Monday, May 21, 2007

Go Off The Atkins Diet?

There are assorted rumors floating around the baseball blogosphere that Garrett Atkins may be moved. He's high on the Angels' wish list, as they too have a cumulatively punchless offense and are looking to upgrade at the hot corner. Talks haven't been serious and it's been mentioned before that Atkins is unlikely to be traded, as he is looked to as a fixture of the young club's core and, with Matt Holliday, is expected to give the franchise a few more "name-brand" stars once Todd Helton goes. Despite Todd's stated wish not to move anywhere once the season started, it appears that Boston, New York, and Atlanta will all have interest in him this summer. Boston has one or two young minor-league studs that they might be enticed to part with if it meant Helton in return, Atlanta may have to give up one of their young major-leaguers (don't know about the state of their farm system, but something tells me that because they were so good until last year, their consistently low draft picks may not have helped them out). As for the Yankees, their farm system is picked to the bone and the only real stud they've developed is Phil Hughes, who's untouchable especially since his rotation mates are dropping like flies. Robinson Cano is a name mentioned, but only in passing, since it's unlikely the Yanks would deal an All-Star second baseman.

Nah, the greedy bastards will probably just try to get Helton and peddle Kyle Farnsworth back in return. Even worse, Dan O'Dowd might fall for it. My biggest fear is that O'Dowd would decide to get equal monetary value for Helton, and take on a package of bad relievers/low-end prospects just because their total salaries equal out to what Helton's making. Helton himself is enjoying a marvelous resurgence, among the NL batting average leaders, and has jacked his on-base percentage up over .500. It'd be hard to get what he's worth, and I have my doubts that O'Dowd will insist on the right deal. I'd be upset to see Helton go, especially after he's stuck out so many losing seasons in Colorado and never complained, but I'd part with him for the right price. That includes at least one young and good, proven major-leaguer and not just a hopeful prospect.

While I'm not happy about this possible move either, it makes more sense from a purely business standpoint -- clearing Helton's cumbersome salary off the books might provide enough open revenue to re-sign Holliday once he finishes his last year of arbitration eligibility in 2009 and hits free agency. Seeing as the Dev -- apologies, I keep doing that -- Scott Boras is his agent, it's more likely that he'd head for the open market instead and try to get a king's ransom, which Boras will certainly supply. That said, there is an even more nightmarish scenario that the Rockies trade Helton, trade Atkins, and fail to re-sign Holliday anyway. Where does that leave them? Back at square one with a team of young prospects, just like always, and that would leave me frustrated beyond measure. But the current logistics being discussed about Atkins (although not in any depth, and just as names matched up by each club as having interest) would ship Garrett to Anaheim (heeuurgh) for Ervin Santana and possibly Brandon Wood as well, but that may require an extra player, possibly Koshansky. I do not like this deal for a number of reasons. Here's why.

I am not at all sold on Santana (unless you're talking about Johan, which I somehow doubt). His current numbers are 3-5/5.06 and that isn't that different, and is in fact worse, than what we've already been running out there. Not to mention that ghastly home/road split: Ervin's an other-Santana-like 3-1/2.33 within the confines of Angel Stadium, while he morphs into a Mike Hampton-like 0-4/7.86 on the road. He is young (25 in December) but our track record with pitching prospects isn't that great. I'm not sure about Wood, as why would we need another young third baseman if we're going to ship Atkins out with the express intention of having Stewart take over? Wood is hitting .237/5/21 at Triple-A Salt Lake, and I admittedly don't know that much about him, but I wonder if he'd be able to produce at the big-league level. Minor-league stats are a gaudy thing... until you get to the Show.

There's also the question of what would happen if the Rockies shipped both Helton and Atkins out, then didn't re-sign Holliday -- what kind of message would that send? "Okay, we got a couple good years out of these guys, now it's back to the rebuilding phase yet again?" If, as is widely speculated, Joe Koshansky may not be ready to contribute at the big-league level, who will play first? There are other scenarios tossed around of clearing off the payroll by trading Helton, promoting highly regarded prospect Ian Stewart to play the hot corner, and moving Atkins back to his natural position at first. But if both Helton and Atkins are gone, are we willing to take our chances on Koshansky and Stewart? What would the Rockies be saying if they got rid of guys every time they finally became legit major-league players and no longer "prospects?" Young players are the future of the game, but I for one get a little tired of the constant turnover within the organization. This may be a complete pipe dream, but I wish management would stick with their established players a little longer.

I'm not sure that the slow start for Garrett this year heralds the start of a steep decline, as there are a number of other stars, even the infallible Pujols, who haven't really found their swings. He's still young, still good, under club control until 2011, and only making $400,000, and it's rare to find players with all those traits. So although everyone may be frustrated by his somnolent offensive performance to date (including myself, mind you) I don't think we need to hit the panic button and ship him out just yet.

Is Wood actually a bonafide talent, and not just another highly-achieving minor leaguer that will sputter out once he hits the Show? I'd be leery of trading for him now, since his minor league experience is limited to 11 at-bats and 1 hit. Likewise, if he's projected to be as good as everyone thinks he can be, then why can't the Angels put some time into the Rockies' favorite catchword, and develop him? I'm not arguing against acquiring him, but I am arguing against acquiring him just because he's "supposed" to be good. If we're thinking about making a 3B-for-3B swap and the production is currently about at equal levels, then what would be the point? (For both Anaheim and us, for that matter. It seems they'd be more keen on keeping a 22-year-old than trading for a 27-year-old, but the Angels have placed a premium on single-season production in the past). If they need an upgrade at the hot corner, then if Atkins doesn't provide much more and possibly less than Wood, why would they pull the trigger? I suspect Stoneman may be trying to buy low and hope he can groom Atkins back into the player he was last year. But if Wood is so good, why isn't their solution to their third-base problems to be found within the organization? There is no reason they shouldn't bring him up for a look-see, just to judge if they can get adequate production, and if he's not Major League ready, I oppose dealing an established major league player for him.

Right now, if Atkins slumping is still worth Santana and/or Wood, I think O'Dowd (if he is planning this trade at all, which management has denied) should wait and see. It's only May and it's still likely that at least some of Atkins' unluckiness could correct itself. The spike in the K rate and the drop in the walk rate is alarming, but if a couple more of those liners had gotten past someone or made it over Andruw's head, for example, his average would be higher than it is. Of course, the what-if game can be played to death, and what only matters is the results on the field, but I think that, if perhaps not the MVP-caliber player he was last year, Atkins is still better than what he's shown thus far.

The team should not have marketed itself as a contender, but they always say that each current group of players is a core. Well, we're still looking for that right touch. If it won't be Helton/Atkins/Holliday, will it be Koshanksy/Stewart/Barker? When will the search actually end, or are we just a revolving door to develop good players that we then trade off? I'm not asking a rhetorical question here; I do wonder what the heck can be done to fix this organization. The losing is frustrating and it's all we've really ever known, and I for one want to see it end -- but will a constant revolving door lead us to this end? Are we like the Brewers, hoping that years of high draft picks will finally lead us to our glory days?

As for the Pujols/Atkins comparison, perhaps it's a bit overreaching, but I did want to point out that there are others who haven't performed at their accustomed level this year. What that might be for Atkins, we still don't know, and I just hope that we don't make a deal for a young third baseman that doesn't pan out and Stoneman ends up getting the last laugh. For no other reason than I hate the Angels, and that would be deeply aggravating. If we acquire Wood for Atkins, so be it; I'll be upset. If we win, it will make it better. If it doesn't work out, and we just keep losing, I'll be even more upset. Why is Wood one of the missing pieces? Who knows.

I still have one more logistical question. If we intend on getting Wood, how does that affect Stewart? I doubt we're planning to platoon two highly regarded prospects. At this point, it would make more sense for the deal (should it go down) to be Santana for Atkins, and I don't endorse continuing to take a risk on a pitcher that "could" be good, and yet, this year, still hasn't achieved his potential. I don't care what scouts see if he isn't bringing it to the field and consistently producing. It was rumored earlier in the year the Angels were mulling a demotion for him, and while God knows we need pitching help, I don't like the idea of trading our established third baseman for their mercurial is-he-or-isn't-he possible greatness, possible burnout. The Angels have some quality arms -- if they want Atkins, they should give us one with proven talent in return.

Also, third base isn't a position in which we have need, seeing how highly Stewart is regarded. So why would we need to trade away a third baseman for another third baseman that might cause playing time conflicts with him? As I mentioned, the most logical trade would be Atkins for a pitcher, and while I would always appreciate help in this sector, for some reason, I don't necessarily see it coming from Santana. I'd be more willing to listen if it was another name being tossed around -- I wish that O'Dowd would insist on a proven pitcher instead of taking a flyer on one that may or may not achieve his potential. The Angels are known for their pitching, so let's not just take the first name they throw at us. Santana has been a problem for them in the past and Atkins hasn't been one for us until now, so let's at least try to get somebody who has a better-than-average chance of working out. Joe Saunders or Dustin Moseley, maybe, if Stoneman absolutely can't be enticed to give up one of his established starters.

And besides, I don't want Garrett to go. He's one of my favorite players. There, I said it. You can talk statistics and splits until your face turns blue, but there's a human element to the game too, and I for one would be very, very upset if Atkins was traded, partially because as much as I want my team to win, I really do care about the guys wearing the uniform as well. I can't step back objectively and support every move supposed to help the wins, also because O'Dowd hasn't shown himself to be that great at judging transactions in the past (evidenced by all these losing seasons that are getting Rockies fans so hot under the collar). Hopefully it doesn't happen.

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