Rockies pick a foolish way to break the bank

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In reading work from the Denver Post’s Troy Renck and ex-Rocky Mountain News columnist Tracy Ringolsby, I’ve seen dozens (hundreds?) of references to players being too expensive for the Rockies over these last few years. Time and time again that player set to make $6 million, $9 million or $12 million per year was labeled out of reach. It was a constant theme.

And now the Rockies have signed Michael Cuddyer for $31.5 million over three years.

In doing so, they’re replacing a 29-year-old outfielder who has hit .275/.346/.487 the last three years with a 33-year-old who has hit .276/.341/.465 over the same timespan.

Yeah, read that again.

Now, that’s not entirely fair. Seth Smith has been platooned, so his fine slash line has been compiled overwhelmingly against righties. Smith has also taken advantage of playing in Coors Field, whereas Cuddyer has been playing in a very tough environment for power hitters since Target Field opened two years ago. While Smith has the better OPS, Cuddyer has a 117-110 advantage in OPS+, which is neutralized for league and ballpark.

Still, that’s just not much of an upgrade if it is one at all. Both are subpar defenders. Smith moves around a little better than Cuddyer, but he’s never mastered the art of playing the outfield. Cuddyer offers versatility, but really, no team should want him at second or third in much less than an emergency.

The Rockies are a little better today than they were yesterday, but only a little. It seems like there had to be a better way for them to spend their $10.5 million. Trading Smith and a prospect for Martin Prado would soften the blow, giving them a legitimate upgrade at second base to go along with their lesser one in the outfield. But, really, I think it would have made more sense to use that $10.5 million per year on Edwin Jackson instead.

In their defense, the Rockies were in something of a tough spot. It’s hard for them to sign pitchers without overpaying, and their biggest needs on offense were second base and third. Excepting a weak defender in Aramis Ramirez, there were no premier free agents at either of those positions, and really, the Rockies only wanted a one-year solution at third with Nolan Arenado potentially ready in 2013.

Still, Cuddyer wasn’t the answer to any question worth asking. And next time the Rockies can’t afford someone, the $31.5 million they spent today will be a big reason why.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉