Rockies complete Holliday deal
GM O'Dowd says team still looking for more ways to improve
DENVER -- Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd officially kicked into gear his aggressive remaking of his club on Wednesday, when he completed the trade that sent star outfielder Matt Holliday to the Athletics for reliever Huston Street, left-handed starting pitcher Greg Smith and outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez.
The deal, made necessary when the Rockies realized they would not be able to sign Holliday before he would reach free agency after the 2009 season, brought the Rockies three players who, as it stands, can compete for vital roles with the club.
But by no means are the Rockies done, O'Dowd said. He acknowledged that other teams have called about Street and Gonzalez, and the Rockies are still looking to improve.
"I said going into the offseason that we're going to be aggressive, and that hasn't changed," O'Dowd said. "We're looking to improve our club."
Smith, who turns 25 on Dec. 22, made 32 starts last season as a rookie and finished 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA. Street, the 2005 American League Rookie of the Year, converted 18 of 25 save chances last season before the Athletics installed Brad Ziegler as closer, but went 5-0 in his last 17 outings. Gonzalez, 23, the Athletics' most highly regarded prospect going into the season, hit .242 with four home runs and 26 RBIs in 85 Major League games and hit .283 at Triple-A Sacramento.
Even with the trade, the Rockies still are looking for upgrades -- specifically a top-of-the-rotation starting talent, even if he is a top prospect rather than an experienced pitcher. But in the process of making the deal, O'Dowd learned that he would not obtain one in a Holliday deal. O'Dowd also said the suitors were not what he anticipated.
"The one thing that was surprising was the large-market teams had no interest at all," O'Dowd said. "We talked to St. Louis, but that was the largest market. It was mostly mid- to lower-market clubs. I think the large markets looked and said a year from now he was going to be a free agent, and they weren't going to be able to sign him."
O'Dowd said the Rockies did all they could to sign Holliday, first signing, in order, starting pitchers Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, relief pitcher Manuel Corpas and right fielder Brad Hawpe to multiyear contracts. O'Dowd said the Rockies were hoping that would offset any fears that the Rockies have a repeat of a few years ago, when they signed Todd Helton to a lengthy contract then found they couldn't afford to put good players around him.
Usually not one to reveal specifics of negotiations, O'Dowd revealed Wednesday that the Rockies offered Holliday a contact that potentially was worth five years and $84.5 million -- $18 million for four years and a player option worth $12.5 million for an additional year.
"We felt very good about our offer," O'Dowd said. "We respect what Matty did. We didn't and do not have any hard feelings."
In a recent interview, Holliday said he was upset at quotes from Rockies ownership earlier in the offseason that indicated the unsuccessful contract negotiations distracted the Rockies in 2008. But on Wednesday, Holliday avoided the issue.
"I'm not going to comment on anything that happened in the past," Holliday said in a telephone conference with media. "I appreciate my time in the Rockies organization. I spent my 10 or 11 years in pro ball [there], and the last five years in the Major Leagues. I'll take the memories of the 2007 season with me.
"I'm not going to sit here and talk about what people did say or didn't say, or what was important and what wasn't. I really care about how my teammates and friends and coaches think of me and how I handle my business."
Of Smith, O'Dowd said the Rockies have "no illusions that he is a one, two or three [starter], but they like the durability he showed last season. Smith, who along with Gonzalez was part of the package Athletics acquired from the D-backs last winter for pitcher Dan Haren, had surgery to remove "loose bodies" from his throwing elbow after the season but passed the Rockies' physical.
"We like that he had a 4.16 ERA and threw 190 innings in his rookie year," O'Dowd said. "There are always going to be ups and downs, as you've seen with some of the young pitchers we have. He's going to compete for a starting job."
Multiple teams are looking for closers, and the Rockies have two. In addition, righty Taylor Buchholz was one of baseball's top setup men last year. The Rockies are expecting Luis Vizcaino to bounce back from a subpar 2008, and feel good about young Ryan Speier. So the Rockies are in position to deal.
Also, O'Dowd said the Rockies will offer arbitration to three-time All-Star reliever Brian Fuentes, the Rockies' career saves leader. Fuentes has filed for free agency and is likely to leave, but with the market full of closers that are free agents or could be traded, the Rockies want the chance to keep him.
However, for now, Street is with the Rockies, with a chance to take the closer job, even though Corpas is headed into the second year of a four-year contract.
"Everything we're doing is going to be in the best interest of the team, and not any individual. So I told [Street] to be ready for the opportunity to compete for that," O'Dowd said.
The Rockies have followed Gonzalez from his days in the D-backs chain when he became a prospect, and believe he can play all three outfield positions. However, Gonzalez faces questions because he struck out 81 times in 302 at-bats last season.
When the Athletics acquired Gonzalez, they tabbed him as the key to the Haren deal. O'Dowd is not hanging such expectations on him. The Rockies have homegrown outfielders Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith bucking for starting jobs, and top prospect Dexter Fowler could be a factor sometime in 2009.
"We like him, but no more than we like some of the players we have in our system, and we're not afraid to send him to Triple-A if we feel that's what he needs," O'Dowd said.
Although the Rockies look to be active, O'Dowd said he is not committed to the idea of trading third baseman Garrett Atkins, who also has not signed a multiyear deal. Atkins remains the biggest bargaining chip, however.
"I'm in a position to do more listening than creating," O'Dowd said. "We are not opposed to continuing with Garrett Atkins on our club and in the middle of the lineup. I want to make that very clear."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.