The Rockies working to finalize the contract with free-agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer on Friday was the latest in what figures to be a continuing series of moves by the team that are inter-related with the idea of improving multiple areas of the team without a major payroll increase.
It’s all part of a plan the Rockies drew up in September and has slowly unfolded this offseason, allowing fans to start to understand the moves that were made in the last month.
The right-handed-hitting Cuddyer is expected to primarily play right field, having a strong enough arm that the Rockies can afford to move Carlos Gonzalez back to left-field, where his excellent range is a key factor in the open left field space at Coors Field. Cuddyer also provides a right-handed-hitting back up at first base, and could move into the first base role in the final part of a three-year contract. Todd Helton has one year remaining on his deal.
With Cuddyer in right and Gonzalez in left, the Rockies could have a major offseason move remaining by shopping Seth Smith for a starting pitcher. Mets lefty Jonathan Niese is believed to be available in a package built around Smith.
The signing of Cuddyer was made possible because of earlier moves the Rockies made this offseason to free up payroll. Huston Street, replaced as the closer in the final months of 2011 by Rafael Betancourt, was dealt to San Diego, which picked up $7 million of Street’s $7.5 million 2012 salary.
The Rockies shipped Ian Stewart, who made $2.4 million last year, to the Chicago Cubs for second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and outfielder Tyler Colvin. LeMahieu could claim the starting second base job, and Colvin gives the Rockies a potential left-handed-hitting fourth outfielder.
They also sent Ty Wigginton to Philadelphia, which picked up $2 million of Wigginton’s $4 million 2012 salary.
The Rockies cleared $11.4 million of payroll with those moves.
They also dealt catcher Chris Iannetta to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood, who is not arbitration eligible. Iannetta, who will make $3.5 million in 2012, was replaced by signing free agent Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.4 million deal.
The Rockies rotation is a major question mark, which is why they picked up Kevin Slowey from Minnesota and signed him to a $2.75 million deal for 2012, and why they want another veteran pitcher, such as Niese.
Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel are the only healthy pitchers projected for the rotation. Juan Nicasio has looked strong during bullpen sessions in the Dominican this winter, but he is coming back from a broken neck suffered when he was hit in the face by a line drive last season, and has yet to face a hitter. If all goes well he could be in the Opening Day rotation.
Jorge De La Rosa is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but most likely won’t be ready to pitch in the big leagues until June 1.
The Rockies do have a hand full of promising arms, including Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, acquired last July from Cleveland for Ubaldo Jimenez, but it isn’t realistic to count on more than one of them being ready to step into the rotation at the start of the season.