So the seemingly inevitable came to fruition last week when the Colorado Rockies sent Wilin Rosario down to Triple-A Albuquerque after just 14 at-bats with the Rockies this year. According to the man himself, it was to allow another bullpen arm to join the big-league club. Fair enough you might say, the team’s immediate needs are a priority (try telling Kris Bryant that) and the Rockies needed another pitcher in the pen.
Just a couple of years ago, Rosario posted a .270 batting average, tallying 28 home runs and an .843 OPS in 426 plate appearances in the most demanding of positions as a 23-year-old rookie.
What did he do for an encore? Well in 2013 Rosario managed a .292 batting average but launched only 21 home runs and his OPS dropped to a paltry .801 in 466 plate appearances. I jest. Still very productive for a young catcher, even if he gets the assistance of Coors field 50% of the time.
So how did it reach the point where this seemingly top prospect is now battling for a spot in the Majors aged 26?
Well, it begins with Rosario’s skills behind the plate. As a 23 year old, the Rockies knew Rosario had the bat to play but needed to improve defensively to become an everyday catcher in the Majors. Bumps and hiccups are to be expected and in 2012 he had 13 errors and 21 passed balls in 105 games.
This improved in 2013, when Rosario committed nine errors and cut passed balls to nine in 106 games.
But then in 2014, things began to fall apart again and in just 96 games, he had 12 passed balls and seven errors. Granted, a strained left wrist troubled him much of the season, and landed him on the disabled list. In May, a nasty bout with type-B influenza cost him 12 games and 11 pounds. All this culminated in a drop in production at the plate. The batting average dropped to .267, homers fell to 13 and his OPS to .739 whilst appearing at the plate 410 times.
On paper, the batting stats don’t look too bad for a catcher suffering illnesses and injuries. After two good years, one disappointing one couldn’t undo all the potential shown in the previous two seasons, surely?
Looking a little deeper then, there’s the issues Rosario has had with facing righties during his career. Below is a breakdown of his 2012, ’13 and ’14 seasons, showing his splits against RHP and LHP.
Rosario is considered someone who cannot hit righties effectively and one highly-regarded publication even had written this about him heading into 2015. “If every opposing pitcher was a lefty, he’d win an MVP. Any hope for solving RHPs? “. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But again, his stats against righties aren’t terrible for a young catcher in the National League, certainly serviceable.
However, you now have enough question marks to take stock at what you have; someone who had a bad year, who struggles against right handed pitching and is not performing defensively. So the Rockies had a solution, move him over to first base. His WAR had dropped from starter level in 2012 and 2013 (both years he sported a 2.1 WAR) to replacement level in 2014 (-0.1 WAR). So it seemed like a good idea. Rosario is yet to hit his peak, his bat has more than enough upside for long-term production and without the pressures of needing to improve at the immensely challenging catcher position anymore, things can only trend up.
But then a spanner is thrown into the works in the form of Justin Morneau and his $12.5 million two-year contract which runs through the 2015 season (with a mutual option for 2016). So the simplest short-term solution is to keep Rosario in Triple-A for the season, work out his issues against righties, develop his skills at first and decline the option on Morneau’s contract for 2016, freeing up monies to be used elsewhere. Rosario is arbitration-eligible the next two years and cannot become an unrestricted free agent until 2018 but a long stint in the minors could add an extra year of team control.
So let’s play a bit of devil’s advocate for a moment. If the Rockies extend Morneau through 2016, if the Rockies don’t see Rosario as an everyday first baseman going forward, if they think they can use Rosario to get better elsewhere it begs the question: Who could be Wilin to give Rosario a chance?
As things stand, the Rockies have a winning record and it’s still too early to say if they’ll be contending this year or whether they’ll try to rebuild a little. So let’s look at three possible trades the Rockies could target at the end of this season if they feel the need to move on from Rosario.
Boston Red Sox
Mike Napoli’s contract ends this year and the Red Sox won’t be renewing it. He’s having a bad year and injuries have caught up with him. Rosario on the other hand could be the perfect fit what with the Green Monster and its hitter friendly confines. So the Red Sox could do with getting Rosario. But who could they trade? The Rockies need pitching above all else (which hasn’t bothered the front office too much in the past) but the Red Sox don’t really have any pitching options to trade. If anything, they need the help too.
So let’s look at the outfield. The Red Sox will enter 2016 with Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig as outfield options, whilst the Rockies will have Corey Dickerson, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon (based on existing contracts and no renewals/trades). So there’s one name which may intrigue. Brock Holt.
Brock Holt is a bit of a utility guy the Red Sox are trying to find at-bats for so one could perceive a trade for an everyday first baseman as ideal. The Rockies don’t have the depth of the Red Sox so they can find ways to give Holt more regular playing time and keep an effective batting lineup.
The likelihood of this trade happening is slim, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.
It’s no secret the Phillies are reluctantly rebuilding after prolonged efforts to bury their head in the sand. They still field a lineup containing Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz despite father time having caught up with them both (not forgetting Chase Utley).
Ryan Howard continues to be the Phillies everyday first baseman and while he’s still signed through 2016, sooner or later, they need to bite the bullet and accept whatever they can get for him. Carlos Ruiz is also signed through 2016 so maybe if at least one can be moved on, Rosario could fill in for twelve months, covering either spot with a view of an everyday first base role from 2016. He’s young enough to form a part of the rebuild and is a clear upside on both Ruiz and Howard’s bat so this makes sense.
Cole Hamels is the big star the Rockies would love, but the Phillies are looking for a big prospect haul so unless some form of Dickerson, Arenado and top prospects were sent the other way, this just isn’t happening. They don’t have any other starter who could conceivably be considered by the Rockies either. Their main pitching prospects of Aaron Nola, Yoel Mecias, Zach Eflin, Jesse Biddle and Ben Lively are all probably out of play if they get serious about rebuilding so maybe a lower level guy like Nefi Ogando is possible. But this would be a big risk for the Rockies, trading for a mid-tier (at best) pitching prospect.
So maybe some bullpen help to go with it? Ken Giles is the closer in waiting for the Phillies once Papelbon leaves behind the fans who adore him so. But he’s struggle early in 2015 but again, the likelihood of the Phillies losing a potential closer for the next few years to bring in Rosario is unlikely so at best a package of two or three decent arms could be conceived by both parties.
Although it’d be difficult to see a trade here, I think a big enough scratch beneath the service could see something done to benefit the long term goals of each side. Stranger things have happened so only time would tell if the Rockies and Phillies could get something done.
Finally we reach the most intriguing possible destination. The Seattle Mariners have invested big to get to the World Series in recent years. Big name free agent acquisitions of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz on the last two off-seasons has added to their chances whilst tying up King Felix long term has given them the ace they need. They’ve constructed a good rotation and a solid batting lineup with one notable exception; first base.
Logan Morrison has been the Mariners starting first baseman so far in 2015, after they waived Justin Smoak last October. First base has become a position synonymous with power hitters in recent times, with offense on the decline throughout baseball it’s a focal position for contending teams batting lineups. I’m not disparaging Logan Morrison, I don’t know the guy and he’s a far better baseball player than I’ll ever be, but he’s not a starting first baseman for a Major League contending team. Last year was the first time since 2010 he posted a positive WAR. Even in 2011 when he hit 23 homers, his WAR was -0.6. 2011 also marked the last time he played at least 100 games in a Major League season.
So there’s clearly a need to upgrade here. Is Wilin Rosario a clear upgrade? Well he is enough of one to matter, especially considering Morrison bats leftie. Morrison actually has a better career batting average against lefties (.260 compared to .243 against righties) but that’s as far as it goes for hitting lefties. Just a glance at his over stats will show this. As a sample, he hits a homerun every 28.65 at-bats against righties and one every 42.36 at-bats against lefties. Below is Morrison’s career splits.
The Mariners also have the advantage of the DH. They can easily keep Morrison, form some kind of platoon between Rosario and Morrison whilst still giving Rosario at bats against righties with either of them DHing. Rosario would be a cheaper option at first than most alternatives so improving their lineup without breaking the bank is a good thing right? Things are starting to make sense all of a sudden.
But what could the Mariners give up in order to acquire Rosario. Although Rosario would make sense, they certainly aren’t going to overpay for him. This is where things could get interesting…….
Rockies still haven’t pinned everything on Tulowitzki. If they ever trade him away, it’ll be in the next year so heading into 2016, the Rockies may need a shortstop. I present to you, Mr. Bradley Miller. Before you start up, I’m in no way suggesting Miller is a direct replacement for Tulowitzki!
The Mariners looked like giving Chris Taylor the starting shortstop gig in 2015, until a broken wrist curtailed that idea, giving Brad Miller another chance to shine. He’s been pretty good so far this year, but Chris Taylor is back and Miller certainly hasn’t shown the promise the Mariners hoped he would. If Taylor can hit well in Triple-A (he’s already hitting .328 with 2 homers, 5 steals and an .894 OPS) he’ll be with the big league club sooner rather than later. It’d be a downgrade at shortstop for the Rockies I grant you, but would free up a lot of cap space to go out and get something resembling a decent rotation.
But even if the Rockies do keep hold of Tulowitzki (and why wouldn’t you?), we come back to their need for pitching. The Mariners aren’t exactly steeped with pitching but certainly have enough to trade a piece away. They’d be unlikely to want to lose one of their more established “prospects” in order to get Rosario (Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, and James Paxton).
But there’s also Danny Hultzen, who has started the year well in Triple-A after rotator cuff surgery (currently sporting a 2.05 ERA through 30+ innings). Tyler Olsen is currently in the Mariner bullpen but was considered a 4th/5th starter during his minor league career and Ryan Yarbrough is continuing to impress in low A ball and at age 23, could easily be in the Majors within a couple of years. So the Mariners have enough depth to make a trade without harming their rotation. Whether or not they value any of these guys on a par with Rosario however is a different matter.
Looking at the three possible destinations, the Mariners appear to be the best chance of getting something done, but I’d be more inclined to suggest Wilin Rosario starts 2016 as the Rockies first baseman. And who’s to say he won’t finish 2015 in the role. Just as it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he gets traded tomorrow, but that’s baseball. Nothing is ever set in stone and should the Rockies look to move on, there are certainly enough options out there to get something done.