While other teams like the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are spilling money on free agents like a drunk at the bar who just won the lotto, the Rockies are making un-sexy yet sound acquisitions. The latest and best came Friday when word leaked that the Rockies were closing in on a three-year, $31.5 million deal with free agent Michael Cuddyer, formerly of the Minnesota Twins, and the Rockies' top free agent target. The trade becomes official this week pending a physical for Cuddyer, and he will presumably take over in right field and hit fifth in the lineup.
Cuddyer is the right-handed bat that Colorado was seeking to help balance the lineup. Last year, the 32-year-old hit .284 with twenty home runs and an .805 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in pitcher-friendly Target Field. Cuddyer's presence should mean Carlos Gonzales can move back to left field, although Cuddyer can play that position, too. Cuddyer can also fill in for Todd Helton at first base, as well as third and second base if needed.
Cuddyer is a career .272 hitter and has launched as many as 32 home runs in a season. He should see a jump in his numbers now that he has escaped the pitching-heavy American League Central division and landed at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
According to Wins Above Replacement (WAR, a stat that shows how many wins per year a player is worth to his team above a replacement-level player), he could make the Rockies three wins better, based on last year's performance. But he's not a huge difference-maker. A number of players need to play better and stay healthier than they did last year in order for the Rockies to sniff a playoff spot this year.
Cuddyer gets a lot of credit as a great clubhouse and all-round great guy, for whatever that's worth. But it's definitely worth something, because the Rockies were lacking in just about everything last year as the team completed the most disappointing season in franchise history. The Rockies freed up some extra money to sign Cuddyer by trading Huston Street to the San Diego Padres last week, and Cuddyer's arrival will likely make outfielder Seth Smith expendable.
It would make sense for the Rockies to trade Smith for a starting pitcher, but if the Rockies want someone who can make an impact in the starting rotation the team will have to include a prospect or perhaps starting pitcher Jason Hammel, or both.
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Since the season ended, Wandy Rodriguez of Houston, Jonathon Niese of the New York Mets and Jair Jurrjens of Atlanta have been most frequently named as potential targets for the Rockies. Jurrjens is the best and, therefore, would be the most expensive. Niese is the most likely. None are as important as Drew Pomeranz or Alex White, the two young pitchers the Rockies got in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. If those two are reliable, Jhoulys Chacin moves into the ace role and Jorge De La Rosa returns completely healed by June, a free agent pick-up will be icing on the cake. But the number of ifs in the Rockies rotation make the addition of a veteran arm highly necessary.
Last week the Rockies also added catcher Ramon Hernandez from the Cincinnati Reds, who will start behind the plate and presumably yield some starts to young-gun Wilin Rosario. Hernandez signed for two years and $6.4 million and defines the word "serviceable." In Hernandez, the Rockies have a catcher who will almost assuredly not hit in the low .200s (see Iannetta, Chris).
The Rockies are also reportedly looking into acquiring Brad Lidge, who won a World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies and grew up in Colorado. The former Cherry Creek High School star is interested in returning home and would be a relatively low-risk investment.
The Rockies' moves thus far indicate that the organization thinks it is at least a few tweaks and a relatively healthy season away from contending. But given the team's pattern of performing in opposition to expectations, the playoffs aren't impossible. Want to win a championship? It never hurts to have Jesus on your side. If you missed Saturday Night Live's sendup of Tim Tebow, watch it here.