Springtime Storylines: Will the Rockies make us all look like suckers again?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Will they make us all look like suckers again?

Maybe it’s just me who has looked like a sucker. For the past two years I’ve picked the Rockies, seeing something in them — as I sit here right now, I don’t know what — that made me think they had what it took to win the division. Maybe easily. Was I simply blind to what the Giants were able to do in 2010 and the Diamondbacks last year, or did the Rockies just give off some kind of spark that misled me so? Maybe both. I don’t think a ton of people picked Arizona last season — maybe no one did — and I’ll grant that there is something about a stud shortstop being a team’s best player that always draws me in.

So recently I got it in my mind that I wasn’t going to be fooled again. I was going to ignore the fact that in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez the Rockies had two of the most exciting players in the game. I was going to ignore the fact that Dexter Fowler could break out at any time.  I was going to ignore the fact that, in the NL West, you don’t have to win 95 games to win it all and that the Rockies, even when they have disappointed, have made a habit of going on exciting, Rocktobery runs.  If they keep it close and stay healthy …. no, I can’t do it.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, hey would you like my credit card number Mr. Nigerian Prince’s Special Attache for Financial Affairs?

What else is going on?

  • The rotation has all kinds of ifs. But unlike past Rockies rotations — which always seem to have ifs — there is some sharp upside here. Losing Jorge De La Rosa to Tommy John surgery was a bummer, but Jhoulys Chacin has shown flashes of ace-like talent. And call me crazy — “you’re crazy!” — but I sort of feel like Jeremy Guthrie may find some juvenation in the NL West. Sure, Coors Field is death to pitchers, but is it much worse than facing the Yankees and the Red Sox all the time?
  • Oh, and Jamie Moyer may very well make the rotation, and that’s all kinds of fun.  I hope to get to a Rockies game this year so I can meet him and ask him what FDR was really like.
  • Moyer isn’t the only gray hair Dan O’Dowd brought in. Veterans Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez and Casey Blake were added in the offseason. Blake was released the other day, but all of these additions show that the Rockies themselves aren’t all that confident in many players under 30 not named Gonzalez or Tulowitzki.
  • Seeing Juan Nicasio come back is heart warming. He took a line drive that broke one of his vertebrae last August.  He’s been pretty impressive this spring.

So how are they gonna do?

I want to believe. I want to believe that all of my optimistic assumptions about pitching will come true (Moyer throws 200 innings!) and that guys like Cuddyer will come in and thump due to the thin air. But there are so many ifs with this team. And, as we’ve seen for the past couple of years, the Rockies have a great capacity to disappoint.

Maybe I’m wrong again and me picking them to finish third will look silly come fall.  But I’m pickin’ ’em third anyway.

Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

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This Sunday three players will be honored in Cooperstown as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez become the 313th, 314th and 315th members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Executives Bud Selig and John Schuerholz will be inducted as well, making it 316 and 317.

Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87.  WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy, all of whom got more plaudits at the time. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that period and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Rickey Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). That Raines had to wait until his last year of eligibility was in large part due to him being a very similar player to Henderson. Which is kind of an unfair comparison — Henderson is one of the best players of all time — but that’s how the voters operate sometimes.

Bagwell likewise had to wait a bit longer than he should’ve, mostly due to thus far evidence-free beliefs that he used PEDs. On the merits, Bagwell was one of the best first basemen of all time, with a career line of .297/.408/.540, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI. Between 1994 and 2001, he averaged — averaged! — a line of .306/.428/.589, 37 homers and 120 RBI while playing in perhaps the worst hitters park in history in the Astrodome.

People whispered about Rodriguez and PEDs just as much as they did Bagwell, but he got in on the first ballot, suggesting that the BBWAA is getting over its hangups. He is also clearly deserving of induction. Rodriguez, the 1999 AL MVP, was named to 14 All-Star teams and he won 13 Gold Gloves. He finished his career with a .296/.334/.464 line, 311 homers and 1,332 RBI. His 2,427 games caught is a major league record. He was, without question, the best defensive catcher of his era and many believe he was the best of all time. If he’s not, he’s in the top two or three.

As for the executives: we’re long on record as believing that Bud Selig’s induction is a disgrace. It was nonetheless a foregone conclusion, as the Hall of Fame has tended to view induction as part of retiring commissioners’ severance package. If there was any remaining doubt about him getting in, the fact that the committee which elected Selig was, more or less, hand-picked by people loyal to Selig and/or Major League Baseball put it to rest.  John Schuerholz is clearly deserving as he was one of the top executives of the past half century, starting out with the Orioles and then building winners in both Kansas City and Atlanta, sustaining those organizations’ success for far longer periods than most teams experience it.

Beyond those two, ESPN’s Claire Smith will be on the stage to accept the 2017 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. She is the first woman to be given baseball writing’s highest honor.  Athletics broadcaster will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting. Smith passed away in 2005.

The ceremony will be held on a big lawn a mile south of the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the neighborhood, admission is free and lawn chairs and blankets and things are welcome. If you’re not in the neighborhood, the festivities will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at http://www.baseballhall.org.

Aaron Judge broke a tooth celebrating the Yankees walkoff win

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Brett Gardner hit a walkoff homer last night, giving the Yankees a dramatic 11-inning win. A grand celebration ensued. And then a trip to the dentist presumably ensured for Aaron Judge.

Seems that Judge broke a tooth during the scrum, as Gardner’s helmet — which was bouncing around, not on Gardner’s head — bounced up and smacked Judge in the mouth. Judge quickly went to the clubhouse and wasn’t available for comment afterward. If he was, he likely would’ve said “Thith wath a great win. Gardner juth looked for hith pitch and put a good thwing on it.”

Judge is expected to make the start tonight for the Yankees.