Rockies Continue The Quest For Mediocrity

Last season, the Rockies had what was arguably the worst season in their 20 as a franchise. There were plenty of culprits — a porous defense and Troy Tulowitzki getting hurt yet again were two large factors. But the chief culprit for Colorado’s 98-loss season was the worst starting rotation in franchise history. In response to this, the Rockies have gone out and signed Jeff Francis, Miguel Batista and Chris Volstad. These signings probably will have no material effect on the team’s rotation, but if they do, they won’t be signings that push the Rockies toward contention, but rather mediocrity.

Last season, the Rockies starting rotation posted a FIP- of 116, which was 14 percent than the average National League team, and nine percent worse than the next-worst Rockies season (2002). Since the Rockies came into existence, only 29 teams out of 520 have posted a worse FIP- than they did this past season. To call the team’s performance awful would be an understatement. They had just two pitchers post above-average results in its rotation last season — Francis and Juan Nicasio — and 12 who posted below-average results. Looking forward to 2013, Jorge De La Rosa could likely be added to that mix as well. His return from Tommy John surgery was pockmarked with setbacks, and he can be forgiven for flopping in his abbreviated return, but with a career 98 FIP-, we can reasonably expect him to be average if he comes into spring training in good shape. Jhoulys Chacin could also be something resembling average, perhaps even a tick better. Chacin started the season in horrendous fashion and then missed nearly four months due to injury, but when he returned, his results were tasty. He posted a 2.84 ERA in his final nine starts, and while he only tallied 23 strikeouts against just 17 walks, there’s room for him to regress from that ERA and still be average.

So Francis, Nicasio, De La Rosa and Chacin — that’s not bad, right? Well, not so fast. All four have durability issues. Francis, the veteran of a shoulder surgery, is an old 32, hasn’t thrown a 90-mph pitch in nearly two seasons and has only topped 150 innings once in the past five. Nicasio is coming off of major knee surgery and has only tossed 186.1 innings in the past two seasons combined. And while part of that is owed to the horrific freak injury he suffered in 2011, his high single-season high-water mark is 177.2 innings. Couple that with any complications from his knee injury, and he’s no sure bet to last the whole season either. Ditto De La Rosa, who since 2004 has two seasons with 150 or more innings pitched and seven that fell short of that mark — many of them far short. The story is the same for Chacin as well.

The Rockies do have a number of young pitchers waiting in the wings to fill both the fifth starter’s role and any injury-related vacancies — Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood, Edwar Cabrera, Christian Friedrich and Daniel Rosenbaum, to name a few. All are currently on the 40-man roster, and with the exception of Rosenbaum — who Marc Hulet and Co. ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the Nationals system before the Rockies plucked him away in the Rule 5 draft — all have started games in the majors. Pomeranz and Friedrich were quite recently the darlings of the Rockies’ farm system. None of them pitched well last season, but given the turmoil surrounding the team’s pitching plans and its general impatience with the starting rotation both before and after the four-man rotation experiment, I’m not sure that their results should be held against them. Yet despite that the team is still trolling for retread pitchers, with its two latest being Batista and Volstad.

Batista will likely compete for a swing role rather than a starting role, though one wonders why he was even signed in the first place. In the past five seasons, he has been worth -2.1 WAR. He has struck out 247 batters and walked 223. He does generate ground balls, but that clearly hasn’t helped him be effective. Even by normal standards, there is little to like about a pitcher who will be 42 this season and has posted a 4.65 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in the past five. Volstad isn’t much better. Incapable of posting an above-average FIP- in three seasons at a pitcher-friendly ballpark, Volstad’s luck took a turn for the worse in Chicago, where his homerific tendencies conspired to deflate any luster that remained for him. Now he will — if he makes the Rockies’ roster — move to a park where it was 13 percent easier to hit home runs than it was in Wrigley Field. Volstad too generates his fair share of grounders, but his line-drive percentage has also continuously gone backwards — from 16.8% in his first full season to 22.7% last season. The team is also in the mix for Carl Pavano, Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb. Pavano, if healthy, could be a nice little get, but he was most recently seen being incapable of returning from a shoulder injury, and will be 37 this season. None of these pitchers are a decent bet at even being solid, and while the Pomeranz-led group may not be either, they stand a better chance, and taking innings away from them in the quest to find the next Josh Fogg — a one-two win innings-muncher — on the street isn’t going to help the team get back to playoff contention.

From the group of Chacin, Nicasio, De La Rosa and Francis, the Rockies can probably expect to get two average or better pitchers. They will have have to supplement them with the second group of pitchers, led by Pomeranz, who should be the favorite to land the fifth-starter’s job to start the season. They could end up with some average pitchers out of this group as well, but these pitchers must be given a legitimate opportunity to succeed or fail. In a sense, last year has to be thrown out, because of the ill-fated rotation experiment. But even if it isn’t, 22 starts of 96.2 innings is too soon to give up on Pomeranz; likewise 16 starts of just 84.2 innings for Friedrich, and on down the list it goes. But by signing retread pitchers like Batista and Volstad, or Pavano, Lowe or Webb, the Rockies continue to hedge their bets, and in doing so show two things — one, they don’t really believe in the futures of the young pitchers they have developed and acquired, and second that the team is not striving for excellence, but merely mediocrity.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Resolution
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Resolution
3 years 8 months ago

I personally would give the 5th spot to Friedrich and let Pomeranz, Edwar Cabrera, and Tyler Chatwood all spend time in AAA – adjusting to pitching at altitude.

I think all have a change to be average to maybe above average at some point in the future but all could still use developmental time.

Resolution
Guest
Resolution
3 years 8 months ago

I should add that perhaps these mediocre veteran signings are just attmpts to see how things play out in spring training or to provide insurance in case any pitcher gets injured or guys like JDLR or Chacin struggle in returning from injury.

I don’t think it’s a bad strategy and given the thin trade market for SPs and the fact that no legit FAs will sign there after this season, I think it’s the right move even if it is frustrating to watch.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 8 months ago

I agree with your comment. Baseball teams can be badly damaged by the “we’ve got to do something” mentality. Since the Rockies only have two players with significant trade value, both signed to long-term contracts, I see nothing wrong with a “let’s see what we’ve got this season before running around like wet hen’s with our heads cutoff” attitude.

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

Agree with Baltar here 100%

Chris Rose
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Chris Rose
3 years 8 months ago

Isn’t Nicasio coming off surgery from the line drive that struck him? If not, when did he sustain a knee injury?

Resolution
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Resolution
3 years 8 months ago

he took a line drive to the head in 2011. He hurt his knee in 2012.

Josh
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Josh
3 years 8 months ago

That was last year. He came back healthy for Spring training and got hurt in June. Well he stopped pitching in June but was probably hurt throughout a bad May.

Steven Gomez
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3 years 8 months ago

The Rockies honestly need to improve their team defense. If they once again have one of MLB’s worst defenses in 2013, it won’t matter what pitchers they run out there. But having better players in the field will help whoever ends up starting for them get deeper into games.

Lenard
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Member
Lenard
3 years 8 months ago

Defense doesn’t matter much when the ball is being hit over the fence or into the gap.

Forrest Gumption
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Forrest Gumption
3 years 8 months ago

The Rockies are in the bad position of having their most tradeable asset in Tulo being too expensive for a small market contender, and also too expensive for a big market team trying to scale back their payroll. The Cuddyer signing was also unnecessary, as Colorado is like a reverse Oakland, where marginal talents can dramatically play over their heads and put up numbers that do not reflect their talent level (in this case hitters, as with Oakland with pitchers). They could have gotten any bargain bin or blocked AAA guy and saved their money instead of giving Cuddyer the big cash. A smart GM would see this discrepancy and put all his money into finding pitchers who fit in his extreme park, namely, try and trade/sign for the best groundball (or just plain good) pitchers in the game and put an excellent defensive team behind them, because the park will give those D-heavy players their best offensive seasons by default.

A poor GM would keep his assets in an unwinnable division and try to sign vets coming off poor years in the one area where the team cannot afford to have bad players. That’s whats happening here.

If I was asked what to do, I would see exactly who could afford Tulo (Seattle?) and who they would offer in return and try to trade more moveable Cargo (ATL has the pitching), Rosario (I’m sure the Rays would love this guy and have the pitching), Cuddyer & Fowler as soon as I could for as much GOOD pitching as possible. That’s a start to get this team moving in the right direction.

Off topic, is there a place online that shows the active leaders in stats by park? I was trying to find the active player list for players at each park to research this. If I were playing GM, I’d look at guys who had at least 5-10 starts at Coors Field who had low ERAs and see if they were available. I’m sure there’s attainable guys out there who look average on paper but for whatever reason have good records at Colorado. That’s who I would target first.

Near
Guest
Near
3 years 8 months ago

>A poor GM would keep his assets in an unwinnable division and try to sign vets coming off poor years in the one area where the team cannot afford to have bad players. That’s whats happening here.

That isn’t a whole lot different from what Brian Sabean did with the Giants from 2005-2008. The pitching was good, but the hitting wasn’t, and of the crop of farmhands during that period never panned out into starters.

It’s logical to trade for talent in an area of weakness when it can’t be developed internally. But for mid-market teams, those must be supplementary pieces, because they don’t have the resources to stock their fields with stars. At some point the Rockies farm system must produce capable pitchers, and so far everyone’s been a bust. It’s not wholly undifferent from the Royal’s situation: the Royals had some highly regarded arms, but all of them failed. Perhaps the system stifled those prospects, or perhaps it was luck. The Rockies have to determine what’s the root cause of their woes.

San Francisco escaped their talent trap by developing Pablo Sandoval and drafting Buster Posey. Two superstar players to patch up the team’s Achilles Heel. They elevated the team from borderline contender to perennial world champions. Colorado could very well do the same.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 8 months ago

Defense is definitely the way to go, and as a team their D really is destroying all hope, I mean in 07 they had a team ERA of 4.32 with a 4.48 xFIP and last year they had a team ERA of 5.22 with an xFIP of 4.28. Is the pitching even that bad? Or does the blame lay on the defense? In terms of UZR, Cargo, Cuddyer, Fowler, Nelson, Pacheco & Rutledge really don’t bring anything positive to the table in terms of defense. I’d look to jettison all of them and get better pitching and better defensive prospects. The worst thing they do as a team is they get caught up in the big offensive numbers, all the while forgetting that truly mediocre players have put up some massive numbers there, meaning anyone can hit there so why not make it a guy who can help, not hurt the pitching? The worst thing is that their 2 best outfield defenders in Blackmon & Young are blocked by 3 bad defenders in Cargo, Fowler and Cuddyer.

rusty
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rusty
3 years 8 months ago

I agree with your assessment — the team has drafted plenty of pitching in high rounds over the years, and once they get a couple prospects who work out at the same time, they’ll be in good shape. Chacin and Nicasio may be those guys (if they can both stay healthy), or maybe it’s Bettis and Cabrera a season from now, but to date things have obviously been disappointing.

In trying to diagnose what the flaw in the system was so far, the team has finally(!) installed a humidor in Colorado Springs, a decade after the major league park despite being at a higher altitude. My understanding is that they’ve also created essentially a Director of Pitching Development position to improve continuity of instruction between levels. It’s not going to pay off in 2013, but it seems like a decent start.

etrain
Member
etrain
3 years 8 months ago

@PL (for some reason there was no Reply link):

UZR hates all Rockies OFers, and if you watch the games, you would likely agree there is something amiss with UZR at Coors – I would love to see this investigated.

Second, Rutledge was essentially playing out of position at SS for an injured Tulowitzki – he should profile much better at 2nd.

I do, however, agree with the assessment that the emphasis should be on defense.

Those promoting signing or trading for pitching, though – please identify the players you think the Rockies missed out on. No FA pitcher is going to sign in Denver after 2012 without a ridiculous premium, and the price for trading for a starter is also high – witness Dickey – do you really think he would profile well enough at Coors to warrant trading several top prospects?

The Rockies situation is frustrating to be sure, but Swydan even acknowledges in his article that after 2012, the Rockies essentially have no choice but to see what they have in the young pitchers and cross their fingers for better health all around.

BubbaBiscuit
Member
BubbaBiscuit
3 years 8 months ago

Signing Cuddyer then giving away Seth Smith was just flat out horrible decision making. The solution to their pitching woes was almost stumbled on to last season out of sheer luck. The four man rotation experiment was a step in the right direction, executed extremely poorly, making it look like a really awful idea. The Rockies need to completely change the front office and start thinking outside the baseball conventional norms to ever be consistent in Denver. I gladly throw my hat into the ring for consideration.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 8 months ago

Smith isn’t a great defender either, the issue with that trade was thinking Outman & Moscoso were anything but Oakland-slanted mirages. I think the root of the problem is having terrible defenders everywhere who are making the pitchers look worse than they really are. They need to trade everyone not named Tulowitski or Helton, and let Blackmon & Eric Young play everyday in CF+LF. They could get a massive bounty for Cargo, Fowler, Rosario and Cuddyer, and probably Betancourt if they want to move a pitcher while his value is huge, enough to fill out the lineup and put a few very talented experienced pitchers into that rotation.

Or they could sign Loshe, who is also a good fit with his low HR/FB rate too. But by all means, go after Derek Lowe, he might keep that ERA under 6 if youre lucky…./shake my head

etrain
Member
etrain
3 years 8 months ago

Also, to Rosario … why would you trade a young cost-controlled asset like that? Yes, he struggled with the passed ball, but was skipped from AA to the majors and his expected platoon partner Ramon Hernandez went down and forced Rosario into regular action. I would bet the farm that Rosario’s defense (which was always viewed as at least average to plus) reaches that level in 2013.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 8 months ago

Because his value will never be higher and his output isn’t necessary on a non-contending team like this.

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

Please provide examples of this?

“where marginal talents can dramatically play over their heads and put up numbers that do not reflect their talent level”

Tomcat
Guest
Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

and by examples I mean by overall OPS+/ERA+

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 8 months ago

Off the top of my head…

Brad Hawpe & Garrett Atkins were pretty typical AAAA guys. An age 35 Jeromy Burnitz added some extra years by having a 1075 OPS in Denver at 775 away.

But you can go research it as well. There’s a lopsided amount of players with better raw numbers in Denver than elsewhere. I’m not speaking out of turn here, this is pretty common knowledge.

jim
Guest
jim
3 years 8 months ago

the rockies aren’t doing anything to improve, and the rest of the division has spent the offseason trying to upgrade, and were already better than colorado to start with. dark times ahead for the purple pinstripes

Matt
Guest
Matt
3 years 8 months ago

I just don’t understand the rationale behind trading Tulowitzki. He’s been a very good defender until this past season when he was hurt, and he’s one of the game’s top offensive contributors at a very weak position. Be happy you have an elite talent at such a premium position.

I also don’t see the rush to ship Rosario out the door. The production you get for the cost is a clear win for the team for the next several years, so take it and be happy. The key is to balance him with a great defensive catcher who doesn’t cost too much and is content with 200 – 250 plate apps. Ryan Hanigan would be sweet, really.

I do believe that COL would benefit from OFers who get great jumps, run clean routes, and who have plus range. There are not exactly a million of these guys around, and teams do value defense a lot these days, so trading for Peter Bourjos, for example, is not nearly as easy as some people think. Still, that’s the kind of player I am trying to get if I’m the Rockies’ GM. And maybe get Cameron Maybin while we’re at it, too.

Darwin Barney could be my 2B as long as he stays as good with the glove as he was in 2012. Let Arenado give 3B a shot, and use Rutledge as a utility guy all over the infield. If Arenado can’t do it at 3B, try Rutledge there . . . he may be less of a liability in the field there.

I don’t know what the solution is at 1B. That’s a tough one, and the reality is that there are not tons of classic power prospects at that position. Maybe go after a guy like Tyler Moore from Washington; this kid has legit power, he’s too old to be considered a prospect, and he’s a bench guy in D.C. right now. Maybe the Mets would shop Ike Davis for an OFer plus a good second piece?

As for the pitching, give me guys who miss bats and don’t walk people. Limit the contact the other team makes, and limit the free passes you serve up. The bullpen has some of this, the rotation . . . meh.

marlins12
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marlins12
3 years 8 months ago

The Rockies need a new front office.

etrain
Member
etrain
3 years 8 months ago

This coming from the Marlins is the definition of irony. You can point to your WS but I wouldn’t want to be a Fish Fan these days.

Jason
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Jason
3 years 8 months ago

A fan having a poor front office for their preferred team doesn’t preclude them from seeing other poor front offices.

Nick C
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Nick C
3 years 8 months ago

TWO World Series: 1997 and 2003.

jfree
Member
jfree
3 years 8 months ago

I say this as a disgruntled fan. The Rockies organization is a joke. The owners don’t have the financial wherewithal to have the team spend money or the vision to know how to spend it wisely. They don’t seem to have the talent to hire good front office people – or the guts to know when to fire them and they have been lost since Keli McGregor died. The front office has, after 20 years, not figured out the Coors effect (and it is big). Instead, they continue to spout cliches and make excuses and stupid decisions. The teams problems go way beyond the players on the field or on the farm. And unfortunately, nothing will change until the entire front office and ownership is fired/overhauled/changed. Because the Coors effect is much bigger than any one player can affect.

Coors IMO affects three main things:
1. Home games obviously boost offensive stats. Unfortunately, they also create adjustment problems when going back on the road. At home, breaking balls don’t break – on the road (and especially in their division with great pitchers) they do. And just like jet lag, it takes some time to get that eye back when one is used to Coors. I assume that they bring curve/slider pitching machines with them on road trips but who knows. At any rate, until this is solved, they are gonna have bigger home/road splits than they should have if they expect to win divisions and championships.

2. With pitching, the Coors effect is so extreme that the only solution is to dedicate at least one roster slot to “Coors-only” starter. Any MLB starter requires a full pitching repertoire to get through a game – but Coors basically requires that repertoire and also excludes breaking pitches from ever being really effective. Pitchers who “need” breaking pitches as their “out” pitch are also much more likely to stress their arms to injury at Coors. The best way to deal with this is to focus as many Coors innings on pitchers who are most suited for Coors so the rest of the staff can be somewhat “normal” and uninjured. Unfortunately, the Rockies have the least-suitable-for-Coors roster in their own division so there is no easy fix. Long-term, this needs to be developed in the minors by drafting/trading for “flawed” prospects. Pitchers who seem destined for the bullpen because they can’t seem to develop a good enough breaking ball – but whose other pitches can be developed enough to become a Coors-only starter. Shorter-term, they could maybe trade for mid/low-end pitchers like Lucas Harrell, Josh Collmenter, Chris Capuano, Alfredo Aceves, Clayton Richard, Ross Detwiler (if by some fluke they have a chance to win something as the season progresses) — and put Jeff Francis into that role.

3. Given the realities of their division – 3 of the toughest pitching parks, 4 of the biggest outfields, the need for groundballers at home – solid fielding is really important. Generic fielding stats will always distort fielding value at Coors — Fowler is actually OK, Larry Walker is being kept out of the HoF because his fielding value is being understated. But Rockies need to use limited roster slots elsewhere (L/R and H/R platoons), so they really cannot afford the defense/offense platoons that other teams can. This is the probably the easiest/cheapest problem to fix.

Rockies are a team in need of complete overhaul – starting in the front office.

LondonStatto
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LondonStatto
3 years 8 months ago

No mention of the 75-pitch limit?

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

Nicasio(3.99xFIP 5.43ERA),Pomeranz(4.49xFIP 4.93ERA), Friedrich(4.06xFIP 6.17ERA) Chatwood(4.45xFIP 5.28ERA)and even Outman(4.05xFIP 8.19ERA)are likely to benefit from an improved defense, and a new manager. I have zero problem letting those guys have a shot at improving along side Delarosa(104ERA+ 3.98FIP as a Rockie) and Chacin(126ERA+ 4.1FIP as a Rockie) over Karstens et al.

Nick C
Guest
Nick C
3 years 8 months ago

You’re still talking about 5 starters with a 4+ ERA, even if the defense is top-5. That’s terrible. Not to mention the fact that besides Tulo and Cargo, the lineup is dregs. Tulo and (small sample size) Eric Young are the only two players on the team to post a WRC over 100 on the road. Hell, Gonzalez even had a .301 OBP away from Coors Field.

This team isn’t two additional studs away from a dynasty. This team is two fewer studs away from Ricky Vaughn’s Cleveland Indians. Scorched earth for prospects is sounding more and more reasonable.

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

Two thoughts 1. the Rockies have made the playoffs 3 times in their history and Ubaldo Jimenez was the only pitcher to have 100ip and a sub 4 ERA 2. In the first half last year Pomeranz had 7 starts of 3.06ERA everyone else had a 5.70+ ERA

Cargo’s struggles on the road were against LHP(11wRC+!!!) and were largely BABIP(.171) driven. He hit RHP .274/.351/.470 good for a 104wRC+ and obliterated both at home. Matt Holliday posted 99wRC+ on the road as a Rockie, and has posted a 140wRC+ on the road as a Cardinal so maybe wRC+ isn’t the way to measure Rockies players true talent on the road.

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

to clarify Ubaldo is the only starter from those 3 teams who had a sub 4 ERA

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 8 months ago

Come to think of it Ubaldo Jimenez is the only pitcher in Rockies history to have a sub 4 ERA total

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 8 months ago

Watching the Rock’s circle the toilet is good for my Giants, I think they should stand pat.

Zach
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Zach
3 years 8 months ago

The attitude surrounding the pitching made the pitching worse. When the entire team knows the pitching is bad, they play worse defense, and ever since Tulo’s shaky error-prone start the defense never recovered.

Has anyone here seen Eric Young’s arm? It is terrible. His defense has improved, but he is by no means a good defender. Blackmon has had some flashes, but I don’t see him as an everyday. And no one here has even brought up Colvin, who can play CF.

It would be something unique to see Pomeranz, Friedrich, Chatwood, Outman, Nicasio, and Chacin all regress. The signings aren’t ideal, but I don’t imagine them stealing the 5th spot. But we had to sign some more no matter what because every pitcher somehow was ineffective or injured, so at the very least we’ve covered our asses, minimally.

Obviously new front office, and if the pitching is anywhere near as bad as last year, trade Cargo for 1b and pitching prospects.

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