Every year at their time the rumors roll in about deals that will be done, players who are available, and other nonsense. Usually I ignore them, because they’re unreliable and in a month will be forgotten. However, as I’ve recently become something of a Rockies fan, at least when they’re not playing the Cardinals, I have a few thoughts about the man whose name headlines this post.
Ubaldo is one of my favorite Rockies. He’s also an incredibly talented pitcher. In addition, he is twenty seven years old. That is the key point for today. Any discussion of the Rockies as sellers in the baseball trade market, or at least of sellers where Ubaldo is concerned, depends on age.
Mid-market teams, like the Rockies, are usually understood to be on a build and sell cycle, where they build a core of prospects, try to add veterans around them as the youth movement reaches the Majors, and then trade or allow players to leave as they become too expensive, keeping, if they are lucky, the very best. Thus, trading Ubaldo would make sense only if he was either about to be too expensive to keep or if the players surrounding him were not yet ready to win at the Major League level. Neither is true. Ubaldo is only twenty seven, he is signed at a very reasonable salary until 2014, and he is part of the Rockies core group of internally developed prospects, all of whom are of similar age and many of whom, specifically Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez, are likewise signed for the next several years.
Consider the following list of current Rockies players developed by the organization, by age and position, beginning with Ubaldo.
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP 27
Joulys Chacin, RHP 23
Jason Hammel, RHP 28
Juan Nicasio, RHP 24
Jorge De La Rosa, LHP 30 DL Tommy John
Esmil Rogers, RHP 25 DL oblique strain
Troy Tulowitski, SS 26
Carlos Gonzalez, CF/LF 25 DL wrist strain
Dexter Fowler, CF 24
Seth Smith, RF 28
Charlie Blackmon, CF/LF/RF 25 DL broken foot
Chris Iannetta, C 28
Jonathan Herrera, 2B 26
Ian Stewart, 3B 26
Eric Young Jr, 2B/OF 26
Suddenly it becomes clear that, far from being sellers, the Rockies are at the peak of their rebuilding cycle. They should be attempting to win for the next four years with the players they have traded for and cultivated. In fact, adding Ty Wigginton (3B 33) and Mark Ellis (2B 34) were exactly the kind of small acquisitions a mid-market team should be making in a season where most of their home grown talent is between 25 and 28.
The Rockies got horribly unlucky this year when De La Rosa was lost for the season. Starting pitching, especially at Coors, is a huge challenge for any team. His loss probably means the Rockies do not have enough starters to contend this year, even in the eminently winnable NL West division. De La Rosa’s injury, however, simply underscores how valuable Ubaldo is to the Rockies, and what a good job they have done with Nicasio, Chacin, Rogers and Jimenez, of building a young rotation from within. Trading any of them would be madness, drastically reducing the remaining members ability to compete given their home field and the state of pitching around the league, where offense is down and many teams have multiple front line starters.
Ubaldo is, along with CarGo and Tulo and Helton (1B 37), the face of the new Rockies. 2011 has turned out far worse than they hoped, but that doesn’t mean the team should give up on winning. They have a young core most teams envy, and a bevy of talented starters on the rise. I’ve really enjoyed watching the Rockies the past few years, and Ubaldo is a big part of why. His smile, his joy in baseball, and his incredible abilities are a pleasure to see, and he most certainly should remain a Rockie through the length of his contract, given the state of the team.