0.
I have nothing against LaTroy Hawkins. When the Rockies signed him, I was happy. I thought that Hawkins would be a valuable addition both to the Rockies’ thin bullpen and to their clubhouse. I didn’t, however, think of him as the Rockies closer. After the season Rex Brothers had last year, I was sure that Brothers would be the closer in 2014. Why wouldn’t he be? Last season, he had a 1.74 ERA, and struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings. He also throws 95, and is just 26 years old. Brothers saved 19 games last season when Rafael Betancourt went down with an injury. Frankly, Brothers seemed to me like the prototypical closer. So when the Rockies signed Hawkins and subsequently named him their closer, I was shocked. I looked into it a little further. Why would the Rockies sign a 41 year old journeyman (he has played for 10 teams) to close over Brothers?
It might simply be that the Rockies wanted a veteran to close. Betancourt is 38, and he worked out pretty well for the Rockies.
It could also be that Hawkins impressed the Rockies both last season with the Mets and in 2007, during his first stint with the Rockies. In 2007, Hawkins was a setup man on the best Rockies team of all time, and had a 3.42 ERA. So he has proven that he can pitch in Coors, which is always a big question for free agent signings. He has also proven that he can pitch in big moments, as he threw five innings of one-run ball in that 2007 postseason.
The third possibility is the one that changed my mind: Hawkins wasn’t signed to be a closer for the whole year; he is likely going to close for just a few months and mentor Brothers.
After thinking about it, I understand the LaTroy Hawkins signing. It makes a lot of sense. It’s definitely never bad to add an experienced, solid, cheap arm to a bullpen that was very thin last season, and Hawkins will likely be a huge help to the pitching staff. His one year deal is also low risk/high reward. I believe that LaTroy Hawkins was signed to close for a couple of months and mentor Brothers, who I think is the future closer for the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies improved their team in 2014 by signing LaTroy Hawkins, and more importantly gave their closer of the future, Rex Brothers, a better chance to succeed.