The Colorado Rockies are a … curious team. They're just a year removed from a bizarre 75-pitch experiment. They make their baseballs moist on purpose. They've previously dickered with sinkerballers, power hitters, defensive whizzes, and mascots that gyrate behind home plate. They have a gigantic outfield that's supposed to eliminate cheap homers, but it adds cheap singles and doubles. It's an impossible place for predictable baseball or predictable transactions.
They also have a thing for clubhouse camaraderie and hard workers. Here's the Gray Lady from 2007:
Asked how his own Christian faith affected his decision-making, General Manager Dan O’Dowd acknowledged it came into play, but not in a religious way. He said it guided him to find players with integrity and strong moral values, regardless of their religious preference.
This bit about integrity and strong moral values came into play with Dexter Fowler, at least in a roundabout way. From just before the trade:
"I think he's got to get tougher. No doubt. He's got to show up and play with an edge every day, not just when he thinks he has to."
That's a GM talking about his displeasure with the player who's about to go on the trading block. It's why I started the Craigslist ad for my car with "SMELLS LIKE WET DOG: '05 COROLLA." Let them know up front, it's the only way.
I don't know Dexter Fowler personally. I don't know if he flosses loudly in the middle of team meetings, or won't stop with the Homeland spoilers on the bench. Maybe he really doesn't try all the time. Maybe his lack of effort bugs his teammates and affects their performances.
Here's what I know about him:
I see a productive player. Check that: a relatively cheap and productive player, under team control for the next two seasons. Fowler brought solid on-base skills, impressive base running, and improving defense to the Rockies. He wasn't an All-Star, nor was he especially close. But he was productive, as-is. I guess the Rockies figured he could have been an All-Star if he applied himself, or something to that effect, and every time he betrayed that potential, it brought the rest of the team down.
I don't think I would pay $140 million extra to have Jacoby Ellsbury on my team instead of Fowler, though, so I would be interested in talking trade with the Rockies if I ran a baseball team. As such, it kind of stuns me that the Rockies got so little for Fowler. Jordan Lyles is just 23, sure, but here are his ERA+ over the last three seasons: 71, 79, 72. His strikeout rate has dipped each year, even as the league strikeout rate increased.
Lyles also has one of my favorite spring-training lines ever, with 36 hits and one walk allowed in 11 spring innings this year. Not like that means anything. Just sharing.
The Rockies also acquired Brandon Barnes, a PCL-dusted semi-thumper who can play a little center field if he's in a normal ballpark, which he won't be.
That's an underwhelming return for a player who would upgrade two-thirds of the outfields in baseball. And in Fowler's place, the Rockies will start Charlie Blackmon. Your mileage my vary, but I'll predict he's a step back from Fowler, especially from a defensive perspective.
This is an 88-loss team taking a step back for no good reason. Even worse, it's taking a step back after cashing in one of the better trade chips they had. They're thinking about players like Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz, and they're signing Justin Morneau because they want to win in the short term. If you're looking for short-term assets, here's a bold suggestion: Don't deal with the Astros. They might have a promising future and a bright brain trust, but they're pretty short on players who can help in 2014.
The Rockies are going to use the Fowler savings on Morneau, by the way. He's the first baseman who hit worse than Fowler in each of the last three seasons.
There's so much I hate about this trade from the Rockies' perspective. It doesn't help them win now; it probably doesn't help them win then. And I'd wager there was a deal that would have helped them win now. It seems, though, that their offseason plan had a header of DEAL FOWLER BEFORE HIS VALUE DIPS, and they stuck to it. Now they're worse, older, and without any extra money to spend.
It probably started with Fowler-related grumbling. It wasn't like Fowler went full Milton, acting like something between a malcontent and a truly disturbed individual. But someone in the Rockies' front office or clubhouse was tired of Fowler and the perceived lack of effort. He wasn't worth the good play, and his absence will make the rest of the Rockies grow fonder.
That's the story of how, for the 20th straight year or so, the Rockies confused the world with their attempts to find the philosopher's stone. Their on-field production is probably worse, but they think their clubhouse might be better. If they think that swap makes them win more, the burden of proof is on them. So far, they haven't given us any reason to trust their judgement.