12/05/11 10:41 PM EST
Trade interest heats up for Rockies' Smith
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
It's not a guarantee that the Rockies will deal Smith, a left-handed hitter who hit .299 against right-handed pitching last year. But with the Rockies looking for young-but-experienced pitching, it could be that Smith -- projected to make about $2.6 million in 2012 as an arbitration-eligible player -- is the price.
"Seth is very, very well-liked within the game," O'Dowd said. "I'm not sure we're going to do anything, but we've had a lot of calls on Seth."
Smith's name surfaced in talks with the Braves over infielder Martin Prado, who could add punch to the Rockies' lineup. Talks were in a holding pattern as of Monday, but a couple of other intriguing possibilities arose -- the Mariners and the Twins.
The Mariners, believed to be willing to eat some of the $17 million that infielder Chone Figgins is owed over the next two years, were one of the teams to call about Smith. Also, the Rockies have long had interest in Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey, who also is arbitration-eligible after making $2.7 million last year. The Twins expressed interest in Smith.
Figgins, a Rockies Draft pick in 1997 who had his best days with the Angels, hit .188 in 81 games for the Mariners last season. Figgins, who turns 34 next month, could fill in at third base. The Rockies are entertaining offers for Ian Stewart, with the Cubs the most prominent suitor.
Slowey, 27, battled forearm and abdominal injuries -- and had difficulty adjusting to an early-season relief role -- last year and went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in 14 games, including eight starts. He is a non-tender candidate who can be signed for a lower price. Slowey was 13-6 with a 4.45 ERA in 30 games and 28 starts for the Twins in 2010.
Smith and relief pitcher Huston Street, supplanted as the Rockies' closer by Rafael Betancourt, are the Rockies' biggest potential trading chips.
"We've got a lot of things in play," said O'Dowd, who did not discuss any specific team that inquired about Smith. "We've stuck a lot of nets in the water. You really don't have any idea if anything's going to come through for you.
"We're going to try to find starting pitching depth -- in addition to the kids, we'd like to find some guys that fall into that category, but just with a little more experience, some strike-throwers, guys that have thrown some innings. But those guys are hard to find. We'd like to try to continue to build our offense but keep in mind where we are with our young pitching and where we're trying to get to."
Ace starter Jhoulys Chacin will be 24 going into the 2012 season. The Rockies acquired lefty Drew Pomeranz, 23, and righty Alex White, 23, from the Indians for former ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Last week, the Rockies sent catcher Chris Iannetta to the Angels for right-hander Tyler Chatwood, 22. Righty Juan Nicasio, who is making a dramatic recovery from a broken vertebra he suffered last year when hit in the face with a line drive, is 25. Also in the mix are Esmil Rogers, 26, and Jason Hammel, who doesn't turn 30 until next September.
With veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa not due back from Tommy John surgery until around June, the need for experience is obvious. The Rockies have put out feelers in free agency and made an attempt at Hiroki Kuroda, but the Rockies would have to clear payroll room before being a serious bidder. According to reports, Kuroda is further along in talks with the D-backs. Onetime Rockies such as Jeff Francis and Kevin Millwood are on the Rockies' radar as well.
But O'Dowd is happy with the young, talented pitchers, some of whom can work as relievers.
"It's been an organizational effort," O'Dowd said. "Not only do we have good arms, but we've got a tremendous amount of competitive, athletic guys. With that comes inexperience, and with inexperience is going to come some tough times. We knew that path when we traded Ubaldo last year.
"So we're trying to balance those young guys with not superstar-type guys but guys that fit in the dependability category of throwing strikes."
In other developments:
O'Dowd said he is not open to including outfield prospect Tim Whieeler in any deal. Wheeler, who turns 24 in January, hit .287 with 33 home runs and 86 RBIs at Double-A Tulsa last year.
The Rockies should enter next season with three useable catchers -- Ramon Hernandez, whose signing should become official Tuesday when results of his physical are in the team's hands, top prospect Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco.
The versatility of Pacheco, who played mostly infield during a big league trial at the end of last season, intrigues O'Dowd. Pacheco was an infielder at the University of New Mexico. The Rockies converted him to catcher, but didn't use him there much during his callup.
"He's a work in progress behind the plate, but certainly we didn't spend the last four years trying to develop him as a catcher to abandon that," O'Dowd said. "Ideally, we have a very versatile player. He can play first and third and fill in at second in an emergency, and now we know we've got another half-catcher, so to speak."
In early bullpen sessions, Nicasio was throwing with the mid-90s velocity that he showed last year before the frightening neck injury. Through December, Nicasio will continue his bullpen work and will have a hitter stand in the batter's box for some of the pitches. The Rockies will have him face hitters, at first with a screen in front of him, at the team's Dominican Republic complex in January and hope he will be ready for a normal Spring Training.
Stewart, who has battled slumps and injuries the last two years, is hitting in the batting cage at Coors Field, will work with a hitting instructor in California and also plans to work out in Las Vegas with Jason Giambi, Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler and third-base prospect Nolan Arenado.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.