During the Colorado Rockies’ 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, beat writer Patrick Saunders, who has been known to frequent the airwaves of Mile High Sports Radio from time to time, took a few moments to field questions from fans about the season.
As is typically the case in such a situation, inevitably the question came up of potential trades that the club could make, and focus quickly turned to the club’s crowded outfield situation.
One fan brought up the notion of trading Michael Cuddyer when he gets healthy, citing Cuddyer’s hefty contract and the blossoming careers of Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson. Saunders refuted the idea, prompting the fan to ask, “Why not?”
“Why break up chemistry of team?” Saunders tweeted. “Cuddy is central to that. Why is everybody so eager to trade Cuddy?”
In other words, why are we trying to fix what’s not broken?
A fair response, to be sure, certainly one that many within the organization would echo if asked the same question.
But the exchange brings up a very interesting topic of conversation: How do the Rockies maintain this pace throughout the course of the marathon Major League Baseball season? After all, the club was off to a similarly auspicious start last season, sitting at 19-13 on May 7, but unfortunately, we are all painfully aware how that turned out.
Not to pick on Saunders, as his is certainly a commonly held belief about the Rockies, but the “don’t touch what’s not broken” approach isn’t exactly a tried-and-true method for the Rockies.
For one, it’s tough to believe that Cuddyer, who has been on the shelf for almost a month, has been integral to Colorado’s success, even in a team chemistry sense. If you are inclined to buy that notion, was he also integral to the chemistry of the team that lost 88 games in 2013? How about the one that lost 98 games in 2012?
If the Rockies believe that Cuddyer will play a major role in the club’s success for the rest of the 2014 season, that’s great. But the guy is in his mid-30s making $11 million in the last year of a contract and so far the Rockies are reportedly not attempting to re-sign him.
Seems like a viable trade candidate to me.
But the point here isn’t to convince the world that the Rockies should trade Michael Cuddyer. In fact, Cuddyer would probably only net prospects as a return, which won’t help this year. It’s to say that the club needs to be proactive in addressing its needs. They don’t necessarily even need to make a trade to do that.
Colorado’s front office deserves plenty of credit for the moves that have helped the Rockies jump out to the third-most wins in the National League this season. But if they deserve any criticism right now, it’s for being too reactive when it comes to addressing team needs.
Take this season for instance: Todd Helton’s retirement resulted in an immediate need at first base. After losing a bidding war for the services of Cuban defector Jose Abreu, the club traded Dexter Fowler to free up cap room to sign Justin Morneau. This is all well and good, but if the club was being honest with themselves, they probably should have been grooming a replacement for Helton since 2010 or earlier, when it became apparent that his offensive skills were in serious decline.
The examples of Colorado’s reactive nature are boundless. If you’re a Rockies fan, I’m sure one or two came to mind even as you read this. For the sake of brevity, I won’t bore you with all of them.
Instead, let’s focus on the here and now. The Rockies have a real opportunity to be in contention throughout the summer of 2014, but they have to address some very real and very glaring needs if that is to come to fruition.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the club is going to need more arms, in the starting rotation and, probably more pressingly, in the bullpen.
The reactive move for the starting rotation is to wait for Eddie Butler to be ready, probably in June or July, using stopgaps until then. The reactive move for the bullpen is to hope that Rafael Betancourt remains on track with his recovery from Tommy John surgery and adds a capable arm to the back end of the pen in July or August.
But after the team’s hot start last season, they were under .500 by the end of June, then buried in the standings at 51-58 by the end of July. Sometimes, being reactive just doesn’t get the job done.
The ‘”don’t fix what’s not broken” approach isn’t really how Major League Baseball works anyways. By the end of June 2013, the Detroit Tigers had dumped their closer, the Boston Red Sox had added an elite arm to the back of their bullpen, and the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers had already called up their top prospect. Those four teams faced off in their respective league championships series for the right to play in the World Series. Addressing needs before they become destructive is integral to success in a 162-game season.
Heath Bell was once one of the best closers in baseball. While he has struggled since leaving San Diego to sign a massive contract with Florida in 2012, he has a 1.99 ERA in 27.0 innings at Coors Field for his career, dating back to 2007. He was released by the Tampa Bay Rays two days ago.
The Colorado Rockies don’t have to trade anyone that they consider an integral part of their success this season. But they do have needs that have to be addressed, sooner rather than later.
The proactive move is to look at Eddie Butler’s peripheral numbers and realize that he is a better option to start right now than Franklin Morales. The proactive move is to look at Heath Bell, or another free agent, or a trade target from a team that’s already out of contention (Oh, hello Brad Ziegler of Arizona) and realize that one of those options can probably help your bullpen more than your 41-year-old former closer that you’re waiting to get healthy from Tommy John surgery.
Colorado has done a great job of reacting to its needs and taking steps towards addressing them. But if the Rockies hope to build on their early season success, they need take the next step and start addressing those weaknesses before their deficiencies start costing the team games.
Don’t think of it as fixing what’s not broken. Think of it as building on a solid foundation, rather than letting that foundation go to waste.
Zach Fogg is a writer, producer and host for Mile High Sports. He can be followed on Twitter @zachfoggsports.