November 2011

Rox getting Angels pitcher Chatwood for Iannetta, close to signing catcher Ramon Hernandez

DENVER — The Rockies are acquiring right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood from the Angels on Wednesday for catcher Chris Iannetta in a deal that increases Colorado’s stable of young pitchers and puts it in position to pursue another veteran catcher.

 

Chatwood, who turns 22 on Dec. 16, went 6-11 with a 4.75 ERA in 27 games, including 25 starts, for the Angels as a rookie last season. A second-round Draft pick of the Angels in 2008 out of Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High School, Chatwood becomes the third highly touted young pitcher the Rockies have acquired since last July.

 

The Rockies received left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who turned 23 on Nov. 22, and right-hander Alex White, 23, from the Indians for former staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez in July just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

 

With Iannetta gone, the Rockies are expected to pursue a veteran catcher to solidify the young pitching staff this season and work in tandem with prospect Wilin Rosario, who showed promise during a September callup. The club is close to signing veteran backstop Ramon Hernandez to a two-year deal, according to Major League sources. Hernandez spent the past three seasons with the Reds.

 

Hernandez, who turns 36 on May 20, hit .282 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs last season in 91 games. A 2003 All-Star Game participant with the Athletics, Hernandez is a .266 hitter with 161 homers and 723 RBIs in 13 seasons with the Athletics, Padres, Orioles and Reds.

 

Chatwood is often compared to veteran standout pitcher Roy Oswalt because he is an undersized (listed at 6-foot) righty with a strong arm. He entered last season ranked by MLB.com as the No. 5 prospect in the Angels’ system. Early-season injuries to Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir forced the club to call him up in early April after just 6 2/3 Triple-A innings.

 

Chatwood had typical big league growing pains last season, when he finished with 74 strikeouts to 71 walks and gave up 14 home runs. He endured two demotions to Triple-A Salt Lake. But Chatwood possesses a fastball that can reach 96 mph and curveball, and he is developing a cut fastball and a changeup. He could make a major forward step if he improves his command.

 

Iannetta, who turns 29 on April 8, has batted .235 with 63 home runs and 236 RBIs in 458 games over six seasons. A fourth-round pick out of the University of North Carolina in 2004, Iannetta hit .264 in 104 games in 2008, but he struggled the following two years and was demoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs each season. Last year, Iannetta regained his big league footing, playing in 112 games and finished with a .238 batting average and .370 on-base percentage, with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs.

 

A busy Rockies weekend

Enjoying time off near the Thanksgiving holiday, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to comment on some news items involving the Rockies:

– Two free agent targets appear headed elsewhere, with outfielder Grady Sizemore reportedly having reached an agreement with the Indians and onetime Rockies infielder Clint Barmes reportedly headed to Pittsburgh to rejoin his old Rox manager, Clint Hurdle.

The Sizemore situation was a race against time. Signing him was somewhat predicated on trading left fielder Seth Smith. The plan to trade Smith was to fill the second base hole or one of the starting pitching holes. Although there have been stories about talks with the Braves about infielder Martin Prado and the Rockies have been debating trying to pry former Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson from the Padres, not much in the way of real negotiation had materialized.

But with all the health reports on Sizemore positive after a postseason knee surgery (he had surgery on the other knee in 2009), teams decided to move quickly. The team that knows him the best, the Indians, figured the price was right and made the move.

The Rockies see Smith as an asset, so it’s not as if they’re dying to trade him. They’d deal him, but not in a trade that they aren’t totally comfortable making. To trade Smith now, the Rockies need a viable alternative in left, whether that player comes in the same trade or the Rockies end up with a left fielder through other means. Or they can just keep Smith.

“We like Seth Smith — he’s a good player for us,” Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd told me the other day.

Barmes would have made a lot of sense. He played shortstop last year for the Astros, and will do so for the Pirates. If the Rockies could have signed him, he would have offered a high-quality replacement if Troy Tulowitzki were to be injured.

If the Rox don’t find a second baseman, some combination of Jonathan Herrera, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr. would have to suffice at second. Both have experience at short, and can move over in case of injury to Tulowitzki.

Since Tulowitzki is a big shortstop who never takes it easy, it would be nice to have someone of Barmes’ ability to plug into the position. It would give manager Jim Tracy peace of mind when he wants to rest Tulowitzki during the season.

It’s a concern, but the Rockies aren’t going to build their offseason strategy around protecting themselves from a longterm injury to Tulowitzki. Replacing him for a few days for a nagging injury is one thing. A long absence is something else.

“If we lost Tulowitzki for a long period of time, we’re in trouble,” O’Dowd said. “I don’t know of many teams that can withstand losing their best player for a long period of time.”

– The Rockies dealt veteran utility man Ty Wigginton to the Phillies on Sunday for a player to be named.

While it’s nice to have a vet to come off the bench, the Rockies might be covered with a younger player. They liked the offensive work of late-season call-up Jordan Pacheco, and Tracy used Pacheco at first base and third base — essentially the same way he used Wigginton.

Rockies sign Brandon Wood

This is the time of year when teams extend chances to once-touted players who have struggled, hoping the change of scenery helps. Under that plan, the Rockies welcome infielder Brandon Wood, once a prized Angels prospect who hit .216 in a combined 105 games with the Angels and the Pirates last season.

Under a Minor League contract, Wood will compete at third base, where the Rockies’ own touted prospect, Ian Stewart, slumped and battled injuries last season. Stewart hit .156 with no homers and six RBIs in a year spent more at Triple-A than in the Majors.

Keep an eye on Rockies pitching, Barmes discussions could occur today

As MLB.com reported last week and as the Denver Post reported last night, the Rockies’ wide-ranging search for an innings-eating starting pitcher, or two, includes standout free-agent right-hander Roy Oswalt (4-0, 2.25 ERA in five career starts at Coors Field).

The Post reported that the Rockies won’t trade for the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez, who want quite a bit in return. But just about any young, accomplished starter is on the radar — the Marlins’ Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez, and the Rays’ Jeff Neimann and Wade Davis. All have been Rockies targets before. The Rockies are interested in their one-time No. 1 pitcher Jeff Francis and Kevin Millwood, who finished last season in purple pinstripes, as well as, according to the Post, Paul Maholm.

The Rockies are dangling left fielder Seth Smith in trade talks for either a pitcher or a second baseman, or both. That helps explain the pursuit of Grady Sizemore, who is recovering from right knee surgery but, according to his agent, will be ready to start Spring Training and to start the season.

If they don’t make a trade at the keystone position, they could look to the past and pursue Clint Barmes, who played for the Astros last season but had spent all is previous seasons with the Rockies. Barry Meister, Barmes’ agent, will arrive at the MLB General Managers meetings in Milwaukee today. Although there have been internal discussions about Barmes — who is attractive to the Rockies because he can move to shortstop if Troy Tulowitzki needs a break or is banged up — there had not been negotiations as of yesterday. Barmes is receiving interest at a shortstop and a second baseman, and is open to playing each spot.

Potential trade targets are the Braves’ Martin Prado and the Padres’ Orlando Hudson, with the Rockies already having had discussions with the Braves.

In the coming weeks, watch for the Rockies to seriously explore dealing right-handed reliever Huston Street, who is guaranteed $8 million next year. Rafael Betancourt ended up supplanting Street as closer late in the regular season.

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