Some baseball notes in the middle of the NFL, NBA and NHL seasons…
Many of baseball's top free agent pitchers have picked new homes. And those homes are in the National League West. Here's what the Rockies divisional competitors have added to their starting rotations in the last couple of weeks:
* The San Francisco Giants signed Tim Hudson to a very affordable contract. Two years, $23 million. Pitching in a hitter's park in Atlanta, Hudson won 17, 17 and 16 games in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Last year, he won 8 games until breaking his ankle halfway through the season. He's a sinkerball pitcher who fits the profile of successful pitchers at Coors Field. But the Rockies never entered the Tim Hudson sweepstakes. And now the Giants have a rotation of Baumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Hudson. Pretty good.
* The San Diego Padres took a flier on Josh Johnson. He's wrestled with injuries two of the last three years. But when he's on, he's on. Johnson is a two-time all-star. Now, the Rockies might never have had a chance to get him. He has connections to San Diego and he likes the idea of pitching in that spacious park, rebuilding his strength and re-building his reputation. After one good season in San Diego, he hopes to sign a lucrative, long-term deal somewhere.
* The Los Angeles Dodgers, already with one of the stronger starting staffs in baseball, added to it. They signed Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million deal. Haren is a three-time all-star who struggled the first half of last year, but came on strong the second half. And he doesn't walk many batters (which can be death at Coors Field). I'm not saying he'd necessarily be a good fit here. He's a bit of a fly ball pitcher who gives up too many home runs. And I'm always skeptical about picking up pitchers who have a history of shoulder problems (as Haren did last year). But the message the Dodgers are sending is, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH GOOD STARTING PITCHING! They already have Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and 14-game winner Hyun-Jin Ryu, with Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley due back next year from injury. And now they add Haren.
* The Arizona Diamondbacks have not made any significant additions to their rotation. Maybe because they already have one of the better young staffs in the majors. Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Randall Delgado are the top three starters with up-and-comers Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Cahill right behind. And Brandon McCarthy will fit in there somewhere.
Do the Rockies really believe they can compete with all of this? I mean, do the names Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge DeLa Rosa and Tyler Chatwood strike fear in the hearts of the NL West?
But here's the kicker…
There's this team in the American League. The Minnesota Twins. It's a medium market team (just like the Rockies). It's a team that ranked 23rd in payroll last year. (The Rockies ranked 24th.) It's a team that, over the last two years, had a little more than 5.25 million fans come through the turnstiles. (The Rockies had a little more than 5.4 million.) And the Twins have had some really bad years recently, primarily because their pitching hasn't been very good. (Sound familiar, Rockies fans?) But the Minnesota Twins seem to hear that message the Dodgers are sending. You know, that one about YOU NEED GOOD PITCHING TO WIN! Yeah, the Twins recently signed free agent starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phillip Hughes. They're not exactly Koufax and Drysdale, but they're better than what the Twins had before and they'll be inserted at the top of the Twins starting rotation. In other words, they're trying to get better.
So, other teams in the NL West are loading up on starting pitching this off-season. And a team that models similarly to the Rockies in many ways, the Twins, makes some bold pitching moves, as well. And what do the Rockies do? They sign a 40-year old relief pitcher, Latroy Hawkins, and immediately name him their closer. Look, the Rockies DO need to build a better bullpen. And Hawkins might be able to help. He was okay his first go-round here, back in 2007.
But this game is about starting pitching. And it seems everybody but the Rockies understands that and is doing something about that.