Holliday Sale? Rocky days in Colorado mean trades are possible
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd is the sort of fellow who has the ability to make a brutally honest assessment of his team. "We stink,'' O'Dowd said in a recent interview, an interview conducted even before the Rockies were throttled 20-5 by the Phillies on Monday, lost four straight and fell to 20-34, which is tied for the worst record in baseball.
Putting it more delicately, the defending National League champion Rockies have hit a rather -- shall we say -- rocky patch, so rocky in fact that they could become a center of trading activity this summer.
O'Dowd is also not the type to sit idly by and do nothing if his team continues to "stink." That is why several competing executives are starting to wonder now whether a potential Rockies summer overhaul might include star third baseman Garrett Atkins or perhaps even superstar outfielder Matt Holliday.
The Rockies' struggles are a surprise to all considering how they steamrolled to the World Series last year by winning 21 of 22 games.
Even if their ridiculous hot streak wasn't about to be duplicated, they were still viewed as a likely contender, including here and many other places. However, a combination of youth, injuries (Holliday, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Tulowiitzki's backup Clint Barmes are all out now) and what some Rockies insiders view as a youthful over-eagerness to reprove themselves appears to have driven them far off the course predicted for them.
If this continues, they could dangle several decent players. Any Rockies sale is seen as likely to include center fielder Willy Taveras and reliever Brian Fuentes. However, if O'Dowd is looking to really revamp things, execs believe Atkins and Holliday could go, as well. "Dan's so smart and so creative he's probably already thought of 50 scenarios for every player,'' one competing GM says.
One caveat: Since the Rockies showed the ability to come from nowhere last year to make the playoffs, "he might be less inclined'' to hold a fire sale, another GM speculates.
Any word of Holliday's potential availability would excite any number of teams, just as Mark Teixeira's availability did a year ago at this time, when he became by far the biggest player traded at last year's summer deadline. O'Dowd has successfully locked up several of the Rockies' better young players, including Tulowitzki, outfielder Brad Hawpe, starters Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook and reliever Manny Corpas. But in conversations with associates, O'Dowd has painted a pessimistic picture of their chances to sign Holliday, the team's best player and the runner-up in last year's MVP voting, when he hit .340 with 36 home runs and 137 RBIs.
O'Dowd made a quiet attempt sometime this winter to gauge their chances to sign Holliday long-term when he was trying hard to keep together his young, upstart, league-champion club. Apparently O'Dowd came away from his mostly unpublicized effort with a strong feeling that his chances to keep Holliday were not very good. It is believed the Rockies signaled they'd consider something in the range of $18 million per season over five seasons, or perhaps even a little more than that. As a free agent, Holliday probably knows he can top $20 million a year and get an even longer deal. The Tigers' recent seven-year, $152.3-million deal with Miguel Cabrera, who like Holliday was to become a free agent after 2009, did not do anything to bridge any gap that may have existed between the Rockies and their marquee man.
Even so, executives around the league remain unsure whether O'Dowd would seriously consider trading his best player with more than a year to go before free agency. Holliday is hitting .321 with eight homers and 26 RBIs but still isn't having the impact he had last year.
"I'd think he'd consider dealing Atkins before Holliday,'' one NL executive says. One reason for that is that the Rockies have a ready replacement for Atkins in top prospect Ian Stewart, a former No. 1 pick and third baseman who's played some second base lately since that's where their need is now.
One AL executive said he believes O'Dowd would only consider dealing Holliday if he could find a team willing to send multiple top prospects back in a trade that would approximate the Indians' 2003 deal with the Expos in which Cleveland received outfielder Grady Sizemore, infielder Brandon Phillips and pitcher Cliff Lee from Montreal for Bartolo Colon, or last year's Rangers-Braves deal that sent All-Star Teixeira to Atlanta and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, pitcher Matt Harrison and shortstop Elvis Andrus to Texas.
Those deals were fairly unique, however, in that then Expos GM Omar Minaya was under the impression his team might contract within a year or two, and then Braves GM John Schuerholz was on the cusp of retirement from that post. In recent years, teams have grown much more reluctant to part with their best prospects.
Holliday's skill level and situation is similar to Teixeira's. The Rangers decided to move their cornerstone player after their final $140-million, eight-year offer to him was rebuffed. Like Teixeira, Holliday is represented by superagent Scott Boras. Teixeira ignited the Braves last summer and remains unsigned after this season, when he expects to become a free agent.
Holliday's two-year, $23-million contract expires after next season, when he would be eligible for free agency. People close to Holliday still doubt the Rockies would trade him now, and they may ultimately turn out to be correct. But that may depend on how far the Rockies fall, and more importantly, what they may be able to get back in return for him.