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Brad Hawpe Hits Free Agency A Few Weeks Early

When we heard that the Rockies placed OF Brad Hawpe on waivers, it came as no surprise. Most players on a 40-man roster are placed on waivers in August, since the process presents no downside for a team. If another team claims the player, the original team can just pull him back. But a player like Hawpe, with a $7.5 million salary, will almost certainly clear and become eligible for a trade with any team. Earlier this week we learned that Hawpe cleared. But the news that broke last night, that the Rockies had released their right fielder, came as quite the surprise.

For the past few years Hawpe has been a cornerstone of the Rockies’ offense. From 2006 through 2009 he finished third on the team in wOBA, with that production never falling below .376. Unfortunately, his defense often sapped his value. Despite producing between 15.2 and 23.7 park adjusted runs above average from 2006 through 2009, his WAR never got higher than 2.7, attained in 2006 when his fielding was average. In 2008 his UZR was -36. In the past three years no player comes even close to Hawpe’s -60.2 UZR and -29.7 UZR/150.

A player with such poor defensive performance needs a heavy bat for a team to justify a roster spot, never mind a spot in the starting lineup. Hawpe obviously had that, and to start 2010 nothing looked different. He went 15 for 42 (.357) in his first month, with eight walks (.460 OBP) and nine extra base hits (.714 SLG) for a .495 wOBA. But from there he struggled. In 80 May PA he produced a .321 wOBA and in June that fell to .269. He hit just two home runs in those 168 PA.

In late June he sat out a bit with soreness in his ribs, so there had to be home that the injury had sapped his production and that some rest would bring him back. But since his return on June 28 he has hit just .203/.314/.365 in 86 PA. He hasn’t gotten a chance to get in a groove, as he’s started three days in a row just once, and started two days in a row just twice before that. Not that he deserved to start more with his production. But some regular can find it tough to get back in a groove if they’re not getting regular playing time.

This leads into the discussion of Hawpe’s landing spot. He’s more valuable to an American League team because they can keep his bat in the lineup and his glove out of the field. But as we’ve seen with a few former NL players, the transition from two-way player to DH is not always easy. Pat Burrell never made the adjustment in Tampa Bay, and Lance Berkman struggled after his move to New York. That’s not to say that Hawpe will react similarly, but it’s a possibility. Thankfully for any acquiring team there’s little risk involved. Hawpe can be had for the league minimum.

The Rockies release of Hawpe might come as a surprise, but that’s only because of his past production. This year his value has taken a serious hit. With the Rockies out of contention his release does make a degree of sense. Chances are that unless he produced a monster year they weren’t going to pick up his $10 million option for 2011. The team set a payroll record this year at over $84 million, and already has almost $50 million committed to nine players next year. That doesn’t include arbitration raises, either. In effect, this is just Hawpe hitting free agency a month and chance ahead of schedule.