Rockies may surprise at Meetings

Rockies may surprise at Winter Meetings

DENVER -- The Rockies spent the offseason reading the major headlines in the National League West rather than making them.

The defending division-champion Padres have overhauled their lineup with a couple of surprising trades of young players. The Dodgers watched outfielder J.D. Drew walk away from $33 million for three years, but they signed center fielder Juan Pierre for $44 million over five years. The Giants finally might find folks willing to take their millions. The Diamondbacks made analysts busy by swinging a six-player trade with the Brewers.

The Rockies mainly dealt with their own guys, picking up pitcher Jason Jennings' 2007 option and re-signing second baseman Kazuo Matsui, but on Friday it was revealed that they're close to a one-year contract with right-handed reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

Getting Hawkins, whose agreement isn't final yet because some details need to be worked out and he must have a physical, is an example of what the Rockies want to do this offseason. They're looking for affordable players -- the Rocky Mountain News reported the contract to be worth $3.5 million -- who can lend experience to a club built mostly with young players.

So the Rockies won't spend big, but they still will make additions. A starting center fielder remains a pressing need. But as Colorado prepared for the Winter Meetings, which begin on Monday in Orlando, Fla., general manager Dan O'Dowd was not of the opinion that the Rockies have fallen behind simply because they've been quiet thus far.

"We're not in that mode," O'Dowd said. "We're just in the mode of getting better. We've got a plan, I've got a budget to work with and we're going to be smart about it. We're not going to be knee-jerk at all."

The Rockies are expected to add $10 million to the 2007 payroll after spending, according to USA Today's Salary Database, $41.2 million in 2006. But with free agents still commanding high salaries, O'Dowd said it's more likely the Rockies will wait until players are in their price range to hit the free-agent market.

The Rockies could hit the Winter Meetings headlines with trades, although O'Dowd said that could be difficult. Colorado's hope to fill holes with emerging players of high ability and low salaries is not unique.

"I don't see a lot of movement in that area," O'Dowd said. "Usually clubs make trades to replace what they've given up in the free-agent market, but at the same time, they don't want to create one hole to fill another. It could change when teams get together, but I've run across a lot of that."

Much of the pre-meetings speculation has fallen on right-hander Jennings, the Rockies' No. 1 starter. Jennings is a free agent at the 2007 season's end, and so far no progress has been made toward extending his contract.

O'Dowd insists there is no deadline for reaching an agreement with Jennings, who is under contract for $5.5 million for 2007, and O'Dowd doesn't feel compelled to deal him. Jennings has been open to discussing an extension.

Jennings' situation underscores the difficulty of making trades. A team that wants him has a rotation hole, which makes it harder for them to give the Rockies a pitcher to replace Jennings.

"I think to trade any pitcher, you'd have to get an emerging starter back in return that might be a year away from filling the hole as a frontline starter," O'Dowd said. "You'd be trading a player with a proven Major League track record to fill multiple other holes and get back someone who is about to be a frontline starter."

Similar reasoning is why O'Dowd has shot down other teams' interest in right fielder Brad Hawpe. The least the Rockies would accept would be a player with a low salary and huge upside in the area of power. In other words, they'd have to trade Hawpe for someone exactly like him.

Of course, O'Dowd has been known to find a way to make deals, even if they involve more than one other team. With general managers all in one spot, it's never safe to assume he can't get something done.

Something must be done in center field, where the Rockies have depth but not a player they can count on to be a starter immediately.

In the trade market, the Rockies are known to like Houston's Chris Burke, but the Astros have spent years grooming him as the heir to Craig Biggio at second base. Scott Podsednik of the White Sox could be available, although on Friday the Sox signed him to a $2.9 million contract to avoid arbitration. Darin Erstad and Jay Payton are among free agents in whom the club has interest.

The Rockies also need a dependable pinch-hitter, but O'Dowd said that is a hole that will be filled later.

It's still uncertain if the Rockies need to jump at a catcher who can handle about half of the games, alongside rookie Chris Iannetta.

Yorvit Torrealba suffered a pair of shoulder injuries last year and is a health question. He was supposed to visit Denver this week to work out for the Colorado coaching and medical staff, but his trip was called off because of the death of his grandfather in Venezuela. O'Dowd said the Rockies are hoping to reschedule.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.