Rockies wait for Betancourt decision
Bench help, catcher are other priorities at Winter Meetings
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Rockies will have an idea by some point on Monday's first day of the MLB Winter Meetings whether one of their most important areas -- primary setup relief -- will be settled.
Right-hander Rafael Betancourt, who joined the Rockies in a July trade and helped put them in the 2009 playoffs, has until Monday to accept an arbitration offer. If he accepts, he'll no longer be a free agent, so even if he and the team don't reach a contract agreement, he'll stay with the Rockies and his salary will be set by arbitration during Spring Training.
Betancourt is expected to accept, although his representatives could take all the way until the midnight ET deadline as they sift through the interest of four or five other clubs. Betancourt rejected a two-year offer from the Rockies earlier this offseason, but that rejection may only be temporary.
If Betancourt rejects the offer, the Rockies can sign him, but will have to compete with other clubs. In that case, if he goes elsewhere, the Rockies will be protected because they'll receive two early picks in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The Rockies also will ramp up negotiations with LaTroy Hawkins, who held the setup role for them in 2007 and is coming off a strong year with the Astros.
As meetings with other teams progress during the day, expect the Rockies to receive trade inquiries. Other teams see the Rockies as having a surplus of outfielders. The Rockies are known throughout baseball for placing a premium on their homegrown talent, so teams know their asking prices are often high.
The Rockies say their regular right fielder, 2010 All-Star Brad Hawpe, would be available only if the club is wowed. They would presumably want something similar to what they received for standout outfielder Matt Holliday last winter -- a package that included outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, a longtime prospect who had a breakthrough second half, and closer Huston Street. That may be a prohibitive asking price for Hawpe, so he will most likely stay and play some first base on days Todd Helton rests.
The outfielders most likely to draw trade attention are right-handed-hitting Ryan Spilborghs and left-handed-hitting Seth Smith. Spilborghs has value to the Rockies because he helps balance out a left-handed dominated lineup when he plays, and Smith demonstrated last season that he can be as productive as a starter as he is coming off the bench.
The Rockies aren't peddling either player, but could be talked out of Spilborghs -- who is arbitration-eligible -- for, say, starting rotation depth or relief help. Trading him, however, would intensify the need for right-handed-hitting bench help. Teams will ask about Smith, but his production (.293, 15 home runs, 55 RBIs in 335 at-bats) and the fact he has yet to reach his salary-inflating arbitration years make him of high value to the Rockies.
The Rockies have made inquiries over a couple of starting second basemen -- four-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner Orlando Hudson and this year's buzz-creating free agent Mark DeRosa -- but would bid seriously only if the market is not what either player expects. The club likes Clint Barmes at second.
That means the Rockies are more likely to sign a right-handed-hitting backup. Jamey Carroll, who handled that role for them in 2007, is such a target.
Also, free-agent catcher Yorvit Torrelaba will be testing his value. The Rockies want to retain Torrealba, whose strong second half was a key to the club making the playoffs. However, the Rockies turned down a $4 million option, and are hoping to sign him for less than the going rate for a starting catcher. The Rockies would rather have Torrealba as insurance as they try to help Chris Iannetta shake off a poor 2009.
If Torrealba leaves, signing or trading for a backup catcher will become a Rockies priority. It's not clear if the team's path in that regard will be known by the end of the Winter Meetings, or if it will be clear after Saturday's deadline to tender offers to arbitration-eligible players.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.