Rocky Mountain Highs And Lows: Trading With The Colorado Rockies

The MLB Trade Deadline is just three days away and the seismic changes that the deadline brings to the outlooks of franchises’ futures has already begun. This morning I woke up to the stunning news that five-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was traded alongside the ageless LaTroy Hawkins by the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for four-time All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and three minor league prospects (Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco).

Both Tulo and Reyes are making over $20 million a year, but it’s the 30-year-old Tulowitzki who is signed thru 2020 while Reyes, at 32, is signed thru 2017.

While teams are wheeling-and-dealing to make their respective ball clubs better, there’s always one team to be weary of trading with, the Colorado Rockies. The thin air of Coors Field has ballooned average major league batters’ stats to those of perennial All-Stars; it is buyer beware when taking a chance on a Colorado Rockie, especially one that has played their entire career in the Mountains.

Tulowitzki, though starting to age, has been known as the best hitting shortstop in the league and a fielder with a cannon of an arm from the hole. But if you delve deeper into his stats you can see that some of his production has been aided. To date, he is a career .299 hitter that averages roughly 20-30 homers a year and anywhere from 80-100 RBIs when healthy.

Over his ten-year career, he has played over 145 games just twice and hasn’t played over 140 games since the 2011 season. In 2012 he appeared in 47, 126 in ’13, 91 a year ago and now 87 games out of the last-place Rockies’ 97 games.

Back to the Coors Field effect. He has hit a star-studded .321 at home with a .394 OBP, making him worth his current $20 million per year contract easily, but if you look at his road numbers he has hit a mere mortal .276 with a .349 OBP, very good for a shortstop but not nearly what he does in the friendly confines of home.

Luckily for Tulo, who slashes .300/12/53/.348/.471 this year, he’s going to Toronto which has turned into a power plant in terms of producing homerun hitters. His splits this season have to be comforting for Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos as he is hitting .301 at home and .299 on the road, but I still wouldn’t bank on Tulowitzki being an annual .300+ hitter in his new home.

Colorado is looking down the barrel of their fifth consecutive losing season meaning they will be willing to ship off players for pieces down the line. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is another coveted bat. The two-time All-Star is a career .292 hitter and former batting champ, but his splits have been even more pronounced than Tulowitzki’s.

Over his career Gonzalez has hit a blistering .326 at home but a measly .258 on the road. His average this season has slipped to .278, but he still has 20 homers and you guessed it, his splits are more of the same, batting .301 at Coors Field and .256 elsewhere.

Home Sweet Home

Teams have to be careful when trading for or signing former Rockies. That .290/30/100 guy you think you might be getting might actually be a .245/20/70 guy away from Coors.

Lets look at some recent Rockies batters that have moved on to not-so greener pastures. Injuries and age have hurt, but Michael Cuddyer is coming off a .331 batting champion season in 2013 and an injury shortened 49-game campaign last season in which he hit .332. This year with the Mets? He is hitting only .250 and is currently sitting on the DL.

How about a reverse look? 34-year-old Justin Morneau, a former MVP, looked like he was on the backend of his career. From 2011-2013 he strung together averages of .227, .267 and .259 after batting a combined .289 the six seasons previous. He signs a deal with Colorado to start the 2014 season and bang. He wins the NL batting title with a .319 average and has hit .290 in limited action this season.

Back to the bad. From 2006-09, Brad Hawpe hit over 20 homers each season. In 2010 he cooled down and was subsequently traded to Tampa Bay at age 31 after 88 games with Colorado. He would finish the season with nine homers in 103 total games. Hawpe hit four homers the rest of his career and was out of the league after a short stint with the Angels in 2013. His final numbers would total out to a .280 career average with Colorado (.288 average at Coors) and a .193 average in 94 games with other teams.

Over a four-year stint spanning 2005-08, Garrett Atkins mashed 88 homeruns, drove in 419 runs and batted .301. At age 30 in 2010, he signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles and started in 39 games. After 44 appearances he was released that same season after hitting just one homerun and driving in nine runs with a .214 average. Atkins never again played in the Majors.

Call it a gift, call it a curse. Whatever you call it, Coors Field produces hitters but the longevity of those hitters and credibility of those bats can be called into question.

But there is faith for Blue Jay fans and for fans of teams who want to acquire current Rockie hitters. For every Garrett Atkins, there is a Matt Holliday, who passed the test of being just a Coors Field product with flying colors. Holliday spent five seasons (04-08) with Colorado and saw his splits improve; wiping out the idea that he was just a home-show pony.

Year                Home              Road

2004                .338                 .240

2005                .357                 .256

2006                .373                 .280

2007                .341                 .338

2008                .332                 .308

Tulowitzki has shown the same type of progress in his seasons with over 120 appearances:

Year                Home              Road

2007                .326                 .256

2009                .326                 .267

2010                .339                 .291

2011                .310                 .292

2013                .342                 .281

Carlos Gonzalez’s four seasons with over 110 games played, have been a bit more troublesome and even confusing:

Year                Home              Road

2010                .380                 .289

2011                .331                 .252

2012                .368                 .234

2013                .273                 .332

Colorado GM Jeff Bridich is making it more and more likely that Gonzalez is available in a trade. If you’re a team looking to add an impact bat, do you roll the dice on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of baseball? Or do you play it safe and look for more of a “sure-thing”. Decisions, decisions.

Photo By: UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Who’s The King Of The South?: A State Of Georgia NCAA Football Preview

The state of Georgia remains in flux regarding who really is the team to beat. In total there are four FBS schools in the peach state: Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State.  Both UGA and Tech are established programs with rich histories and a national title to their name. Georgia Southern just completed its first year as an FBS program after dominating the FCS and winning six national championships. After three seasons in the FCS, Georgia State joined the big boys in 2013 and has struggled mightily compiling a 1-23 record. The Panthers didn’t have much success in the FCS either, finishing just 10-23.

Georgia Tech won the state championship last year with wins over hated rival Georgia and a nail-biter over upstart Georgia Southern, but will the guard shift back over in favor of Georgia, or will Georgia Tech once again remain atop of the state? Or maybe Georgia Southern, who is now bowl eligible, will steal the show.

Georgia State Panthers

Georgia State (1-11) will likely suffer through another rough season. In 2014 they snagged an exciting 38-37 season opening win against Abilene Christian, an FCS school, but lost 11 straight to end the season and still search for their first win ever against an FBS school. The Panthers rely on gun-slinger Nick Arbuckle who threw for 3,283 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. Arbuckle is back for his senior season and already holds multiple school passing records. Wide receivers Donovan Harden and Robert Davis will remain top targets outside. Harden caught 60 balls for 885 yards and seven scores last year and is a pre-season All-Conference First Team selection. The running game suffered after freshman Krysten Hammon was dismissed from the team early in the season and led to a rushing attack that averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Joel Ruiz was recently ranked as a top five tight end prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft and will be a bright spot on the team.

Georgia Southern Eagles

Georgia Southern (9-3) rolled in their first season in the Sun Belt, winning nine games but were unable to make it to a bowl since it was their first season. The Eagles finished a perfect 8-0 in conference and have established themselves as the team to beat in their new home. Southern easily could have finished 11-1, but late game letdowns led them to a 24-23 season opening loss at North Carolina State and a 42-38 loss at Georgia Tech in a thriller. Quarterback Kevin Ellison returns to run the triple option under center and orchestrates the nation’s No. 1 rushing attack which averaged 381.1 yards per game – 39 more than Georgia Tech. Ellison and running back Matt Breida both rushed for over 1,000 yards and breakoff big plays regularly. The defense will be the deciding factor while playing out of conference teams. The Eagles will be able to outscore all their Sun Belt opponents but once they play the likes of West Virginia and Georgia, their defense will need to hold the powerful athletes of the Big 12 and SEC. Eight defensive starters return including four players who racked up three sacks apiece in 2014.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech stunned and stung opponents en route to an 11-3 season and a blowout Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve, 49-34. Quarterback Justin Thomas was masterful running the triple option but he will now be without backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days. Also departed are wide receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. The Jackets will need to find a way to replace their stable of veteran backs and also find big play wide receivers. Juniors Marcus Allen and Dennis Andrews should get a bulk of the carries while senior Broderick Snoddy returns with the most experience after a gruesome leg injury a year ago. Sophomore Ricky Jeune may be the next in a long line of big receivers to make an impact out wide. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds he has size similar to those who have starred at the position before him. Defensively, eight crucial starters return. Leading tackler PJ Davis is back at linebacker after a 119 tackle campaign his sophomore season. KeShun Freeman brings back his 4.5 sacks that led the team a year ago at defensive end and should see even more success after his Freshman All-American season.

Georgia Bulldogs

UGA (10-3) won 10 games last season but lost in overtime to Georgia Tech, 30-24. Nick Chubb returns and will carry the ball as much as possible. Chubb exploded onto the scene with a 1,547 yard season in the absence of Todd Gurley. Georgia will remain one dimensional on offense unless a quarterback steps up. If one doesn’t the Dawgs will fail to win the SEC East yet again. Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta have all battled for the job. Hutson Mason was a game manager last year and the Dawgs likely won’t have strong quarterback play again. Lambert was prone to head scratching mistakes at UVA and now will face SEC defenses that cause major concerns. Ramsey is the favorite to start and has the most upside but his mettle has yet to be tested. UGA will be without last year’s top two tacklers but have a talented linebacking corps and the nation’s top ranked player in Trent Thompson coming in to anchor the defensive line. Lorenzo Carter, UAB transfer Jake Ganus and Leonard Floyd highlight the linebacker position. Junior Tim Kimbrough is expected to see a lot of time and the talented true freshman Roquan Smith will likely get a shot as well.

What Does The Future Hold?

It will be interesting to see what happens this season. The Dawgs always come in as the prohibitive favorite, but they will be tested in back-to-back games to end the season, hosting Georgia Southern and then visiting Atlanta for a rematch. Much like they did with Tech, don’t be surprised if the Eagles push the Dawgs to the brink with their offensive onslaught. Georgia allowed 399 rushing yards to the Jackets in last year’s defeat and will need to find a way to stop the bleeding this year when they face the two best running teams in the nation. If UGA is able to survive it would surely benefit them as they face the Jackets’ triple option the following week.

It will be a three team race for the battle of state supremacy. There will always be bad blood when Georgia Tech plays Georgia. The Eagles want to start a rivalry with both big schools and not be viewed as a little brother or a non-factor in the state and last season’s game with Tech was a good starting point. If Southern can continue its ascension into elite status in the Sun Belt, they very well could blossom into a BCS buster much like Boise State and Northern Illinois in the past. If that happens, the shift of power in Georgia could greatly change if the Eagles are competitive with both the Jackets and Dawgs. Expect the last weeks of November to be can’t miss action in the state of Georgia and an interesting turning point for the future of football in the south.

The Atlanta Braves: Buy or Sell?

It’s July 7 and the Braves are only five games out of first place. Would you believe me if I told you that in April? Would you buy into the team being a postseason contender? Atlanta is 41-42. The division-leading Washington Nationals are 46-37 after slumping badly out of the gates. The Mets are currently in second place at 43-41, but have no speakable offense and rival the 2014 Braves in terms of offensive incompetency.

The plan under new General Manager John Hart was to rebuild and he has successfully done that by shipping off nearly every recognizable name from last year’s train wreck of a team. But now, Hart finds himself seemingly in the middle of the playoff hunt halfway through the season. Should he make a move to strengthen the team? Something Frank Wren tried to do every season but never resulted in a playoff series win. Or does Hart stand pat and let the chips fall where they may?

Once again, it’s more of the same with the Braves. Fool’s gold. Atlanta should continue to stay the path and look to rebuild. No one would have expected the Nationals to start off so poorly and basically give the rest of the division a month head start on them. Even with that stumble out of the gate and injuries to key players, Bryce Harper and now Max Scherzer have lifted the Nats to the top of the division and have begun to look like the 100-win team people thought they would be.

The Braves still would have to leap the Mets before they could challenge the Nationals. If Hart tried to make a move, it would be division or bust. There is a slim chance they would be able to grab one of the two wildcard spots. The Pirates (48-34) and the Cubs (44-37), yes, the Cubs, have a hold onto the two spots with the Mets (2.5) and Giants (3.5) trailing by a few games.

Atlanta has played admirably and hasn’t tanked completely, which is great news for John Hart not only for the future of the team, but for his goodwill with the fan base after trading away fan favorites. The Braves stole an All-Star away from the Cardinals in the Jason Heyward trade, acquiring young ace Shelby Miller (5-4, 2.07 ERA). Julio Teheran has flopped miserably as the assumed ace heading into the season (6-4, 4.60 ERA) and has a contract extension already inked thanks for former GM Frank Wren. Alex Wood has been steady when healthy and the rotation has gotten a lift from surprise minor leaguer Williams Perez (4-0, 2.88 ERA).

One of the most important things to remember this season is that it is a precursor to success that will follow. The Braves have struck gold on some veterans and would be wise to trade them at the deadline. Yes, Atlanta should be sellers, not buyers this July. The bullpen has been atrocious at times, but it has also had its moments. 38-year-old Jason Grilli has been great for Atlanta, notching 23 saves after compiling an ERA of 4.00 last season. 32-year-old set up man Jim Johnson has a 2.14 ERA in 43 appearances after a sparkling 7.09 ERA in 2014.

This is the definition of buying low and selling high. These two veterans don’t have a place with the team in the future. By the time Atlanta intends to compete again, 2017, Grilli will be 40 and Johnson 34. Contenders at the deadline are always looking for bullpen help and if Hart can swing both players for C-level prospects, he will have done a great job after they entered the season with limited value.

It’s tough to swallow punting on a season after seeing some success, but at the end of the day, Atlanta is still under .500 and chasing too many teams. They found a winning lottery ticket in Cameron Maybin who is having a career season, but may revert to his old ways (.252 career BA) any second. It would be a prudent decision for Hart to continue to sell as the deadline approaches. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Rome wasn’t built in a day.