12/18/2013 8:35 P.M. ET
Rox continue strong offseason with pair of trades
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
DENVER -- The Rockies want to create versatility and athleticism on their roster.
They improved both with two trades on Wednesday, continuing what has been a busy offseason in an attempt to remake a team that is coming off back-to-back last-place finishes in the National League West.
The Rockies sent left-handed reliever Josh Outman to Cleveland for outfielder Drew Stubbs. They also traded infielder Jonathan Herrera to Boston for left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales -- who originally signed and came to the big leagues with the Rox -- and right-handed reliever prospect Chris Martin.
Stubbs will compete for starts in left field and could be the right-handed-hitting piece of a platoon with either Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson. Morales, who pitched key innings out of the Red Sox bullpen in recent years, could get a look in the rotation in Spring Training, with the knowledge the team could slide him back to a relief role.
"It was tough losing some of the guys we lost, Outman and Jonny -- Jonny has been one of the guys who was the heart and soul of the club and the guys love him," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "There was a lot of interest in Josh from other teams down the stretch last year. But we had to move some valuable pieces to get some of the things we were looking for. I like the moves we've made. They improve our club."
When the Rockies dealt center fielder Dexter Fowler to Houston last month, the indication was they not only were adding right-handed starter Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes, but would use the $7.35 million that Fowler will earn in 2014 to make other roster moves.
Stubbs provides the Rockies with a plus defensive outfielder who can play all three positions, as well as a basestealing threat and a right-handed bat off the bench. Stubbs stole 17 bases in Cleveland last year, and in the three seasons prior with Cincinnati, he was 100-for-127 in stolen bases.
"He is a very talented player, a guy that's got a legit power and speed combo," Weiss said. "He's a very good defender with lots of tools that jump out with you, and another factor is he can not only play center field but all three positions."
Stubbs has hit .274 with a home run every 25.15 at-bats in his career against left-handed pitchers, but .226 with a home run every 35.9 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. The Rockies see him as the right-handed part of a left-field platoon, as well as a legitimate center fielder who can fill in for Carlos Gonzalez and also back up Michael Cuddyer in right field.
It makes for lively competition in left field.
Blackmon has hit .271 in 151 games over three seasons with the Rockies, including .309 in 82 games in 2013. He also has defensive versatility. Dickerson is still working on his defense, but he has a productive bat. Dickerson made his big league debut in 2013, hitting .263 in 69 games, and in 377 career Minor League games, he has hit .321 with 78 home runs, 110 doubles and 35 triples.
Right-handed-hitting Brandon Barnes, part of the Fowler trade, fits into the left-field competition. Like Stubbs, Barnes has strong numbers against left-handed pitching (.296 with a .354 on-base percentage, plus four home runs and 25 RBIs last season), although he has less experience.
"There's a lot of open competition," Weiss said. "There are some natural platoons when you look at the personnel, but we'll let that play out. We have some really good players on the roster coming in and competing for jobs in Spring Training. It's a good situation."
The trade of Herrera brings Morales back to the Rockies, filling the spot opened up by the trade of Outman, and adds Martin for Minor League depth -- if the Rockies go with three bullpen lefties.
But Weiss said he and senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett discussed at length the idea of having Morales compete for the rotation in Spring Training.
In three seasons with the Red Sox, Morales went 6-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 93 appearances, including 10 starts. In 2012, Morales was 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA in nine starts. In his only 2013 start, he held the Phillies to four hits and two runs in five innings of a 9-2 victory on May 30 at Citizens Bank Park.
With Jorge De La Rosa and Brett Anderson, recently acquired from the Athletics, already penciled in, Morales could give the Rockies three lefties. If Morales is in the starter mix, right-hander Juan Nicasio, who went 9-9 with a 5.14 ERA in 30 starts last year, could be pushed to the bullpen. The Rockies are comfortable with righties Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood.
"Geivo and I were talking about it today and he brought up the idea of Morales starting," Weiss said. "He is someone we're considering. It's getting to the point where we have some options, and some good options -- guys that have a track record. I feel good about what we've done this offseason."
If he doesn't start, Morales will join Rex Brothers and Boone Logan to give the Rockies three hard-throwing lefty relievers. Last season, Morales held opposition lefty hitters to a .184 batting average.
Without Herrera, it also opens the way for the Rockies to keep both Charlie Culberson and Josh Rutledge on their regular season roster. The two of them, along with DJ LeMahieu, are capable of playing second, third or short.
Martin signed with the Red Sox, out of Grand Prairie in the independent American Association, in 2011, and has a 3.12 ERA with 194 strikeouts against 47 walks in 222 1/3 Minor League innings covering 88 games in the Red Sox's chain. He adds non-roster relief depth.
Wednesday's moves added to a productive offseason.
In addition to supplementing the lineup by acquiring Stubbs and Barnes, and adding pitching depth with Lyles, the Rockies signed free agent Justin Morneau to take over at first base for retired Todd Helton.
They acquired Anderson, Oakland's Opening Day starter a year ago, in an effort to shore up the back end of the rotation, which was the team's most glaring void a year ago, giving up left-hander Drew Pomeranz and Minor League pitcher Chris Jensen. The Rockies also received $2 million from the A's to offset Anderson's $8 million salary for 2014.
And they have worked to provide a strong support system in the bullpen, signing veteran free agent LaTroy Hawkins for one year at $2.5 million to work as closer, with Brothers getting closing opportunities depending on matchups. This week they officially signed Logan, who spent the last four seasons as a lefty specialist with the Yankees, for three years at $16.5 million to work a more traditional setup role.
The Rockies also increased the right-handed bullpen competition by selecting hard thrower Tommy Kahnle from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft. Kahnle earned 15 saves and struck out 74, but walked 45, in 60 innings at Double-A Trenton last season.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Thomas Harding contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.