Rockies trade possibilities could open if Michael Cuddyer accepts the $15.3 million qualifying offer

032314_Michael_Cuddyer_1280_k4rup8fq_fu4ujqe2By extending a qualifying offer — defined as a one-year, $15.3 million contract offer – to free-agent first baseman-outfielder Michael Cuddyer, the Rockies actually are making it known that they are willing to trade for pitching.

Cuddyer could receive a two-year deal worth $22 million – a prediction from Zach Links of the fine MLB Trade Rumors Web site. But a $15.3 million payday in 2015, with the chance to play a healthy season and hit the market again next year, is hard to turn down.

The problem is the Rockies are set at first base with Justin Morneau and in right field with Carlos Gonzalez.

Unless …

Given his production in 2014 — a National League batting title, plus a Rawlings Gold Glove Award nomination and a Comeback Player nomination from the GIBBY Aards – Morneau’s contract is quite club-friendly ($6.75 million for next season, with a $750,000 buyout on a $9 million option for 2015). If that contract is club-friendly to the Rockies, someone else may think it’s club-friendly.

If that other club is willing to part with starting pitching — quality, depth or both — that looks like a heck of a match.

I’m looking at Morneau as the key trade candidate. Cuddyer could take right field if the Rockies move another of their big-ticket players, Carlos Gonzalez, whose own contract ($53 million over the next three years) is not bad if he can stay healthy. But Gonzalez is coming off season-ending knee surgery, which may lessen the offers. And the Rockies haven’t been inclined to deal him or shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

The other possible trade is of catcher Wilin Rosario, whose is considered closer to his offensive WAR of 2.4 in 2013 than to his oWAR of 1.0 during an injury- and illness-filled 2014. The going wisdom is Rosario would be a fit for an American League team, which can use him some at catcher but also as designated hitter. Rosario is roster-friendly since he is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility.

At any rate, Cuddyer’s decision could fully put the Rockies in business for a big deal in an attempt to transform their 2015 starting rotation.

There is risk involved. If Cuddyer accepts and has another injury-plagued season (he’s played in 280 games over his three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Rockies that ended this year), then the Rockies will have weakened themselves by dealing Morneau or one of the big-ticket players. However, pitching wins, and dealing for starting pitching often is more economical than signing it on the free-agent market.

If the dealing does happen, the Rockies’ actions are a message to the fans. Yes, it would be nice to have a Draft pick if Cuddyer signs elsewhere, but the Rockies believe they win now, and the way to do it is to obtain starting pitching. Impact starting pitching is worth more to the Rockies than a Draft pick, and it’s important enough that they look willing to deal a productive player.

— Thomas Harding

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